Education department under fire over pupil transport figures

Pietermaritzburg - The Department of Basic Education (DBE) came under fire from MPs on Tuesday for not providing accurate information on the number of pupils needing transport.

Ramasedi Mafoko, head of planning at the DBE, presented a document to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education showing that 541 728 pupils countrywide had been identified as in need of transport. Of these, 448 930 were provided with transport this year, GroundUp reports.

In KwaZulu-Natal where, according to the document, 90 000 needed transport, 47 747 learners had been provided with it.

But Mafoko then cast doubt on the numbers in the document, saying the 90 000 estimate in KZN was incorrect and that the province was doing an audit to determine how many learners needed transport to school.

Chairperson of the committee Nomalungelo Gina asked whether, in that case, the committee should "simply ignore" the numbers in the document and asked whether the DBE or the provincial department had "actual numbers on this issue".

Mafoko said the audit was a "logical step".

He said the DBE would go to schools within the next two weeks in KZN to collect data on how many learners needed transport.

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But the DA's Ian Ollis questioned why it had taken the DBE so long, since the committee's last meeting in May, to complete a database of learners who needed transport, especially in KZN.

"It is now November and the progress doesn't look very good," he said.

MPs slammed the department for a lack of progress with learner transport, referring to a case in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court in Pietermaritzburg.

The case, by Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre, ended in a settlement that entailed a promise from the KZN departments of education and transport to provide learner transport to 12 schools in Nquthu.

"Why did we have to reach that level?" Cynthia Majeke (UDM) asked DBE officials.

Sonia Boshoff, also of the DA, raised the issue of transport for disabled pupils.

"Once again, we don't see anything on transport for disabled learners."

Boshoff said she wanted a report on transport for learners with special needs, especially in KZN.

Mafoko could not answer Boshoff, but admitted: "We do need to get numbers from provinces on disabled learners who require transport."