Pupil transport: How far would you walk to get an education?

  

Thousands of KwaZulu-Natal pupils walk more than 20 kilometres to get to school each day; crossing rivers, climbing mountains and facing the threat of crime. This, despite provincial policy which says they are eligible for state-sponsored pupil transport.

Dmitri Holtzman
Director of the Equal Education Law Centre told the M&G that there is no national policy for pupil transport.

He said, however, that KwaZulu-Natal does have a pupil transport policy which states that pupils who walk more than six kilometers return to get to school are eligible for transport.

The law centre is giving legal representation to non-governmental organisation, Equal Education, which has started campaigning for better pupil transport.

Representatives from the two organisations visited 13 schools in Nquthu between November last year and January to investigate the pupils’ plight of no transport.

 

Equal Education said it met with the local district director on one of its trips, who told them that only 15 out of the more than 500 schools in the district were receiving pupil transport. Equal Education sent letters to the province this month demanding that all Nquthu pupils get the transport they need, and that the provincial policy is implemented.

 

M&G
“I’m walking 14km, so it’s 28km return...It affects my classes because … I can’t concentrate on my school work because I’m tired.” - Sphilele Thusini, Grade 11
M&G
"Getting an education will help me get a job one day, and I can make something of myself." - Zikiphile Nene, Grade 11
Sandile Ndlovu
This facilitator for Equal Education in Nquthu told the M&G that his efforts to mobilise the area into action have not been easy.

He visits schools, mobilises the organisation’s members in the area to take action and tries to educate pupils and teachers about their rights. He also accompanied the M&G on its trip to Nquthu.

 

His job is a tough one. Government has failed to provide running water and electricity to many villages in the area, and schools struggle with inadequate learning infrastructure as well as poorly-skilled teachers, to name just a few problems. 

Government views Equal Education’s campaign for better pupil transport as an unwelcome interference, Ndlovu says, and there is a belief that speaking to outsiders, like the media, only leads to trouble.

This could explain why some of principals at the schools in Nquthu refused to speak to the M&G.

What makes Ndlovu’s job harder is that the people of the community don’t know about their rights, as well as having a sense of helplessness and resignation towards their standard of living. It is an apathy he has encountered in some of Nquthu’s schools.

Some teachers, he says, don’t believe that departmental policy prohibiting conduct – such as using corporal punishment - apply to them.

“What is this piece of paper?”, they say to him.

He says there are not enough jobs in Nquthu, and too many taverns.

Ask for a book, and no one can help you, but ask for a beer and you will be offered many.” he added. 

It is this status quo that Ndlovu hopes to change.

 

Isaac Luthuli
The spokesperson for the KZN department of education spoke to the M&G about the province's budgetary problem

He says about 50 000 pupils in the province are not getting the transport they need because the budget isn’t big enough.

But Equal Education says although the province has one of the highest numbers of pupils who need transport - it has one of the smallest budgets for it. It says the province spends less than all other provinces on pupil transport with the exception ofthe Free State, Limpopo and Northern Cape provinces.

 

 

In the 2013/2014 financial year, the KwaZulu-Natal government budgeted a meagre R125-million for scholar transport, the organisation said in a press release this month.

It compared this to the "R336-million set aside by the Eastern Cape government, which has the second highest number of learners walking to school".

Google maps
Equal Education has sent letters to the provincial education and transport MECs, highlighting the evident shortcomings in the provision of pupil transport and has asked them to urgently indicate their plan to address this problem.
Further reading
Here is additional content on the subject of pupil transport and M&G's visit to Nquthu

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The percentage of children walking for more than an hour to school was higher in 2013 than it was in 2003.

More than double the number of schoolchildren catch taxis to school than catch buses.

Half the children in the highest income group travel to school by car.

Beyond the walls of Nkandla, the long walk goes on

The distances the kids next door have to cover to get to school are lost on Zuma, who is blindly feathering his nest, writes Haji Mohamed Dawjee.

No buses for KZN pupils who walk 14 km to get to school

Pupils living in rural areas battle rivers, snakes and rough weather to get an education, even though the authorities are meant to provide transport.

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