Barred from school by high transport costs

Cottonlands parents demand their own high school

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Photo of primary school children
Learners at Cottonlands Primary School will have to travel far once they need to go to high school. Photo from school’s Facebook page

Sphamandla Mthethwa, 22, dropped out of school. Where he lives, in Cottonlands in Verulam north of Durban, there is no high school, and like many others, when he finished primary school he could not afford the transport to high school, 35 to 45 kilometres away.

“Every job requires a matric certificate now,” says Mthethwa, who dropped out in grade 9.

“I wish I had one, but I was unable to study further because I did not have money for transport. If the government builds a school in my area, I can go back to school and maybe it will be easier for me to find employment. I don’t care about my age. What matters is my future.”

Cottonlands Primary School has about 1,000 learners, with approximately 120 Grade 7s waiting to go to high school next year.

But the nearest secondary schools are Mashiyamahle High School, an hour and a half away in Ndwedwe (R20 return in a taxi); Waterloo Secondary School, an hour away in Waterloo area (R44 return in a taxi and R36 in a bus); and Lihlithemba Technical School, and Sisebenzile Secondary School, both 45 minutes away in Ndwedwe, (R14 return in a taxi).

In a community where unemployment is high, most parents cannot afford to send their children to these schools. Some people sell sugarcane to make a living and some collect cans, bottles and steel for recycling.

Residents have taken to the streets to demand a school, with the biggest protest in 2015.

Mbali Hlophe, a dissatisfied parent said: “For years, we have been waiting for a school to be built but our pleas fell on deaf ears. We have lost hope of ever seeing a school being built.”

“Some of us cannot afford to pay for transport. What have we been voting for all these years? What will become of our children without education?”

Another parent, Nokuphiwa Khuzwayo, said: “I am not employed. My children and I can barely survive on a government grant. It’s very difficult to find cash every day for my daughter’s transport to school.”

Twenty-year-old Andile Zibani said his mother had lost her job and had not been able to afford to pay for transport to school. “Sometimes, my family struggled to meet basic needs, so I couldn’t afford bus fares every day. I dropped out and now am focused on building my music career.”

“We appeal to the authorities to build us a school. I was born and bred in this area 20 years ago and I think the almost 30 -year waiting period is long enough.”

Kwazi Mthethwa, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education spokesperson, said a feasibility study would have to be done to establish if there is a need for a new school in the area.

When the Finance Minister, Tito Mboweni delivered the budget speech in February this year, the community was optimistic at the allocation of funds for building new schools but so far they have yet to benefit from any of these allocations. Residents we spoke to said they would like to appeal to the Department of Education to give their children a chance to become productive citizens.

GroundUp spoke to two education experts who noted that the problem of rural areas not having high shools is a widespread one. Key challenges are finding enough teachers for a rural high school. If there are only a few teachers, they are more likely to have to teach subjects they are not qualified to teach, reducing the quality of education. Also, lots of tiny high schools with few students are extremely expensive to run.

TOPICS:  Education

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