Youngsters learning about hardship

Pupils from Orient Hills walk a long distance to get to Maloney Eye Primary School.  PHOTO: VELI NHLAPO
Pupils from Orient Hills walk a long distance to get to Maloney Eye Primary School. PHOTO: VELI NHLAPO

CHILDREN as young as five years old from Orient Hills informal settlement in Mogale City have to hitch-hike every day so they can get to school.

If they are unlucky and do not get lifts, they walk for 45 minutes to Maloney's Eye Primary School in Magaliesburg.

The school caters for pupils from Grade R to Grade 7.

Though the children walk along the dangerous and busy R24 they do not qualify for state-funded scholar transport because they only walk 8km to and from school.

Only a handful of the children have bicycles or are delivered by hired taxis.

Gauteng education spokesman Charles Phahlane said: "The national norm is that we give transport to children that travel at least 10km to and from school."

The stretch of road between Orient Hills and the school is long and winding, and the grass is not cut. A kilometre from the school, at a four-way crossing, patrol guards are sometimes deployed there to ensure the children do not hitch-hike.

A Grade 4 pupil said: "We are not afraid of hiking. If you do not, then you will have to walk all the way to school, and by the time you get there you are tired and late."

In Gauteng, R155-million was budgeted to finance scholar transport in the 2011-2012 financial year. At least 57,187 pupils use state transport to get to schools.

When it rains, about 800 pupils at Maloney's Eye Primary School do not come to school

The principal said she could not comment on the transport issue, but one teacher said: "We have been begging the department to get transport for the children but they say it is not possible because they only travel 4km to school.

"Most parents cannot afford to get transport for their children because they are unemployed.

"When it rains they do not come to school and even if they come, how do we teach wet children?"

High school pupils from the same area who attend Magalies State School are however provided transport, but Phahlane said the buses could not accommodate the younger children.

"We received a proposal to offer the school transport early this year from the district office because of the state of the road," he said. "We are busy investigating."

Parent Dorothy Ketshabile, who has four children at the school, said: "They have to leave home an hour before school starts. We would like to have transport for the children. It is scary that young children have to walk such a long distance or even hitchhike.

"If they do not want to give transport to the older children, then why do they not offer it to the Grade Rs?"

Another parent, Nelson Mtshizo, said: "You live in constant fear that something will happen to the children. It is scary."

Phahlane said the department had commissioned research into state transport.

"The report is supposed to look into the efficiency of the transport system," he said.