Getting to school and the right to basic education

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Geographically, South Africa is a vast country. Its history and the fact that many learners live in deeply rural areas mean that many children have to travel long distances to get to school. As a result, learners’ access to scholar transport is critical to their ability to access education.
The National Land Transport Policy (NLTP) was created in conjunction with the Department of Basic Education and several stakeholders in order to address concerns related to the ability of learners to access safe transport to school.
The policy establishes minimal norms and requirements for the provision of learner transportation. Responsibility for scholar transport is divided between provincial and national departments of education.
Learners deemed to be in need of transportation are identified by the provincial education department. Needy learners in Grades R and One are prioritized. Students with disabilities must be transported and the policy provides for no provision for carrying learners to school in areas where public services are available. 
Unfortunately, the implementation of the policy has been delayed due to issues related to finance and the allocation of accountability. Learners’ access to school transport during the Covid-19 pandemic emerged as a concern for Dr Siyabulela Fobosi, senior researcher and acting head of the UNESCO Oliver Tambo Chair of Human Rights in the Faculty of Law. During the early lockdowns, schools were closed.
As restrictions eased, schools reopened and the matter of transport became important. Unlike other countries in the developed world, South Africa was not necessarily able to implement some of the measures used to limit infection adopted in richer countries. 
In some countries, occupancy of vehicles was reduced and regular cleaning schedules were introduced. 
In Norway, the recommendation was that learners should avoid school transport and families should rather use their own vehicles to convey children to school.
Dr Fobosi’s concern with access to transport, and thus to basic education, led him to conduct a study based on a rights-based approach in order to investigate access to school transport in the Amathole West district in the Eastern Cape.
The study drew on a survey as well as observations and documentary research. Participants in the study included eight educators and 160 learners from two primary and two secondary schools. The majority of learners and teachers surveyed were female.
The survey questioned learners’ satisfaction with the location of the schools they attended, with only 16% noting they were dissatisfied. However, 61% of the learners surveyed travel 10 kilometres from home to school, with 26% indicating that they travelled more than 20 kilometres, thus demonstrating that learners rely on scholar transport to exercise the right to access basic education. 
These findings indicate that scholar transport plays an important role in ensuring the realisation of the right to access basic education.
In a submission to the Standing Committee on Appropriations in 2017, Equal Education, a membership-based movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members, noted that ‘the lack of adequate and sufficient scholar transport cripples a learner’s ability to access schooling, and consequently violates many South African learners’ constitutionally protected right to a basic education’.
Dr Fobosi’s study of Amathole West validates this observation by identifying the high proportion of learners’ long distances from schools, and so identifies the need for the NLTP to be implemented as soon as possible if learners’ rights are to be realised.