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History & Background

The Kingdom of Swaziland, surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique, is a country of rolling grassy hills and pine forests covering mountains reaching up to 4,500 feet above sea level. It is the home of the Swazi, a group-oriented, Bantu-speaking people of Nguni descent who settled in the region of what is today Maputo in Mozambique around 1600. Since 1967 archaeologists have claimed that the Bomvu Ridge in the northwestern part of Swaziland is the site of the oldest iron mine in the world, confirming the belief that the knowledge of iron had its origin in this part of the world long before its use was discovered in the Middle East during the Neolithic period. Exploration of open-pit mines and underground adits revealed extremely ancient mining tools and some charcoal that, when dated, established that Africans in southern Africa had mastered the complicated process of separating iron from iron ore already during the Middle Stone Age, long before anybody in the rest of the world had. Archaeologists also found mines exploited for their black and red specularite. Black specularite, a highly valued glittering hematite, was used in the manufacturing of cosmetics and other facial creams. Cosmetics made from black specularite were valued because of their unique quality of enhancing beauty. Red specularite was used in funerary rites. Both black and red specularite were used for curative purposes. Beads and bracelets found amongst the chisels, hammers, wedges, and ax heads discovered at the iron mining sites have led to speculations that women assisted men in mining. These discoveries make Swaziland the original home of the science of cosmetology and metallurgy.

In the 1700s the Swazi chief, Ngwane II, led a group of his people over the Lebombo Mountains to what is today southeastern Swaziland. There they came upon the powerful state of Shiselweni whose people they united with the Swazi. During the nineteenth century, the Swazi came into conflict with the powerful Zulu nation. British traders and Boers (Dutch farmers from South Africa) also came to Swaziland in the 1830s. In the 1840s King Mswazi appealed to the British for help against the Zulu. In 1881 the British and the Transvaal governments guaranteed the independence of Swaziland. When gold was discovered in the 1880s, prospectors rushed into the region and deceived the Swazi leaders who could not read and write into signing away control of the land. In 1894 the British and the Boers agreed that the South African Boer Republic would govern Swaziland. This remained in place until 1899. After the South African Boer Republic lost a war with the British, Great Britain took control of Swaziland in 1902. In 1963 it became a British Protectorate, and on 6 September 1968 the independent Kingdom of Swaziland under the rule of King Sobhuza II was established. In 1973 the Ngwenyama (king) abolished the constitutional monarchy imposed by the British and Swaziland became governed as a modified traditional monarchy with executive, legislative, and limited judicial powers as are currently vested in King Mswati III. He rules by decree, according to unwritten law and custom, with the assistance of a council of ministers and national legislature and the help of the Ndlovukazi (mother of the king). Polygamy is legal in Swaziland and many Swazi, including the Ngwenyama, have several wives.

Western style education was introduced into Swaziland in 1902 and was designed to provide an education for the European children in this British colony. It was modeled on the segregationist system developed in the Transvaal province in South Africa. By 1916 eight government-maintained schools for European children had been founded and by 1920 free and compulsory education was available to all white children. The education of Swazi children, which never became free and compulsory under British rule, remained primarily the domain of the various Christian missions in Swaziland who established the first 'native' schools around 1900. By 1924, some 17 percent of school-age Swazi children were attending missionary and government-controlled schools where literary education was only provided in so far as it was perceived to be 'useful' for Swazi children. The emphasis was on agricultural and manual training. By 1929 the Swaziland Progressive Association advocated the direct involvement of the Swazi people in issues related to education. In 1940 the British administration enacted the Native Education Proclamation, giving the European Director of Education complete authority over all African schools. This was challenged in the years to come. In the years before the Second World War, the British Colonial office moved to increase the amount of education offered to Africans in the colonies and to increase literacy rates. This process was continued after the War as colonies were prepared for self-rule.

In 1963, as the Kingdom of Swaziland approached independence and saw as one of its goals the evolution of a non-racial society, the racially segregated educational system which had been developed in South Africa was rejected and a racially integrated school system was implemented. By 1965, there was a decreasing emphasis placed on 'industrial arts' or manual labor and an increased emphasis on arithmetic, English, Zulu, and other academic subjects in the syllabi for both primary and secondary schools instead. In 1968 a study authorized by the Resident Commissioner of Swaziland recommended that secondary education in Swaziland be reorganized so as to meet an independent Swaziland's need for a trained labor force, which included specialized workers, bureaucrats and professionals. After Independence in 1968, the goal of the new government was to attain universal primary education by 1985. In 1975 the National Education Commission set new guidelines stating that education should reflect Swazi life and custom and that the emphasis should not be solely on the academic, but also on the practical. During the 1990s the Swaziland Ministry of Education proposed a nine year basic education program that diversified the curriculum and included both academic and 'practical subjects' such as agriculture, home science, technical subjects, and commercial studies. Presently, further proposals are being made to increasingly diversify the curriculum at the senior level and increase the number of practical subjects in order to support a larger agricultural program. Today, in a country where the literacy rate is between 70 and 80 percent, the debate continues over the relevance of and the changes which might need to be made to the present educational system.

