27 May 2020
Equal Education media statement: Draft KZN scholar transport policy is vague, incoherent and fails to meet the standards for improving learners’ access to education
Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have scrutinised the contents of the draft policy and we are deeply disappointed that it is vague and incoherent.
For years we have campaigned for the adequate provision of scholar transport to all learners walking far distances in KZN, and a proper policy that will ensure the provision of safe, reliable, government-subsidised scholar transport across the province. To our immense disappointment the draft document fails to meet the standards for an adequate policy that could truly improve learners’ access to education.
We are also extremely concerned that the KZN DoE is unable to adequately plan for scholar transport amid the Covid-19 outbreak, when physical distancing is critical. It is also vital to ensure that a proper policy is developed to ensure that education inequality does not persist beyond the pandemic.
The KZN DoE’s broken promises
The #LongWalkToSchool campaign has its roots in the experiences of EE members attending schools in Nquthu, KZN, who testified to walking punishing distances on foot to and from school, often over difficult and dangerous terrain – in severe heat or rain, and vulnerable to theft and sexual assault.
In November 2017, EE secured a court order by consent in which the KZN DoE undertook to, among other things, provide scholar transport to learners at 12 schools in Nquthu by April 2018 (an enormous victory). During 2018, the KZNDoE had also indicated that it was in the process of drafting a provincial scholar transport policy, which it undertook to release for public comment by 31 December 2018 – a promise it failed to fulfil.
In October 2019, represented by EELC, we were forced to return to court to once again compel the KZN DoE to publicly release the provincial scholar transport policy. EE and EELC secured a court order from the Pietermaritzburg High Court obliging the KZN DoE to release the draft scholar transport policy by 30 January 2020. Siphilisa Isizwe, an organisation in KZN for persons with disabilities (represented by SECTION27) intervened as amicus curiae in the case, to bring to the fore scholar transport issues for learners with disabilities.
Instead the KZN DoT, on 6 February 2020, released an annexure to the draft policy, which it later had to withdraw. Through our efforts, the KZN DoE finally published a draft provincial scholar transport policy last month.
The deadline for submission of public comment is Monday 1 June.
The inadequacies of the draft policy
Below are among the concerns that EE and EELC will highlight in our submission to the KZN DoE:
- Unclear criteria for learners in need
The draft policy reiterates the criteria used to identify beneficiaries of scholar transport, that is set out in the National Learner Transport Policy (NLTP). Among others, this criteria includes the provision of scholar transport to learners in need, from grades R to 12. The NLTP also states that priority must be given to learners with disabilities and those attending primary schools, particularly in rural areas. Worryingly, the KZN draft policy asserts that funding constraints may not allow all learners who are eligible for scholar transport to benefit from the service, and that in this instance further prioritisation will take place. However, the policy is silent on what this additional priority criteria is, which could potentially lead to uncertainty and result in the policy being applied inconsistently.
2. Confusion around responsibilities between KZN DoE and KZN Department of Transport (KZN DoT)
The draft policy states that the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Transport (KZN DoT) is responsible for providing scholar transport to learners attending public ordinary schools, while the KZN DoE is responsible for providing scholar transport to learners attending public special schools, however these responsibilities are not clearly and consistently stipulated in the policy. In different instances throughout the document, the policy contradicts itself, duplicates the responsibilities, or creates overlapping responsibilities, resulting in ambiguities. For example, the draft policy indicates that the KZN DoE is responsible for purchasing suitable vehicles for the provision of transport for learners with disabilities, yet further on, it is stated that the KZN DoT is responsible for procuring vehicles for learners with disabilities.
3. Vague timeframes and lack of vital information around applying for scholar transport
Throughout the draft policy, there are many instances where there are either no time frames or extremely vague time frames used to determine when obligations must be fulfilled. For example, the draft policy does not state when caregivers must apply for learner transport, nor does it indicate when the department should provide learners and caregivers with a response. Furthermore, the draft policy fails to explain the application process that a learner or caregiver must follow when applying for learner transport, including critical detail such as how to apply, where to collect and hand in application forms, whether applications can be made online, whether they are only available as hard copies, and to whom must they be submitted.
4. Lack of long-term planning to address funding shortages:
While the draft policy states that where there are insufficient funds to provide all qualifying learners with scholar transport, certain learners will be prioritised (albeit in the absence of clear prioritisation criteria), it does not make an attempt to provide a long-term plan to ensure that, in the future, all qualifying learners are able to access scholar transport. In other words, learners in need of this service are at the mercy of budget allocations, which may or may not be sufficient at any given time. The draft policy must include a concrete, long-term, and sustainable plan that ensures that funding does not become a hindrance to learners who qualify for scholar transport.
While the publication of a draft policy marks a significant step in the right direction, the KZN DoE must amend the contents of the document to, among others, clarify the learner prioritisation criteria, develop a long-term plan to address funding issues, clearly stipulate the different responsibilities of the KZN DoE and KZN DoT, and set clear and explicit time frames throughout the draft policy. We urge school communities to submit their comment by Monday 1 June, if not sooner.
This statement is endorsed by:
The Centre for Child Law
The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu)
If quoting this statement, please attribute to:
Hopolang Selebalo (Equal Education Co-Head of Research) firstname.lastname@example.org
Zanele Modise (Equal Education Head of National Organising) email@example.com
Zuwaina Atieg (Equal Education Researcher) firstname.lastname@example.org
For media interviews, contact:
Leanne Jansen-Thomas (Equal Education Head of Communications) 079 4949 411
Read the PDF version of the statement: https://equaleducation.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Equal-Education-media-statement-on-analysis-of-KZN-scholar-transport-policy.pdf