March 3, 2005

New education policy launched

Swaziland is to standardise primary school fees as a first step toward meeting United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) goal of education for all by 2015, Minister of Education Constance Simelane has announced.
Education is not free in Swaziland. Those students who cannot pay school fees stay home, a condition prevalent among a growing population of children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The largest new expenditure bolstering the education for all campaign is Emlangeni 47 million (about US $8 million) for the school fees of orphans and vulnerable children (OVC). The bursaries, announced by King Mswati III when he opened parliament, are expected to benefit about 82.000 primary and secondary students this year. However, the money will not be available until after 1 April, when the new financial year begins, three months into the school year. The financial burden of accommodating OVC has strained school budgets, and has drawn protests from cash-strapped headmasters. "Our action plan is not to reinvent the education system from the ground up. We are trying to make improvements on what we already had," under-secretary Simelane added.
The Central Bank of Swaziland reported that education and training take up the largest portion (26.7 percent) of the government's recurrent expenditure, which accounts for 68 percent of all government spending. Over the past decade, government spending on education has increased substantially. UN Children's Fund country director Dr Alan Brody said he thought Swaziland was making "very good progress". "There is an impressive political commitment from the top for education," Brody added.
However, University of Swaziland lecturer Dr Joshua Mzizi, a former director of the Human Rights Association of Swaziland, has questioned government's ability to finance its education plan. "Education for all is a political expression. You have to wonder if it is just rhetoric geared to pleasing the masses? Should our politicians make promises they cannot fulfil? When the King allocated Emlangeni 47 million to OVC last week, is that money there? Or was he just challenging his government to look for it the best way they know how?" Mzizi also stressed that an education for all campaign should also consider the quality of education offered in Swaziland. "A country without a clear and updated education policy is prone to find itself training learners in skills that are irrelevant for the job market," he noted. (IRIN)

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