Swaziland education system


Former Education Programme Manager

March 11th, 2013


The Kingdom of Swaziland is the smallest country in southern Africa. It is divided into four administrative regions: Manzini, Shiselweni, Hhohho and Lubombo. Approximately 69 percent of the population lives below the nationally defined poverty level; 80 percent of the country’s poor live in rural areas and depend on small-scale subsistence agriculture for survival. Eighty-two percent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day (UNDP 2009, Oxford Poverty and Human Development Index 2011). Unemployment is officially estimated at 40 percent using a very expansive definition of employment to include homestead work and other types of non-salaried, occasional labour.

Like Lesotho, Swaziland has a highly open economy with only a very small export base of textiles, sugar, and natural resources. Approximately 60 percent of the national budget is made up of revenues from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The steep decline in SACU receipts since 2009 has caused a fiscal crisis for the country. The Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland (GKS) has initiated a Fiscal Adjustment Roadmap (GKS 2010a). According to the plan, the swelling public deficit is to be addressed through severe cost reductions within the public sector and an improved environment for foreign direct investment.

4.1.1.      Children and HIV and AIDS

HIV prevalence is measure in two ways in Swaziland. The HIV prevalence rate for the population aged 2 and above is 19 percent (GKS and NERCHA 2010b). For the 15-to-49 year group, the HIV prevalence is 26 percent, the highest country level prevalence in the world. There are approximately 187,000 adults and 16,000 children living with HIV in Swaziland. Like most of southern Africa, the HIV epidemic in Swaziland has a significant gender dimension. The overall HIV prevalence by gender is 31 percent for females and 19.7 percent for males. Already, at 15 years, 10 percent of females are HIV-positive and only 2 percent of males. By age 20, 38 percent of females and 12 percent of males are HIV-positive, rising to 49 percent and 12 percent, respectively at age 25. By the time males and females are 30 years old, 45 percent of both groups are HIV-positive.

The reasons for high HIV prevalence in the country are not fully understood, particularly from the perspective of gender. 46 percent of 20-to-24-year old females were sexually active by the age of 18 (only 5.9 percent by the age of 15). 85.6 percent of 15-to-24-year-old females became sexually active with a partner up to 10 years older (only 3.5 percent with a partner of the same age). The country experiences high rates of gender-based violence and, particularly in rural areas, maintains cultural traditions that substantially disadvantage females at all ages.

Coverage for ART is continually expanding. As of 2009, it was estimated that 89 percent of adults and 59 percent of children needing ART were receiving it.  PMTCT coverage for the same year was 69 percent. In 2008, it was estimated that 130,000 or 30 percent of all children in Swaziland were OVC. 23 percent of this group were orphans while the remaining were considered to be vulnerable due to being HIV-positive or residing in households where one or more adult members are ill with HIV; or, due to poverty, discrimination, child labour, or exclusion. At the time it was expected that the number of OVC would reach 200,000 by 2010.

4.1.2.      Maternal and child mortality

Maternal and child mortality rates for Swaziland remain amongst the highest in the region. The maternal mortality rate was measured at 590 per 100,000 live births in 2007 (Central Statistical Office and Macro Int. 2008). In the same year, the under-5 mortality rate was 83 per 1,000 live births, while the infant mortality rate was 59 per 1,000 live births. The immunization rate was 82 percent nationally.

4.1.3.      Nutrition and food security

The nutritional status of the country’s children has been improving. Between 2000 and 2007, the prevalence of stunting among children under 5 declined from 30 percent to 24 percent. Similarly, over the same period, the prevalence of underweight declined from 10 percent to 7 percent of all children, although the prevalence of wasting remained between 2 percent and 3 percent. During 2009/2010, it was estimated that 256,383 adults and children were food insecure (Swaziland Vulnerability Assessment Committee 2009). The GKS has stated that, “the dependence on rain-fed agriculture is no longer a viable option for a sector that is considered as a livelihood source for a significant proportion of the population.”

4.2.            General progress in mitigating the vulnerability of children

Recently, efforts to mitigate the vulnerability of children have gained momentum in Swaziland. In 2006, the country submitted its first periodic report on the domestication of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Subsequently, in 2008, a member of the UN’s compliance monitoring committee visited the country to assess progress in strengthening human-rights-based frameworks for children and to review Swaziland’s general efforts to secure their health and well-being. Recent developments in this respect include (Save the Children Swaziland 2011):

a)      Movement through parliament of a new Child Protection and Welfare Bill. Similar to Lesotho, this proposed law aims to fully domesticate the provisions of the UNCRC and other international and regional children’s rights instruments;

b)      Approval of a new National Children’s Policy (discussed in section 4.5.2. below);

c)      Establishment of the National Children’s Coordination Unit within the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office;

d)      Uptake of children’s issues within key parliamentary portfolio committees;

e)      Establishment of a Human Rights Commission with special provisions for children; and,

f)       Establishment of the Children’s Consortium to coordinate NGOs active on children’s issues.

