By JOY HINYIKIWILE
The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has given Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga until Friday, 13 May, to organise scholar transport for 129 qualifying Makhanda and Fort Beaufort learners – and as many as 52 000 learners in the rest of the province.
If the LRC does not receive confirmation before Monday, 16 June, that the learners will begin receiving transport to school, urgent high court proceedings will be launched to obtain appropriate relief to ensure that learners’ rights to education are respected.
The LRC said its offices had been flooded with complaints from parents and schools over the past few months about the lack of scholar transport for learners in need.
After scholar transport protests in late April, ECDOE’s spokesperson Mali Mtima told Grocott’s Mail the provision of scholar transport was not under the jurisdiction of the Department of Basic Education. He said the Department of Transport provided scholar transport, and enquiries on the matter should be directed to the Department of Transport.
When we contacted ECDOT’s spokesperson, Unathi Binqose, he confirmed that his department handles scholar transport provision. Binqose said the department was aware of the issue and was “doing its best to handle it”.
He said that challenges such as budget constraints, issues with service providers and learners not applying for scholar transport have made it difficult for the department to provide scholar transport adequately. The rapid increase in the number of learners seeking transportation to and from school has also created budgetary challenges for the department.
“A few years ago, the department provided scholar transport to about 54 000 learners. The number has doubled, and the department is now providing scholar transport to about 103 000 learners,” Binqose said.
A 12 February 2022 Daily Dispatch report stated that 155 000 learners in the province successfully applied and are eligible for scholar transport in 2022. However, since the department was only able to provide transportation to 103 000 learners, 52 000 learners are still in need.
Binqose said the department was doing its best to deal with the budgetary constraints and cater to all learners. Hundreds of bicycles had been distributed to needy learners, he said.
In the letter to Basic EducationMinister Motshekga, the LRC cite both the departments of transport and education. While aware that the transport department is currently providing scholar transport, the LRC said this did not conform to policy. The LRC wants the education department to take charge of this function because the lack of scholar transport infringes on the right to education.
The Makhanda-based LRC represents concerned parents of public school learners whose children are not receiving scholar transport, as well as the Khula Community Development Project (Khula), a Peddie-based community-based organisation that works to ensure that children from poor communities attend school daily.
Twenty-five Makhanda learners who received scholar transport until the end of last year and were approved for scholar transport for 2022 have not been provided with scholar transport since the start of the year. The learners have been given no explanation.
A further 51 qualifying Makhanda learners, who were provided with scholar transport throughout the first term, have not received transport since the start of the second term.
The LRC letter also lists 19 qualifying Makhanda learners who have not received scholar transport since the start of the year.
“The failure to provide scholar transport results in children having to walk long distances to and from school, often through hazardous environments; or their parents/guardians having to pay for transport which they can ill-afford; or children were attending school intermittently or dropping out of school altogether.
“Scholar transport is critically important for ensuring that children can access school,” the letter stated.
“The exclusion of qualifying learners from the scholar transport scheme constitutes a serious violation of their right to access basic education.”
The LRC also demands that the department provide a plan and budget for providing scholar transport to all qualifying learners in the province by the start of the 2022 third school term.
“If we do not receive written confirmation within 14 days (i.e. on or before 24 May 2022) that the learners will begin receiving transportation on or before Tuesday 19 July 2022, we hold instructions to launch high court proceedings to obtain appropriate relief to ensure that the learners’ rights to education are respected.”
Lastly, the LRC says Khula has instructed it to demand that the department create scholar transport regulations that all provincial departments will adopt. The organisation argues that the failure by the ECDOE and ECDOT to provide scholar transport is partly due to an “inadequate regulatory framework”.
The departments’ current scholar transport provision is based on policies and circulars that are not binding and do not sufficiently address learner transport needs.
The problem is not limited to the Eastern Cape. “A review of the other eight Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) scholar transport policies indicate that they fail to address learners’ transport needs comprehensively.” Around 200 000 learners across the country are not receiving transport to and from school.
The LRC believes the adoption of binding minimum uniform norms and standards for scholar transport will ensure consistency across provinces, coordinated planning and timely delivery for learners who have applied and qualify for scholar transport and that each provincial policy meets the recommended standard for scholar transport set by the national policy.
The organisation demands that the department provide a written confirmation within 21 days that draft regulations will be published for comment within four months and adopted before the end of 2022. “If we do not receive this written undertaking by 31 May 2022, we hold instructions to approach the courts for appropriate relief,” the letter stated.
In April, GroundUp reported that more than 100 people in Colchester briefly blocked the N2 in protest against the failure to provide scholar transport.
Parents said they couldn’t afford to pay for transport to Kinkelbos Primary, about 10 kilometres away, and as a result, learners have not gone to school since January. They also complained that the closest school, Colchester Primary, is an Afrikaans medium school. Kinkelbos is a Xhosa medium school.
Parent and chairman of the Kinkelbos’ school governing body, Mthandazo Laurence Kopele, said their pleas to the provincial education department have been fruitless.
Kopele said 146 children had been stuck at home since January. He said the problem dated from last year with the contractor only able to transport 80 children per day. “The service provider said he was only paid for one trip in the morning and a return trip in the afternoon. Most parents are poor and cannot afford a R20 taxi fare for a daily return trip,” said Kopele.