Traditional African society is, even in modern times, centered around the homestead, the principal social unit. As a result, traditional education, the responsibility of the entire community, seeks continuity and inter-generational communication as parents and older relatives teach the young respect and obedience as well as about their accumulated knowledge, ways, and traditions, which are related to the child's surroundings, to prepare them not only for adulthood and employment, but for every stage of life. Individualism is tempered with a group identity which is created because all Swazi people pass through various life stages together with their age mates and are taught to share, cooperate, be generous, brave, and loyal.

Through the process of colonization and the dominance of the Western style of life, Western formal education, which strives for change and relies on curriculum and an abstract examination system, is an alien import often in direct contrast to traditional African education and values, which creates a dichotomy with the existing traditional cultural value structures. Swazi students must cross between these two cultures every day. Yet, little attention has been paid to helping them adapt to their educational environment, which is in total contrast to the one they have inherited, and come to terms with Western formal education, which, though disruptive, is becoming increasingly important. Success at a Western-style school is the prerequisite for formal sector employment. Swazi parents generally wish their children to have access to both a Western-style education and to be grounded in the traditional practices of Swazi culture.

The process of acculturation and learning to live between cultures has been made even more difficult for the Swazi child whose father is part of the migrant labor force. Although Swaziland is primarily an agricultural society and has a varied economy and rich agricultural and mineral resources, most families have at least one member engaged in wage employment, most of which takes place in the gold mines and industries of South Africa. As Swazi children, even those born outside of marriage, can only gain family inheritance and status in society through their father, it is extremely important that they not only know their father, but grow up within the cultural kinship structures which ensure their acceptance and future identity in society. When fathers are continually absent, the place of the children in society often becomes ambiguous, and they exhibit negative attitudes toward formal learning. It is likely that the absence of fathers could be part of the problem behind the high drop out rate in Swazi schools and the relatively small number of students who go beyond primary school. As is the case in the majority of Africa, AIDS is becoming a serious threat. It is not yet apparent how this will affect educational patterns in the years to come.

Political, Social, & Cultural Bases in Education: Swaziland has a traditionally British-style formal education system. This means that the structure of the education system reflects that of England, that English is both a subject taught and the medium of instruction, that the education is Euro-centric rather than Afro-centric, and that the standards and rules for examinations are set in England and not in Mbabane. As students are prepared for the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate, the higher education, which follows the school leaving exam, will also be modeled along British lines, rather than according to African needs and criteria. While it can be argued that such an education gives those who are able to succeed greater access to international education and research, it can also be seen as one of the reasons for the high dropout rate. Since 1989 Swaziland has embarked on a program to localize senior high school level examinations.

Until the mid-1970s Swaziland shared a common examinations board and university with the other two former British Protectorates in the region, Lesotho (the former Basutoland) and Botswana. Even though Swaziland is landlocked and, except for the eastern border which adjoins the People's Republic of Mozambique, to a large extent surrounded by South Africa, once itself a British colony, its education system reflects little of its neighbor's system. Its dependence on foreign educators means that multinational characteristics are apparent in some of the developing educational structures. However, even though the government of Swaziland spends 34 percent of its total budget on education, some of the main challenges facing Swaziland's educators have been a lack of financial resources, which are needed to offset the growing demand for well-educated local teachers, as well as the need for literacy and vocational and technical training outside of the formal academic setting.

In modern day Swaziland a number of laws, which directly address children's issues, attest to the government's concern with the rights and welfare of children. A government task force educates the public on children's issues. Even though the government does not provide free, compulsory education, it has a 99 percent primary school enrollment rate. The government pays teachers' salaries while student fees pay for books and the building fund. Because of the high dropout rate, about 25 percent of primary and secondary students do not continue to attend school, in some cases because parents cannot afford the fees. Many capable youngsters find patrons to pay their fees or obtain scholarships in order to continue their schooling.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceSwaziland - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education