Among the many challenges facing rural South African learners, the absence of sufficient school transport services is a critical one. How can learners be expected to prosper educationally if every journey to school is a struggle?
The statistics on school transport are alarming. In Kwazulu-Natal province, which has the highest proportion of learners in the country who walk to school, there are more than 2 million who walk all the way. Of these, more than 210 000 walk for over an hour each way, while a further 659 000 learners walk for 30min – 1 hour. Meanwhile, a mere 22 045 learners in KZN are being provided with school transport services.
These journeys are tedious and exhausting, resulting in learners arriving at school demoralised and less able to concentrate on their lessons. In more extreme cases, they can be perilous, with children being forced to contend with dangerous terrain, bad weather and even violent attacks on the road.
For more than a year, our partners at Equal Education have campaigned for access to scholar transport both in KwaZulu-Natal and nationally, petitioning the Department of Education and, as a final measure, threatening litigation. The fruits of their labour were revealed on 23 October 2015 when the National Scholar Transport Policy was finally published, providing guidelines to prevent learners from having to undertake long and dangerous walks to school. This is a landmark victory for EE members in partnership with the Equal Education Law Centre. Additionally, in the last month, EE has won significant victories in their fight for KZN learners, with three schools in Nquthu being provided with much needed school buses.
EE see these developments as a significant achievement for rural learners. However, they are disappointed that the provision of this basic service has only come after a long struggle and, eventually, under the threat of litigation. EE envision a long road ahead as their focus now turns to ensuring that the provisions laid out in the National Scholar Transport Policy are thoroughly and meaningfully implemented.