Taxi violence affects school attendance

The taxi violence has affected pupil attendance, with some schools in the greater Athlone area heavily affected. PICTURE: LEON LESTRADE/African News Agency/ANA.

While talks to ensure a truce between two clashing taxi associations are ongoing, the fear of being caught in the violence has severely impacted some Athlone schools, with some recording very low pupil attendance.

Heatherdale Primary School in Belgravia has a total of 464 pupils enrolled, but only 38 pupils were present on Thursday July 29. Principal Jaqueline Van der Heyde-Adams said only a few children at their school live in the area, and that most use public or school transport provided by independent operators.

“We did our teaching preparation for the next two weeks, but now we cannot continue. All we can do is some revision with the few pupils who are at school.

“We hope and pray things will get better soon, as it is extremely difficult to teach and learn in these circumstances. Some of the taxi operators our parents make use of, sent them messages to say they won’t be operating, as they fear being caught in the violence. This is so sad,” Ms Van Der Heyde-Adams said.

Rosewood Primary principal, Priscilla Arries, said their challenges were triple-fold – the Covid-19 pandemic, absenteeism and the lack of parent involvement in their children’s education.

“We are still teaching on a rotational basis, and quite a large number of learners have been absent because of the taxi violence.

“We also have 32 learners in isolation. I am currently signing reports, and on a lot of it, pupils have been absent without reasons. So many did not complete assessments. Parents must also do their part. They must show up in their children’s life and education. Not everybody has access to online learning, and therefore we gave our learners take-home packs, but after three weeks, nothing was done. Parents change their telephone numbers or they move, and we cannot get hold of them, because they did not inform the school of this. All of this has a big impact,” Ms Arries said.

At Blossom Street Primary School in Silvertown, about one-third of the pupils use public or scholar transport.

Principal Michael Davids said because of the taxi unrest, they had had to postpone the issuing of reports.

“Absenteeism has resulted in teachers having to postpone term assessments once again due to the premature closure of the schools because of Lockdown Level 4 being implemented.

“Our parents are concerned about their children missing out on academic work. Teachers already have the added workload of teaching lessons twice due to Covid-19.

“Our learners are already at a severe loss due to limited contact time. We have to play catch up all the time. Teaching and learning have taken on a new demanding culture of its own. It is also difficult to give a true account of the academic performance of any child who has to remain home due to Covid-19 isolation regulations as well. Late coming is a constant challenge as learners, parents, teachers and support staff members find it difficult to navigate safely to school,” Mr Davids said.

Western Cape Education Department (WCED) spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond, confirmed that there were continued reports of schools with lower than usual attendance numbers due to the taxi disruption in the Cape Metro. She said some schools were reporting attendance rates as low as 50%, adding that the WCED would assess the effects on learning losses and would advise accordingly.

“One taxi association that commutes learners privately is also not operating due to the threats of violence, which has contributed to low learner attendance. We are, however, thankful that no reported incidents of violence affecting learners has been reported thus far,” she said.

“Parents are encouraged to use alternative transport, where possible, in the areas affected.

“Learners that are on our School Nutrition Programme can collect meals at schools, regardless of whether their grade is attending school that day or not.

“Arrangements can be made at alternative schools close to home for learners that fail to get transport to their school and are on the feeding scheme. It is extremely disheartening to see learners being prevented from attending school. They have lost out so much over the last year and a half. We cannot afford any further learning losses,” Ms Hammond said.

The Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association (Cata) and Congress of Democratic Taxi Association (Codeta) have been fighting over routes, and when a resolution could not be reached, Western Cape MEC for Transport, Daylin MItchell, closed the taxi route between Mbekweni and Paarl last month. There had been 83 taxi violence-related murders and 56 attempted murders in the Western Cape since the start of the year.