Preprimary & Primary Education
There are very few preprimary or nursery schools in Swaziland. Nearly all preprimary schools are privately operated. Consequently, only a very small percentage of Swazi children are enrolled.
Government-maintained primary schools in Swaziland cater to more than 155,000 students. Influenced by the British colonial system, primary education consists of seven levels. The first two years are called Grades 1 and 2, and the next five years are called Standards 1 to 5. At the age of six or seven, children attend comprehensive, academically oriented schools and study a core of general education subjects. SiSwati is the medium of instruction until Standard 2, and English is one of the subjects taught. In Standard 2 the transfer to English is made. SiSwati is then taught as a school subject. Other core courses offered are mathematics, Zulu, science, and social science. Agriculture, home economics, physical education, and developmental studies are also offered in some schools.
At the completion of the seventh year of "junior school," the Swaziland Primary Certificate exam, prepared by the Department of Education, is administered. The result of this exam is the most important criteria for admission into secondary education or "high school." However, because of the shortage of secondary school places, passing the Swaziland Primary Certificate does not guarantee admission into a high school.
According to official statistics, there were twenty-eight primary school students per teacher in 1996. However, these figures are misleading as numbers vary dramatically in rural and urban areas.
Urban & Rural Schools: Often there are much older children and even some adults in the elementary school classrooms. This is not as common an occurrence as it used to be when Western-style formal education was first introduced and is not generally regarded as a problem either by the students or the teachers. Primary school teaching varies in the different areas and is largely dependent on the qualification and level of sophistication of the teachers. The latter will vary in the rural and urban areas. The acute shortage of teachers has out of necessity led to the use of unqualified teachers.
Repeaters & Dropouts: In 1993 the United Nations Children's Fund indicated a 100 percent enrollment rate of the primary school age population. In reality, however, the Swaziland Government predicted in 1992 that for every hundred pupils entering grade one that year, only 22.4 percent would complete primary school within the seven year time period and only 6.6 percent were expected to complete the entire secondary school cycle and enter tertiary level education.
By the mid-1990s the national average for children dropping out before reaching Grade 5 was 5.2 percent. The dropout rate is higher in the rural areas rather than in the urban areas where the best schools and the wealthiest people can be found, all of which leads to lower dropout rates. There were also more repeaters in the rural than in the urban areas, and statistics released by the Swaziland Government show that 17 percent of boys repeated but only 13 percent of girls did. Of those who dropped out in the rural areas, most did so because of personal crises, the majority related to lack of financial resources and secondly to pregnancy, rather than because of lack of academic readiness or qualifications. Inability to pay tuition fees and purchase uniforms means that children are sent home until parents can afford the tuition payments. The need for boys to tend livestock, especially when the father is a migrant worker, leads to absenteeism and repetition. Because of the breakdown of traditional Swazi culture and the absence of migratory fathers, women can no longer depend on the institution of marriage and the extended family to support them and their children. Thus girls are often more highly motivated to attain a good education than boys are.
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