Poor school attendance
Some 11% of primary, and 30% of secondary school children report missing a month or more of schooling each year in Swaziland, according to research conducted by the Addressing the Balance of Burden in HIV/AIDS (ABBA) RPC. What’s more, the research found that the majority of children do not attend school beyond primary school level, with 35% of primary and 45% of secondary school students saying they know a friend or family member who had dropped out of school. The research suggests that if education completion rates are not improved in Swaziland there will be a chronic shortage of skilled people in the future.
The project, ‘Educating a nation: Unpacking the constraints to education in Swaziland’, aimed to determine the prevalence of absenteeism, grade repetition and drop-out rates among primary and secondary school students in Swaziland. A series of interviews with over 1000 students from 16 different schools were conducted; as well as with community members, school teachers, NGO and government department representatives.
Reasons for absenteeism
The high rate of absenteeism was associated primarily with ill-health, followed by a lack of money to pay school fees, uniforms and other school supplies. The most common reasons cited for dropping out of both primary and secondary education were the lack of money for school fees, and teenage pregnancy. The latter accounted for 24% of all dropout cases, and 31.6% of those in secondary schools. That this is an issue for both primary and secondary schools is alarming.
On top of the findings related to absenteeism and drop-out rates, the research also showed that the ‘orphans and vulnerable children (OVC)’ bursary provided by the king of Swaziland was not sufficient to meet the costs of these children’s education. Furthermore, 12.1% of primary and 18% of secondary school students reported difficulties concentrating in the classroom, mainly due to feeling hungry and because of worries about family members.
‘Fear’ related to attending school was also prevalent, with 34% of primary school students, and over half (56%) of secondary school students fearing attending school. Corporal punishment was by far the most cited source of such fears.
A new type of project for Swaziland
This project was the first of its kind in Swaziland and is set to bring a range of new issues into focus. The projects steering committee was made up of Swaziland National AIDS Commission (NERCHA), UNICEF Swaziland, Ministry of Economic Planning, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Finance, and representatives from the UNDP - all of which are key stakeholders, central to policymaking. The research is already making an impact, and has already been discussed in great detail by the Government of Swaziland as the subject of two steering committee meetings: Enforcing the repetition policy and Tackling pregnancy-related school dropout.
The Government of Swaziland has acknowledged the inefficiencies of the OVC bursary, and that child support grants are a possible way of ensuring all children are offered support to attend school. The findings of this research look set to continue to inform the debate on education in Swaziland, and help remove some of the barriers that exist for children beginning and continuing education.