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Education seen as the saviour in Swaziland
By James Hall,
Inter Press Service
  MBABANE, 10 March (IPS) - Troubled by an unemployment rate of 45 percent and devastated by a high HIV infection rate of at least 25 percent, Swaziland has decided its salvation lies in the educational advancement of its people.
  ''Only through learning will we know the ways to protect ourselves in an epidemic,'' says health worker Thandi Mabusa, while former education minister Solomon Dlamini believes, people armed with the basic tools of entrepreneurship will be able to find jobs, and create their own livelihoods.
  ''Empirical evidence shows that the quality of life for a people has a very strong correlation to their level of education,'' said Finance Minister John Carmichael when he presented to Parliament a 2000 budget that assigns a record 28 percent of government expenditures to the education sector.

  The government's Economic and Social Reform Agenda, launched last September to much fanfare, noted the link between a rising standard of living -- the majority of Swazis are poor -- and the level of people's education.

  The policy blueprint calls for an annual one percent increase in government expenditures on education.
  But while government pays teachers' salaries, universal free education is beyond the treasury's capacity. Cash-strapped parents must pay school fees, and these can be an onerous burden for the rural poor.
  If one child has to be selected to receive education, it is generally the boy in Swazi society. Swazi women are financially disenfranchised, suffer unwanted pregnancies because of ignorance of reproductive health issues and are victims of HIV virus.
  Non-governmental organisations are at the forefront of education reform in Swaziland. Their message is being heard by traditional authorities in sub-Saharan Africa's last absolute monarchy, who decide what is to be taught in classrooms, and how.
  It also helps that the polygamous King Mswati has five wives whose education level far surpasses queens of the past. Last year, Queen LaMbikisa acquired her law degree, and she intends to use her royal status as a pulpit to encourage women's education..
  Her husband, the king, seems to agree that education rather than military expenditure, favoured by some neighbouring states, should be a national priority.
  Delivering this year's State of the Kingdom address, he emphasised the need for those in school to stay there, and decried teenage pregnancies that mean automatic expulsion for girl students. Mswati encouraged his older subjects to take advantage of adult literacy classes that since the 1960s have taught thousands of illiterate Swazis to read and write.
  Donor money to finance micro-projects, community co- operatives, and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is readily available through grants from the European Union, the United States, the Republic of China and other friends of Swaziland.
  But business skills and practical knowledge are required to create and sustain these enterprises. Finance Minister Carmichael reported to Parliament that new funds intended for ''pre- vocational education, which is aimed at switching emphasis away from institutional training to industry based training.''
  Says primary school teacher Agnes Motsa, ''Learning job skills is not enough, children have to be taught to think imaginatively and to conceive solutions.''
  Such an approach is the opposite of the colonial-era education provided by missionary schools: pedagogy that was aimed at producing low-level bureaucrats but not managers, technicians but not innovators. In subtle ways, this legacy persists.
  King Mswati launched a 25-year National Development Strategy last year with the view that ''our school curriculum for basic education must be designed to foster creative and inquisitive minds.'' He also emphasised flexibility.
  A traditional nation besieged by economic and health crises, for which history has offered no precedent, will need flexible thinking for its survival, not only in education but in culture.
  ''Education will lead the way,'' says social worker Kenneth Dlamini. Educated women will ''band together to form businesses and co-operatives, despite the constraints of a patriarchal culture. We are already seeing this.''
  In Swaziland, communities build their own schools on communal land granted by chiefs. But many schools lack electricity and running water, and children who are often undernourished must walk long distances to attend classes.
  This affects their ability to study well. With help from international donors and an Education Ministry programme changes are underway, including the introduction of the first computers in rural schools in April.
  For the first time resources are being taken outside the urban centres, which policymakers hope will stop the migration out of the rural areas. Currently, many rural children migrate to towns for better education.
  ''The national leadership seems to have its priorities straight,'' says schoolteacher Motsa.
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