No longer education as usual in Swaziland
OSISA welcomes government's ambitious ECDE programme
While Swaziland often makes headlines for the wrong reasons, the government is quietly making all the right noises in relation to early childhood development and education (ECDE).
In a landmark announcement that could lead to the transformation of the education system, the Prime Minister, Sibusiso Dlamini, has announced that the government will be introducing Grade 0 in at least 50 schools across the country.
“We are going to give early childhood care and education the attention and upgrade it deserves in preparing children for the future,” Dlamini said, adding that this commitment to enhancing pre-school education across the country was part of the government’s ‘Development Unusual’ mantra.
And it is unusual – not just in Swaziland but across southern Africa.
While the importance of ECDE to a child’s development is not disputed in the region– indeed there is a growing body of evidence pointing to the critical influence of quality ECDE services on children’s futures – most countries have struggled to ensure sufficient access due to a lack of funds, resources and political will.
But over the past few years, the situation has slowly started to change – partly due to a regional campaign by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) and the Open Society Foundations Early Childhood Programme (ECP), which has helped to raise awareness about the importance of ECDE and started to highlight – and address – some of the key obstacles to greater access to quality services.
And Swaziland is taking the lead.
Indeed, the Swazi Prime Minister specifically mentioned that more adequately trained personnel were necessary to improve access to ECDE – and that 50 teachers were currently undergoing an ECDE-tailored diploma course at Ngwane Teacher Training College.
“This is a big step towards access to ECDE services for all pre-school children in Swaziland,” said Wongani Grace Nkhoma, Education Programme Manager at OSISA, which funded the training through a grant to the Ministry of Education and Training. “We are delighted that the government is so supportive of ECDE and hope that it will soon be able to expand the Grade 0 programme to more than 50 schools – and that other governments in the region will follow its lead.”
And another 50 self-sponsored students have now enrolled in the same course – illustrating the high demand for quality pre-school training.
In another welcome move, the Prime Minister also announced that all the trained pre-school teachers would be employed by the Teaching Service Commission and absorbed onto the government’s pay roll, which would help to minimize costs, ensure sustainability and maintain quality.
“While governments across our region have started to take ECDE more seriously, there is no doubt that Swaziland has made the greatest strides in recent years – developing a curriculum and minimum standards for ECDE and building capacity of service providers,” said Nkhoma. “Every child deserves an equal opportunity and that starts with ECDE – as the Swazi government has made clear.”
The Prime Minister’s announcement comes just days before the start of a major regional conference on ECDE, which is being organised by OSISA and OSF ECP. Focussing on the theme of ‘Quality Matters’, the conference will run from December 3-5 and will bring together around 150 participants – including government officials, ECDE practitioners and experts, and civil society representatives – from across the region.
The participants will discuss some of the successes that have been achieved over the past three years – since the OSISA initiative on ECDE was launched – and look at how to scale them up across the region. They will also debate how to tackle the numerous obstacles that still block greater access to quality ECDE services – a debate that will feed directly into OSISA’s next 2014-17 ECDE strategy.
“This conference will play a major role in expanding the gains that have already been made in relation to ECDE across the region in recent years,” said Nkhoma. “The Swaziland announcement really shows what is possible and will, I’m sure, be an inspiration to other governments and ECDE campaigners.”