Editorial: Scholar transport target too far off

Protests by parents in Kuyga concerning scholar transport troubles are symptomatic of a far wider problem, and one for which a ready solution remains frustratingly out of reach.

Funding, or the lack of it, lies at the heart of the issue.

Our Department of Transport has only enough money to ferry 77 774 pupils to and from school, making use of 1 948 vetted operators.

Demand for this critical service is, however, much higher. As at March, the department had 111 406 eligible learners at 1 036 schools who met the necessary criteria for free transport.

That means nearly a third of all Eastern Cape pupils who otherwise would rely on the government for transport have no choice but to find their own means of attending school.

This opens them up to unscrupulous operators who have no compunction bypassing the department’s vetting system.

And parents with nary a cent to their names are forced to stump up, eating into household budgets already overly reliant on meagre social grants.

The alternative is well documented – youngsters woken at ungodly hours to undertake long journeys by foot, often arriving in time for the first bell without so much as a ladle of porridge in their stomachs.

This is no recipe for future success.

The department has acknowledged its predicament, admitting the current operational budget is insufficient, despite a raft of structural changes since 2014 which are expected to bring some efficiency gains.

But the outlook is not altogether promising. In her operational plan for the 2017-18 financial year, MEC Weziwe Tikana said “rationalisation, alignment and closure of schools by the DoE [department of education] increases demand for learner transport from year to year”.

Policy decisions by the education department, therefore, impact on their counterparts in transport.

It stands to reason, then, that both entities have to be on the same page if they ever hope to overcome the scholar transport mess.

Tikana’s target, according to her operational plan, is full coverage for identified learners within five years.

Sadly, for Kuyga’s children, and thousands like them, it may not be soon enough.

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