KwaZulu-Natal is short of more than R500 million to transport pupils, leaving around 108,000 without the vital service, acting Transport, Community Safety and Liaison MEC Kwazi Mshengu said on Tuesday.
“We are unable to extend the programme because of insufficient funding because the only grant that we receive for learner transport is R366 million and according to our cost estimates we need just over R1 billion to provide an effective learner transport service,” he added.
This means the budgetary shortfall is around R634 million.
Mshengu said 42,000 pupils would be provided with transport.
He was speaking in Port Shepstone, Durban, where he led an inspection on pupil transport as the academic year beckons on 15 February.
Mshengu added the province would have to request additional funding.
“We will continue to request for more funding so that we are able to extend this intervention programme to all the deserving learners.”
Last week, Parliament’s Basic Education Committee, led by Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, said urgent attention was needed for the provision of pupil transport, the provision of water, the completion of the placement of pupils and the filing of vacant positions within the schooling system in the province.
The committee was particularly concerned by “the inability of the provincial department to provide all the qualifying learners with scholar transport”.
Mbinqo-Gigaba said to address this ongoing transport debacle in the province, the committee urged the provincial department to engage National Treasury.
“Permanent solutions must be found for this problem, especially considering that 70% of schools in KZN are in rural areas and they consist of learners largely who come from poor family backgrounds,” she added.
Inspection of pupil transport
On Tuesday, Mshengu said all vehicles had to undergo an inspection.
“We have taken a decision that all buses, midi-bus taxis and taxis that will be transporting our learners across the province must all undergo roadworthiness inspection before they hit the road on 15 February because we want to make sure that our learners are safe.”
He added pupil transport was vital considering the long distances many had to travel to get to school.
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“Learner transport is an important aspect of our education system as it is one of the key enablers for learner performance because when learners travel longer distances, they get to school tired and are unable to concentrate which affects their performance.”
Mshengu said many of the vehicles underwent roadworthiness testing at the Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) offices in Port Shepstone to determine whether the vehicles adhered to road safety standards prescribed by law.
He added he was pleased with the condition of the vehicles inspected after visiting a black-owned bus fleet company, saying it was exciting that an African person owned a fleet of about 90 buses.
Court order for pupil transport
In April 2020, the Pietermaritzburg High Court instructed the Department of Education to release a draft scholar transport policy after Equal Education (EE) had lobbied for it since 2014.
EE had taken the department to court in October 2019 to compel it to draft the policy.
In May 2020, it said the KZN scholar transport policy was vague and incoherent, adding the policy “fails to meet the standards for an adequate policy that could truly improves learners’ access to education”.
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KZN education department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa told News24 other aspects of schooling were ready for the 15 February start.
“All textbook materials and stationery were delivered in October 2020. We have been doing that for years.”
He said school management teams had also been back at school for two weeks, adding they were receiving requests to work from home as some teachers revealed they had comorbidities.
“It is important to note we are receiving, as we go deeper into the academic year, people with comorbidities. We have a team that is handling and processing these requests for approval.”
Mthethwa said while pupil transport had a budgetary shortfall, nutrition programmes were still going ahead as per normal.
In terms of personal protective equipment, he added this was being transported on a school-by-school basis.
“We have learnt that if we send everything at once, thieves in the communities are tempted to steal if they know there is a lot of stock. It has happened before. They break in.
“We send stuff for two to three months, depending on storage in schools. Some have storage, but mostly rural schools might not have enough protection.”