Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Employment/education opportunities for particularly vulnerable groups | 30 May, 2013 - 02:00← BACK
Transportation can be more than just a means of getting from point A to B. Research has shown that transportation interventions can be a “catalyst for development”, from providing access to employment to helping increase attendance in the classroom. In South Africa, for example, while the reasons for school absenteeism are varied, the five most commonly cited reasons by school principals, district officials and provincial departments are: poverty, lack of parental involvement, food insecurity – and transport.
The Bicycling Empowerment Network (BEN) South Africa was established in Cape Town in 2002 to address poverty and mobility through the promotion of the bicycle in all its forms. To achieve its mission, BEN imports used bicycles from overseas and distributes them to low-income areas; trains recipients of the bicycles in safety and maintenance; establishes Bicycle Empowerment Centres (BEC's); and encourages cities to implement bicycle planning and infrastructure. In addition, BEN assists with the planning of events to help promote the use of the bicycle as a form of mobility - otherwise known as active transport.
For the past seven years, BEN has also been a service provider to the National Shova Kalula programme, which delivers bicycles to schools to help those who live five kilometres away or more overcome the challenge of getting to school. BEN has provided safety training to all those who initially received bicycles through the programme, allowing the organisation to observe key challenges schools have in sustaining the use of the bicycles, namely:
In response to these challenges, BEN has developed a model of practice to make the use of bicycling more sustainable and effective to improve the attendance and punctuality of learners – and ultimately enhance their chances of educational achievement. However, as BEN’s experience has shown, a one-size-fit-all model is not necessarily the solution; flexibility is needed given that the use of bicycles varies greatly between rural and urban schools. For example, the rural schools focus on using bicycles for transport to school whereas urban schools focus more on out-of-school cycling clubs.
This learning brief concentrates on the challenges encountered in both contexts and proposed measures to overcome these challenges to ensure the sustainability of the programme.
Implementation strategy of the BEN’s Bicycle Mechanics & Safety Programme
In the last year, we have delivered the BEN’s Bicycle Mechanics & Safety Programme to 18 rural schools and two urban schools with bicycles. The particular focus of the model has been on delivering Safety and Basic Maintenance training to these schools to ensure the safety of the learners, as well as supplying them with the spares and tolls needed to make their bicycling programmes sustainable.
Benefits and challenges BEN’s Bicycle Mechanics & Safety Programme for rural schools
Monitoring of the impact of our delivery to rural schools was conducted through questionnaires and site visits. The results demonstrated that bicycling makes a difference to children accessing education in rural areas, with every school that received the safety and mechanical training reporting that:
All the schools we visited, except for two, had bicycles in operation and children who had cycled on that day. The benefits of the programme as described by the school included:
"Attendance is good and they are now on time for school" (Educator, Hawston Primary)
Benefits were also expressed by the learners themselves, as noted below:
"The bicycle changed my life a lot. I cycle half past four in the morning from Quarrie and come at half past six at Ennxhlingshof but I enjoy it a lot because it is good exercise. When I was walking sometimes I came late on the road and had to turn around and go back home. Sometimes it is very cold because I ride far to the bus pick up point, I ride past three farms to the pick up point." (Female learner from Albert Myburgh, Bredasdorp)
"The bicycle has changed my life a lot I lost weight and have become very sportive. I can get up later than before. My mother is no longer stressed about how I am going to get to school, this is financially good for us because even if it rains I can cycle to the pick-up point. My life changed a lot I am now earlier at the pick-up point and earlier at home with the school." (Learner, Albert Mybergh)
Parents also expressed seeing benefits of the programme, such as being less worried and stressed about children’s journey to schools.
"As an elder I feel BEN is making a large difference… It helps that children arrive easily to school. BEN's training was also responsible for the kids being able to repair and maintain their bicycles themselves." (Mr Januarie Bruintjiesrivier, Primary School Overberg Area)
"I felt very nervous before the road rules were taught at school. I thought my child didn't know what side of the road to cycle on and she did not know the stop signs. When I heard the people came and taught her, I was happy. Now she knows her road rules and on which side of the road she has to ride. She also knows when to use her bell, when she needs to stop and also to look right and left before riding." (H. Jacobs Parent, Rooiheuwel Primary nr Oudtshoorn)
"Parents feel more comfortable now they know that their children case use the road safely." (Educators, Klaasvoogds Primary, Ashton)
But the benefits have not come without their challenges. The rural school bicycle programmes have had to find ways to overcome challenges, such as not all children cycling according to safety rules at one school despite receiving safety training; or the misuse of bicycles on weekends by family and friends in community, resulting in the need to keep bicycles at school on the weekend or at the farm pick-up points to counter this risk.
