Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Education group Equal Education are demanding that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga deliver on her promise to secure funds for scholar transport in all nine provinces.

On Friday, the group picketed outside the offices of the Department of Basic Education in Pretoria, calling for funds to be made available speedily for scholar transport. A national scholar transport policy was introduced in 2015, but Equal Education says little action has been thrust behind it.

This comes after Motshekga committed herself to putting in place a system of grants to ring fence funds intended for scholar transport, following a spate of horrific accidents involving pupils in May.

Equal Education national organiser Luyolo Mazwembe said Motshekga had promised to engage the Treasury on providing funds for scholars who trekked long distances to school under dangerous circumstances.

"Learners face the dangers of being kidnapped, run over by cars and raped on their way to school," Mazwembe said.

The group is demanding that at least R10m be earmarked to provide transport in all nine provinces.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga refuted claims that the department had promised to ring fence funding, but instead there was commitment to explore options that could improve the functioning of the learner transport programme.

He said the issue was much more complex than just earmarking funds for the programme, and the conditional grant was not a panacea to all the problems.

"It is a short-sighted approach to think that a conditional grant will address all the challenges the learner transport programme is facing," Mhlanga said "We need to gather all the facts about it before a decision is made and that process is under way."

Since 2014, Equal Education has been advocating for scholar transport to be rolled out in KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest numbers of students walking long distances — up to 23km — to and from schools.

Scholar transport is a topical issue in all provinces, but KwaZulu-Natal has the highest proportion of students who walk to school. The province underspent its R186m budget by more than 60% in the third quarter of 2016.

According to statistics from the department, 556,294 pupils will be in need of scholar transport in 2017-18 and the government has set itself the target of transporting 459,580 of those pupils. It plans to spend R3bn on this.

In 2016-17, the Department of Basic Education underspent its scholar transport budget by more than R600m. The department’s overall budget for 2017-18 increased by R1.1bn to R23.4bn.

In 2017-18, a budget of more than R20bn in conditional grants has been allocated to five programmes managed by the department, including school feeding; HIV/AIDS in schools; infrastructure; pupils with profound disabilities;and the maths, science and technology programmes.

There is a review under way led by the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, with the Department of Basic Education and the Department of Transport. Mhlanga said a service provider had been appointed to do the work of getting all the facts on the matter.

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