February 16, 2005

Minister blames economic woes on poor quality of education

Swaziland's poor economic performance is the direct result of the kingdom's inferior education system, which is producing functionally illiterate students, the minister of education, Constance Simelane, has warned. "The Swazi economy is struggling as a result of the current manpower crisis: an oversupply of underqualified labour, and a shortage of skilled and supervisory personnel," Simelane noted at a conference on remedial education. She attributed the failure of schools to adequately teach English for much of graduates' poor performance in the job market.
The minister echoed comments by educationalists that Swazi education had changed little since colonial times, when students learnt by rote, at the expense of independent thinking and enquiry, and were educated to be manual labourers. "The root cause of the manpower dilemma lies in the education system, not in the students themselves: there are inadequately equipped classrooms, libraries, laboratories and workshops," she pointed out. According to the ministry’s estimations, 70 percent of Swazis are literate, but the degree of literacy is under debate. "The poor quality of English understanding and grammar usage is evident ... many Swazis cannot compose coherent thoughts on paper, or follow directions from written instructions - this is functional illiteracy," said a Manzini primary school teacher.
"Students feel the purpose of school is to pass tests - to memorise material for tests, and then forget it," another teacher explained. "The education system has failed to produce scholars: students who go beyond their lessons and seek knowledge for knowledge's sake. Nobody is telling them that an education creates a well-rounded, enlightened individual, who has an intellect, and that he or she has been trained to solve problems in any situation."
A lecturer at the University of Swaziland, whose chancellor is King Mswati, furthermore blamed the medieval mindset of a country ruled by sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarch for producing poorly educated students: "In a monarchy, subjects are advised not to ask questions, but to obey authority and not contradict. The goal of education is the opposite. The job of educators is to produce intellectual rebels, who will question authority in order to find a better way, and think imaginatively for creative solutions instead of blindly submitting to elders. The traditionalists who run Swaziland are deeply suspicious of intellectuals. They don't want people who challenge them, or who suggest there are better ways than those dictated by custom." He said this mindset had created a rigid pedagogic approach in Swazi schools, from primary schools to university. (IRIN)

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