School transport in the spotlight

Two weeks after an accident involving 14 St Paul’s Primary School pupils, the school has called for an intervention from the traffic department.

Many of the pupils were travelling to the Bo-Kaap school from townships across the city (“Accident puts spotlight on school transport”, Atlantic Sun, May 18).

While 12 pupils were transported to Green Point Clinic and two taken to Red Cross Children’s Hospital for further examination, none had been seriously injured when the taxi they were travelling in overturned.

Various organisations have said the transport issue is the underlying result of Cape Town’s history of segregation, and the perception that schools in the City Bowl area were better resourced and could offer their children a better level of schooling.

Gcinikhaya Baleka, the parent of a St Paul’s pupil, said he understood the choice that parents had to make when sending their children to school, recalling when his family first moved to Delft.

Mr Baleka said there had been no primary schools in the area.

While his son wasn’t on the taxi that had been involved in the accident, he, like many other parents, worries about his child’s safety every day.

When deciding which school to send their children to, he said, the biggest pull for the parents were the resources of the schools in Cape Town. “At the no fee schools you don’t get the same resources. The pupils are not exposed to the same things such as computers, but transport is a problem and a huge cost.”

St Paul’s Primary principal, Yeye Mgudlwa, said the traffic department needed to make sure the vehicles transporting pupils were safe and roadworthy.

She also said the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) had sent counsellors to the school after the accident. “We are grateful for the support from the education department, but the traffic officers need to check the taxis to make sure that they are safe.”

Ayesha Fakie, who is an education expert at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), said the biggest problem was the legacy of unequally resourced schools across the class and neighbourhood spectrums. “This means kids in, say Khayelitsha, need to cover significant distances on a daily basis just to reach a school that is more well resourced.”

Ms Fakie added that as a society we don’t consider enough the ecosystem that exists around schools. “We pay attention to what happens in the school and pass rates and so on when more attention can and should be paid to how kids get to school, how hungry they are during the day, what kind of support they have outside of school hours, and so on.

The shorthand for this is that it’s a legacy of apartheid. People will make the argument – and this is one I’ve heard – that kids need to go to schools in the catchment areas where they live.

“However, we cannot deny kids nor their parents that because of the systemic inequalities that remain in the school system, and therefore deny the next generation the opportunity of better schooling.”

She added that one of the responses could be that the Department of Basic Education, together with schools and the private sector, come up with a school busing venture, where safety is the primary concern and seats and seat belts are designed to include pupils of all age groups and bus drivers trained in shepherding young people, are employed.

Ms Fakie added: “Good teachers and school leaders do a tremendous job in very adverse circumstances that characterise our education system.

“They, more than anyone, hold key answers to many solutions, in my opinion. Their voices, as well as involved parents, should be amplified as policy-makers and government decision-makers tackle the issues that work to make our education system ‘dysfunctional’.”

Meanwhile, Equal Education (EE) an NGO which advocates for pupils’ rights, believes the transport issue is part of a bigger systemic problem.

EE Western Cape spokesperson Nishal Robb, said: “Wealthy and white communities continue to benefit from superior access to quality basic health and education services, further education and job opportunities, properly resourced police and safe public spaces, while the majority continue to do without. Cape Town remains one of the most unequal, most segregated cities in the world.”

He said that this was one of the reasons EE supported Reclaim the City’s campaign for affordable housing in the inner city.

Mr Robb said short-term solutions need to include effective rent controls, a moratorium on the sale of public land in the city to private developers, a review of school feeder zones, and urgent interventions into a severely stretched and dysfunctional mass public transit system.

Millicent Merton, spokesperson for the WCED, said the department provided counselling to the pupils who witnessed the incident as well as the injured pupils.

On the issue of transport, she noted that while it was parents’ choice where they enrolled their children, the education department only provided transport under certain circumstances.

“Some parents believe that schools elsewhere offer a better quality of education when this is not necessarily the case.

“The department provides transport to pupils in rural areas who live more than 5km from their nearest school, and where public transport and hostel accommodation are not available.

“Pupil transport or a transport subsidy cannot be made available to pupils who travel past a school that can accommodate them.”

She added that parents were welcome to contact the department’s district offices for information on schools closer to their homes that could accommodate the pupils.

Byron la Hoe, spokesperson for the Western Cape Department of Transport and Public Works, said operators transporting pupils were required to comply with the provisions of the National Land Transport Act, including being in possession of a valid operating licence.

“Their vehicles must be roadworthy, and they must have all the necessary permits to transport pupils,” he said.

“Parents and caregivers should take every practical step to check that private operators transporting their children always use safe, roadworthy and reliable vehicles, and that drivers have legal authorisation to transport learners,” he added.

JP Smith, mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social development, said that during their various enforcement interventions, the City’s Transport Enforcement Unit (TEU) focused on whether the vehicle concerned had an operating licence, whether the vehicle was in a roadworthy condition, and whether the driver of the vehicle had all the necessary documentation.

“Vehicles that have no operating licence or operate contrary to the conditions of their operating licence are impounded.

“The unit also focuses on the overloading of the vehicle and whether learners are being transported in the back of goods compartments,” said Mr Smith.

“Scholar transport vehicles that are in an unroadworthy condition are suspended and the driver is prevented from continuing their journey. The driver of the vehicle is then requested to make the necessary arrangements to have a replacement vehicle sent to continue transporting the passengers to their destination.”