Newsletter 62 How SA kids travel to school

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess tremendous power to make a student’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal (be sarcastic). In all situations it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a student humanized or dehumanized” Hiam Ginott

The Mail & Guardian published two articles “Farm learners go the mile - just to get to school” 18 MAR 2016 by PONTSHO PILANE and “How do South Africa's children travel to school?” 22 JUL 2014 16:28 LAURA GRANT. Here are some extracts from their respective articles;


  • Learners living on farms get transport to township schools, but involvement in school activities is difficult because they live so far away.
  • At 5am the children on Witklip farm are up, getting ready to take a 90-minute bus journey along the rutted road that leads to their new school, Kgoro Primary in Zithobeni, a township north of Bronkhorstspruit. If it has rained the night before, the bus is unlikely to make the treacherous journey. Once at Kgoro Primary, the Witklip farm learners will probably share a classroom with 42 other children.
  • Over the past two years, the Gauteng department of education has closed down 19 farm schools across the province. According to Oupa Bodibe, the acting spokesperson for the department, there are various reasons for the closures of these schools and they include a decreased learner enrolment with no prospects of growth, challenges with the cost-effectiveness of maintaining the school and the inferior quality of education because of multigrade teaching.
  • Theresho Primary School, which is situated on Witklip farm, is one of the schools that was closed down at the end of 2014. This decision was taken by the department because only 86 children were enrolled at the school. Theresho had five teachers – which is in accordance with the department’s 30:1 learner-to-educator ratio.
  • But Theresho Primary, which catered for grade R to grade 7 learners, had only five classrooms for all eight grades, resulting in some grades sharing classes.
  • If it has rained the night before, the bus is unlikely to make the treacherous journey.
  • The greatest challenge for Refilwe Manganyi, who was an English teacher at Theresho Primary, was conducting lessons with more than one grade present in a class.
  • “I would be teaching the grade 4 learners while the grade 5 learners were also in the class. It was difficult to keep them focused.”
  • Manganyi says that learners were disadvantaged at the farm school, leaving her concerned about learners’ progress and whether they were receiving an adequate education.
  • “We had one hour to teach two or three grades at a time, which meant learners were not getting enough attention,” said Manganyi.
  • “The buildings of these schools have been handed over to the farm owners and learners from these schools have been transferred to schools within their vicinity. In cases where learners require scholar transport, the department has made provision for that,” said Bodibe.
  • Kgoro Primary exceeds the learner-to-educator ratio that the department has set. Principal Hilda Phoofolo acknowledges that each class has an average surplus of six to eight learners, but says this has not affected the quality of education at the school. “This year, there are more learners enrolled than we had expected. The reason for this seems to be that many parents have moved to Bronkhorstspruit for work, bringing their children with them.”
  • Phoofolo believes the merger between Theresho and Kgoro was a good call by the department, but says it also comes with its difficulties. Learners from Theresho initially struggled to adjust to a larger school population and distance makes it hard for them to be involved in extra-mural activities.
  • Distance makes it hard for the farm learners to be involved in extra-mural activities.
  • Distance and the shortage of transport in farming areas also affects the school’s relationship with the learners’ parents and guardians.
  • “Parental involvement is quite low with learners that live on the farms,” says Phoofolo. “They are unable to attend parents’ meetings due to the lack of transport.
  • “The school took the decision to have meetings on the weekends so that parents can attend meetings.”
  • The department provides transport for the learners, which collects them at 5am and leaves the school at 2pm. “I feel bad for the learners in grade R and grade 1. They have to travel so far and long for school at such a young age,” says Manganyi.
  • Phoofolo says she is committed to helping where she can to make the learners’ lives better, but some things are beyond her control.
  • “When it rains, there are a lot of absentees because the farm roads are so bad. The learners often fall behind and educators have to help them catch up.”
  • The school is a lifeline for the poor farm children. Phoofolo reckons the meal they get at school at 11am is probably their only meal in a day. Considering their poor socioeconomic conditions, Phoofolo wonders how many of the learners will complete their education.


  • The percentage of children walking for more than an hour to school was higher in 2013 than it was in 2003.
  • More than double the number of schoolchildren catch taxis to school than catch buses.
  • Half the children in the highest income group travel to school by car.
  • Nearly 70% of children walk to school. Those who live in rural areas are, understandably, more likely to walk than those in urban areas or in the eight metro municipalities. Just over half of the children in metros walk to school, whereas 80% in the rural areas do. And children in the lowest income groups are also more likely to walk to school that those in the highest income group.
  • Walking to school is good exercise as long as the distance is reasonable. An average person can walk 2km to 3km in half an hour, and most learners (about 72%) take less than half an hour to walk to their schools.
  • But 22% of learners walk for between 30 minutes and an hour to get to their educational institution - which means it’s likely that they walk for more than 3km.
  • “The department of transport, in collaboration with the department of education, has a mandate to ensure that transport is provided to scholars, attending grades R to 12 who live more than 3km from the nearest school,” according to the National Household Travel Survey 2013, published by Statistics South Africa last week.”
  • Eighty-one percent of the learners in the 2013 survey attended school (grades 0 to 12), 11% attended pre-school and 8% were doing post-matric or other studies. It’s possible, therefore, that about two million of the eight million children (from grade 0 to grade 12) who walked to school may have walked more than 3km to get there.
  • Of greater concern are the nearly 6% of learners who walked for more than an hour to get to school, according to the survey.
  • In the last national household transport survey conducted in 2003, 4.8% of learners walked for more than an hour to get to school - most of them lived in rural areas. In 2013 this percentage increased to 5.5%.
  • “This is a serious predicament and we should do our utmost to deliver on the national scholar transport policy,” said Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters in a speech at the release of the travel survey 2013.
  • “Scholar transport is subsidised by the department of transport, and one of the objectives of this study is to enable the department to assess the effectiveness of their subsidy mechanism to transport providers. Even though there is a scholar transport subsidy scheme in place, it is not widely used,” StatsSA stated in the 2013 report.”
  • Only 20% of children nationally use public transport - taxis, buses and trains - to get to school. Most of them, about 1.5-million (13%), catch taxis, 650 000 (5%) travel by bus and 70 000 (1%) ride on trains – compared with the 8.5-million children who walk to school.
  • In all but two provinces, taxis are the most commonly used form of public transport by schoolchildren. Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape are the only two provinces where buses are used to roughly the same extent as taxis.
  • Trains only feature in the survey as school transport in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Although there are a few thousand children who travel by train in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and North West, they do not amount to 1%.
  • People who travel to school by train take the longest amount of time to get there - on average 73 minutes - followed by those who catch buses - which take an hour on average. Taxis seem to be the quickest form of public transport, averaging 45 minutes.
  • Walkers and people driven to school in a car, however, seem to spend, on average, far less time travelling. Walkers average 28 minutes and cars average 30 minutes.
  • It’s not surprising then that so few people use public transport. Although the distance travelled to get to school may be a factor. The report does not mention the distances travelled by people using the different modes of transport.

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