"It was nice to have a bicycle, when I had the bicycle I arrived at the school early. When I never had a bicycle I arrived at school late. There were a few children that did not follow the road rules that BEN taught us, so the bicycles got taken back. Now I came late to school and home I will try to help the others follow the road rules. Please give me back my bicycle I miss him very, very much". (Waden, learner Weltevrede Primary, Barrydale)
To overcome the sense of loss in children from Barrydale whose bicycles were removed due to misuse by some learners, the school has entered into negotiation with parents as to terms and conditions of use so that the bicycles can be returned.
Other challenges encountered during the implementation of the programme in the rural context:
To address these challenges, BEN is considering the following measures:
While the challenges of working in rural areas were considerable, the benefits easily justified the input and cost required.
Benefits and challenges of BEN’s Bicycle Mechanics & Safety Programme for urban schools
We conducted a survey with four schools to see the impact of cycling clubs on the learners. The main areas of impact were:
As noted by the interviewees:
"When I started cycling it was just a bike, when I started cycling with the school it was a whole different thing. I didn't know about wearing a helmet, I did not know the road rules. I used to talk a lot in class because I did not know what was going on. Now I give the answers. You have to focus on the road, now I can focus in the classroom."
"Our family became well/ I felt like a new person. My school work got better and I learnt to work"(Celine from Fairmount High, Grassy Park)
"If I was not cycling I would be doing drugs and drinking, it keeps me away from them." (Learner from Rocklands High, Mitchell’s Plain).
The cycling clubs in the schools we visited were initiated by BEN. In this period, we ran safety training to one secondary school and supported the others by helping to set up races and access funding. The clubs are run by educators except for in Lavender Hill, where Imfundo Cycles (one of Ben’s Bicycle Empowerment Centres) run the club.
Whilst the cycling does not necessarily reduce travel time to urban schools, it does appear to impact on attendance. Teachers, coaches and learners reported the cyclists become more motivated to attend school and that their marks improve due to better concentration, health and self-esteem. The timing of the rides in afternoons and on the weekends also provides the youth with activities when they would otherwise be vulnerable to becoming involved in drugs, gangs or simply hanging around the streets.
Implementing the programme in urban schools also came it with its own unique set of challenges:
To overcome these challenges, we propose:
BEN’s learning: The way forward
Over 12 months of implementation, BEN has seen the multiple benefits of school bicycling programmes in both the rural and urban contexts. To ensure the sustainability of these programmes, core practices of safety, mechanics, storage and contracted use of bicycles need to be in place – as well as a further skills transfer process in both contexts. However, the implementation also revealed that a flexible model of practice is needed taking into account the challenges unique to the rural and urban schools, including limited capacity. One such way of doing this is to empower and incentivize the schools to drive the sustainability of their bicycling programmes. To this end, we will be introducing the Bicycling Empowered School Award made up of three levels: bronze, silver and gold. The core output will be a sustainable programme that does not require BEN’s ongoing or direct input, but rather will be monitored for two years once the skills transfer is completed. The criteria for receiving an award will focus on:
The intention is that by working to achieve gold level status they will become self-sustaining – and in the process overcome the current challenges facing the schools in the process. There will be a three-year time cap on the project for each school. We are looking forward to launching the awards in a few pilot schools already familiar with the programme, who in turn would be equipped to support other schools to set up and run their own bicycling programmes.
 David Booth, Lucia Hanmer and Elizabeth Lovell (2000). “Poverty and Transport: A report prepared for the World Bank in collaboration with DFID”. Overseas Development Unit. Accessed on 18 June 2013 http://www4.worldbank.org/afr/ssatp/resources/html/gender-rg/Source%20%20documents/Technical%20Reports/Poverty/TEPOV1%20poverty%20and%20trans02%20ODI%20for%20WB%20DFID.pdf
 Marinda Weideman, Safiyya Goga, Daniel Lopez, Marium Mayet, Ian Macun & Denise Barry (2007): “Learner absenteeism in the South African schooling system”, Researched for the Dept. of Education by the Community Agency for Social Enquiry and Joint Education Trust. Accessed on 17 June at http://www.info.gov.za/view/DownloadFileAction?id=79522.
 Communication challenges in the rural areas can make monitoring of progress difficult. As we were offering skills training in safety and maintenance visits were necessary at least twice a year, we used this time for monitoring and data collection a.
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Learn about the challenges of implementing bicycle programmes in both rural and urban schools to improve school attendance and academic performance.