Swaziland is a lower middle-income country with a population of about 1.2 million people. Most citizens are ethnic Swazis. The official languages are both Swati and English. Its ruler, King Mswati III, is one of the world’s last absolute monarchs, and a man who is not too keen on handing his throne over entirely to parliament.
About half of Swazis live in poverty. Forty percent of Swazis are unemployed and 70 percent of the workforce is employed in sustenance farming. In 2009, there were 0.17 physicians for every 1,000 people.
But it’s not all bad news. Roads are well-paved and far-reaching. The literacy rate is over 91 percent, which might be expected when 8.3 percent of the GDP is spent on education.
Primary school education in Swaziland is not compulsory, but is fully government-funded. Students receive textbooks, stationary, exercise books, meals and school furnishings free of charge. At age 6, students begin Grade one, followed by two and then followed by Standards one through five. At the end of the seven years, children take the Primary School Examination, which determines eligibility for future schooling. Over 90 percent of children in Swaziland complete their primary school education.
From there, things become a little bleaker. Many students forgo secondary education in favor of working to support their families. Only 20 percent of students who attend primary school go on to Forms one through three. There are two main goals of secondary education. The first is to complete schooling and join the skilled workforce in an entry-level position. The second is to take and pass the exams for the Swaziland or International General Certificate of Secondary Education. Both exams are accredited by the Cambridge International Examination and certify preparedness for university.
A tertiary education is a rare thing indeed. Just 5 percent of students go on to attend university. Students looking to stay close to home have the choice of three main universities, all government sponsored. The University of Swazliand offers bachelors, masters, and Ph.D. degrees in education, commerce and science, as well as health science and agricultural fields.
Swaziland’s Department of Education manages curriculum and assessment procedures. Education is so centralized that it can ensure the implementation of its policies. It is not responsible, though, for its budget. That is allotted by the Ministry of Finance, which has caused internal friction.
Still, Swaziland’s educational system seems to be improving. Achievement scores have, in the past, been quite low. In 2000, 76 percent of grade six students read below a grade six level. Ninety-six percent were below grade six level in math. This has improved significantly in recent years. In 2007, the 76 percent in reading decreased to 62, while the 96 percent of struggling math students dropped slightly, to 94 percent. These are projected to continue dropping.
From the investment of the Swazi government in education, to the monitoring of test scores, there are many things that Swaziland is doing right. One of the best things has not yet been mentioned: There is virtually no gender disparity among students. Education is clearly a priority in Swaziland, so improvement seems happily inevitable.
— Olivia Kostreva
Sources: Swazi Legacy, SACMEQ