4.3.            Education Sector – Overview, access and equity

4.3.1.       Overview

The education sector in Swaziland was recently the subject of two comprehensive assessments conducted by the World Bank (World Bank 2006, Marope 2010). The reports are guiding the country’s efforts to transform its education sector to become a more substantive driving force in Swaziland’s development, particularly now that the country is at a critical economic juncture.

Like Lesotho, the formal education sector in Swaziland is comprised of six institutional programmes:

4.3.2.      Integrated early childhood care and development

IECCD programmes and pre-primary programmes are largely offered by NGO providers or individuals in both urban and rural settings. Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs) and KaGogo centres also provide these opportunities for young children or facilitate their participation where they are provided in the community. Access to IECCD and pre-primary programmes is limited due to the number service providers relative to the population of eligible children, and because fees are charged for these services. It was estimated in 2009 that only 34 percent of eligible children participated in either IECCD or pre-primary programmes. It has been suggested that the children in households in the wealthiest quintile are ten times more likely to be enrolled in IECCD than children from households in the two poorest quintiles (World Bank 2006). Only 6.3 percent of children with special needs attend IECCD or pre-primary programmes. The same study found that 52 percent of IECCD centres indicated that they were not equipped to provide for children with special needs.

4.3.3.      Primary school (basic education)

As of 2007, there were 556 formally recognised primary schools in Swaziland operated by both governmental and non-governmental providers. The 232,572 learners enrolled in school at the time that the 2006/07 DHS was carried out represented 84 percent of eligible children – of which 48 percent was female (Central Statistical Office and Macro Int. 2008). Enrolment is beginning to increase sharply as Swaziland roles out free and compulsory primary education. However, currently school fees have only been eliminated for Standards 1 and 2.

4.3.4.      Junior and senior secondary school

In 2007, there were 43 junior secondary schools enrolling 60,002 learners, and 157 senior secondary schools enrolling 22,834 learners (Marope 2010). 48 percent of each group was female. An estimated 3,000 learners were enrolled in illegal or non-recognised schools operating as private businesses and hence not included within the relevant institutional policies and processes. The enrolment figures illustrate the stark reality of severely limited opportunities for older children and adolescents to pursue education after primary level. It is estimated that 74 percent of age-eligible children and adolescents for junior secondary school and 88 percent of age-eligible adolescents for senior secondary school are not enrolled in any one school year (Marope 2010)

4.3.5.       Non-formal education (literacy and numeracy training) and distance teaching

For youth and adults not participating in formal school programmes, Swaziland offers adult basic education and training programmes as well as remedial opportunities for those who did not complete primary or secondary education. In 2008, it was estimated that there were approximately 2,408 learners enrolled in basic education and training, and 700 in remedial programmes.

4.3.6.      Technical and vocational education and training

There are 57 publicly funded and 27 privately supported institutions providing TVET programmes in Swaziland. In 2009, there were approximately 1,000 spaces across all of the public and private programme providers (Marope 2010). It has been estimated that the annual number of school leavers both desiring and eligible to participate in TVET is 14,000. Only 7 percent of this group gains admission to TVET programmes in any one academic year.

4.3.7.      Tertiary education

The University of Swaziland (UNISWA), which was established in 1982, is the only tertiary institution in the country. In 2008, UNISWA enrolled 5,440 students. This represented approximately 4.2 percent of the eligible young adults wanting to pursue their education to the tertiary level.

4.4.            Children, vulnerability and access to education

While it is clear that across the education system in Swaziland there are significant barriers to enrolment, retention and completion at all levels for all children, orphaned or vulnerable children face additional barriers that, in many ways, serve to compound or deepen their already compromised social and economic status.

As noted previously, 69.2 percent of the population lives below the nationally defined poverty line with 37 percent living in extreme poverty and unable to meet their basic food requirements. 76 percent of all rural households live in poverty. Poverty makes education inaccessible for poor children, although government-sponsored bursaries for orphans alleviate this barrier for some households. Where poverty is the result of unemployment, households have very little incentive to invest in the education of children. Recent analysis shows that across Swaziland, household income has the greatest effect on whether or not children attend school (World Bank 2006).

The impact of HIV and AIDS at the community and household level compounds poverty and further decreases the likelihood that children in HIV-affected households will attend school. Either the death of parents or other members of the household or family in caretaker roles leaves children as orphans or otherwise vulnerable to abandonment and neglect; or, the burden of sick household members and the consequent burden on household income forces children to leave school to provide support in the home or to take on income-earning activities.

Factors of gender and household composition further confound the efforts of children to attend and to remain in school. The average enrolment of orphaned girls aged 7 to 19 was estimated at 70 percent compared to 81 percent of their non-orphaned counterparts. In addition, more than any other factor, the death of the mother in the household is likely to cause female children and adolescents to drop-out or never have the opportunity to attend school.

