Durban - THE long-awaited draft pupil transport policy for
KwaZulu-Natal is now out for public comment,
three months later than expected.
Advocacy group Equal Education, which has campaigned since 2014 for clarity on pupil transport in the province, said they had finally succeeded, but would be asking the Department of Education for the 30-day deadline to comment to be extended due to the lockdown.
The policy was supposed to be released for public comment on January 30 after a Pietermaritzburg High Court ruling in October 2019, but was only released at the end of last week.
The high court order stipulated that the policy must be published for public comment and the Department of Education has given the public 30 days to submit comments.
Equal Education’s head of communication, Leanne Jansen-Thomas, said their relentless campaign for pupil transport and their legal challenge in the high court succeeded in getting the Department of Education to release the draft policy for public comment.
Jansen-Thomas said a provincial policy was crucial to clarifying the responsibilities of the Departments of Education and Transport to enable rigorous planning, including data collection and budgeting, and ensure implementation.
“All pupils around the country who walk long and dangerous routes to school must - as a component of their rights to education, safety, dignity and equality - be provided with government-subsidised scholar transport,” she said.
They were scrutinising and deliberating the contents of the policy, together with their attorneys at the Equal Education Law Centre.
“Given the exceptionally difficult circumstances we are facing as a country (lockdown), it’s important that the public is provided sufficient time and opportunity to make their voices heard. We hope the department will respond positively,” said Equal Education spokesperson Jay-Dee Cyster.
KZN Legislature Portfolio Committee on Transport chairperson Siboniso Duma said the Departments of Education and Transport had made a positive move in releasing the policy, but when dealing with the budget they were mindful of the realities.
Duma said KZN had more than 3000 schools and the issue of scholar transport was delicate because it was not possible to fulfil it in all 11 districts.
“I think the policy is trying by all means to address the imbalance. But the policy is clean and transparent. It’s going to assist, but we have to be realistic because a large chunk of the education budget goes to salaries. So maybe in 10 years we’ll see a fundamental change. The policy is outlining how they (both departments) want to embrace almost everyone,” said Duma.
Duma said KZN appropriated almost R147 billion this financial year, with a large portion of it going towards health and education, “but now we are facing a new reality of Covid-19”. This meant some of the budget must be reviewed and go towards the pandemic.
DA KZN spokesperson on Transport Sharon Hoosen said they welcomed the long-awaited policy.
“It’s a victory for the thousands of pupils in our province who must walk long distances to and from school due to the high cost of private transport and a lack of government-funded transport to date. The draft policy means they will, at last, have the opportunity to access a vital service in order to fulfil their right to a basic education,” said Hoosen.
She said pupil transport was a sensitive topic for the Transport Department and “there were many horrendous crashes which claimed the lives of pupils”.