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“We need buses for the children going to school”

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Learners and parents demand better school transport

Photo of picket
Learners and their parents, supported by Women on Farms Project, picketed outside the Western Cape Education Department offices on Thursday, demanding transport to school and back. Most of these learners have to walk or hitchhike as far as 9km to the nearest school. Photo: Barbara Maregele
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More than 30 learners and parents living on farms in the Cape Winelands braved the cold and rain to picket on the doorsteps of the provincial education department’s Cape Town office on Thursday. They are demanding that learners living along the Hermon and Oakdene Roads be given transport to school and back.

“We are here as parents because we need buses for the children going to school,” Christina Moses told officials.

Moses’s 17-year-old daughter, Frederica, was among the learners who told officials how they often walked between 7 and 9km to school everyday. Moses said when it rained many learners were forced to hitchhike and accept rides from strangers.

“One child ended up in hospital trying to protect his female friend while they were walking on Hermon Road. Anything can happen to them along the way,” she said.

Five months ago, about 100 learners from Worcester and Wellington marched to the district director’s office in Worcester over the same issue. Some were at Thursday’s picket too.

Learners said they often hitchhiked to school and back because their parents could not afford to pay for private transport. Some learners who were able to take the train — the only public transport in the area — were forced to wait hours for the next train back home from school, they said. Many learners had stopped attending school because of this.

In November, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) told GroundUp that officials were considering new bus routes for learners living along the Hermon and Oakdene Roads.

The department provides transport for about 58,000 learners on more than 500 routes, mostly in rural areas.

Women on Farms project, which has been asking for the new bus routes since 2015, hoped that it would be implemented in January 2019 but to date nothing has been done.

A 2015 survey by Women on Farms of 320 farm children living around Wolseley, Wellington, Grabouw and Stellenbosch, found that most of the learners spent over an hour in the mornings, in all weather conditions, walking to school.

A third of the learners interviewed reported having experienced sexual violence, such as men exposing their genitals, or had been asked for sex, while making their way to school. These findings were shared with the WCED.

At Thursday’s picket, Chaleen Arendse of Women on Farms said, “Learners can’t attend extra classes or participate in sports after school and they miss school when it rains heavily. So many have dropped out of school.”

Arendse said the department had provided a bus for the first time on 2 April 2019 on one of the routes promised, but parents had not been told in advance and some children had not been allowed to board the bus. “We need the issue resolved,” she said.

In the memorandum the picketers also asked the department to amend the “five kilometre policy.” In terms of current regulations, the department only provides transport in rural areas where learners live more than 5km from the nearest school and where there is no public transport or hostel accommodation available. Women on Farms wants this policy reviewed.

Deputy director-general at the WCED Archie Lewis accepted the memorandum. He agreed that parents on farms were more vulnerable and had significant financial constraints. But he said the department had to adhere to the transport policy as it came from national government.

“We are approaching winter, and children are forced to walk and hitchhike many kilometres,” said Arendse.

The group has asked the WCED to respond by 17 April.

© 2019 GroundUp.
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TOPICS:  Education

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