4.5.            Efforts to provide care and support to OVC within schools

4.5.1.      Overview

Very recently, Swaziland has generated good momentum in terms of creating opportunities for care and support for OVC associated with schools. The concept of schools as centres of care and support for OVC is now institutionalised across the education sector as a result of the new Education Sector Policy (see below). Many NCPs have become permanent, on-going entities following a pilot phase for these places of safety and support for children at community level that was supported by UNICEF (UNICEF Swaziland 2010a). Maintaining support for school bursaries within a very difficult public sector fiscal environment and continuing to roll-out free basic education within this same context are two other examples of government and leadership level commitment to the educational needs and entitlements for all children and adolescents in Swaziland (Save the Children Swaziland 2007). Finally, the country’s efforts to position children’s issues strategically within the government structure and through leadership-level multi-sectoral partnerships have shown that, despite challenging times, the rights and entitlements of children continue to be a critical priority.

4.5.2.       Policy

The Education Sector Policy (ESP) commits the GKS and the education sector as whole to a number of system strengthening efforts and targeted interventions to care for, protect and support OVC (GSK 2011). The ESP establishes life skills education as a compulsory component of the national curriculum. It states that guidance and counselling functions in schools will be strengthened and expanded. It also provides that OVC in schools will be routinely monitored and that schools will be assisted to respond to OVC needs. In addition, the ESP commits the sector to full protection for learners from all forms of sexual abuse in schools, including harassment, exploitation, molestation, and rape.

Through the ESP, the GKS will develop additional vocational training opportunities and set national curriculum standards for IECCD. The provision of guidance and psycho-social support will be a compulsory subject in both pre-service and in-service teacher training programmes. Teacher training programmes will be strengthened to ensure that:

...all teachers are fully and recurrently capacitated on issues of counselling, guidance, health, psycho-social support, life skills, adolescent reproductive health, HIV and AIDS, sexually transmitted infections awareness and prevention.

Within the classroom, the ESP will provide for the development of appropriate teaching and learning resources that are evidence-based, sex and age appropriate, and geared towards learners’ needs.

Finally, the ESP will enable a special emphasis on the needs of OVC. The goal for the ESP in this respect is to, ‘monitor and support OVC and other educationally stigmatized and marginalized learners at every level of the education system’. To move forward immediately, the ESP calls for the creation of a multi-sectoral OVC task team ‘to coordinate the social sector OVC response and confirm the role and sectoral responsibilities of the MOET in this response’.

4.5.3.      Schools as Centres of Care and Support programme (SCCS)

Within the multi-sectoral effort to address the needs of OVC in Swaziland, the SCCS programme has become in many respects the flagship programme. Swaziland participates, along with Zambia and South Africa, in the regional SCCS programme started in 2005 through a collaborative partnership between MIET, based in South Africa, and the southern African regional programmes for UNICEF and UNESCO. Between 2006 and 2010, the SCCS programme was implemented in Swaziland through a Memorandum of Understanding between UNICEF and other UN agencies (UNESCO, WFP, FAO, WHO and UNDP) and their governmental and non-governmental counterparts. Starting with an initial pilot of 180 schools in four regions in 2005, the programme was operating in 360 schools by 2012 (UNICEF Swaziland 2010b). It was the intention of the MOE to implement the SCCS programme in all schools over the longer term. As part of the programme, schools have received water tanks, gardening equipment and seedlings. In addition, children have received uniforms, and school nutrition programmes. School health programmes have also been strengthened and expanded to reach children in school at least twice per year.

4.5.4.      Neighbourhood Care Points (NCPs)

NCPs were first established in Swaziland by UNICEF as a pilot initiative to mobilize local community responses for the care and protection of OVC. Operating on a daily basis, members of communities received stipends to coordinate community partners to provide food and nutrition, basic health care, non-formal education, recreational opportunities, and psycho-social support to OVC. By 2005, 438 NCPs had been established across Swaziland caring for approximately 33,000 children. In 2006, UNICEF carried out an assessment of 62 NCPs in four regions (UNICEF Swaziland 2006). The assessment found that the NCPs were mostly established with rudimentary stick and mud structures. Each NCP looked after approximately 58 children and the provision of food, either once or twice per day, was the main activity. Most (more than 60 percent) had no access to piped or borehole water. Nor did they have livestock or established gardens, or sufficient supplies for the provision of basic health care. Each centre had between 3 and 10 caregivers, 95 percent of whom were women.

The assessment noted that children attending NCPs were selected by the local traditional leadership structures with input from the community and from NCP caregivers. Once selected, children attended regularly. Prolonged absences of children were followed-up by caregivers. Children were generally destitute. 57 percent were double orphans or children living in households in deep poverty, meaning no source of income whatsoever. Children attended NCPs mostly for food but also for schooling, clothing, and care and support. It was noted in the assessment that NCPs had good success in returning children to school. Overall, the assessment concluded that NCPs played a critical role within communities to support OVC. The assessment recommended that NCPs be absorbed into the institutional structure, and stabilised, strengthened and expanded.

Additional details on Swaziland’s efforts to respond to the needs of OVC within the context of education and schools are contained in the case studies that follow.

About the author(s)

Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator


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