Swaziland’s financial crisis could have devastating effects on its education system unless the government avoids cuts in social services.
As we stated in the 2011 EFA Global Monitoring Report, “divergence between Education for All financing requirements and actual spending is not an abstract concept. It leads to teacher shortages, poor education quality, failure to get children into school and large socio-economic disparities in education”.
After the Swazi government failed to pay outstanding school fees this term, principals have threatened to close their schools as they lack funds for the most basic supplies like pens and notebooks. Some MPs are now questioning whether financing primary education should be a government responsibility at all. In addition, other social services, including the supply of retroviral drugs, are now being compromised in a country that has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world.
The IMF recently refused to bail Swaziland out of its financial trouble unless it cut its public sector wages, among other requirements. South Africa offered the country a $370 million loan, but Swaziland’s absolute monarch, King Mswati III, has so far refused to sign its conditions, which include democratic reforms and adherence to the IMF’s recommendations. Taiwan has offered a $2.5 million grant, a small amount compared with the massive challenges Swaziland faces.
Over the past decade, Swaziland has made progress, although modestly so, towards reaching the Education for All goals. In the 2011 Global Monitoring Report, we found that the country was likely to achieve the goal of adult literacy by 2015. Between 1999 and 2008, education spending increased more rapidly than the country’s economic growth.
But large challenges remain. Just over 50% of Swazi kids get to enrol in secondary education – and the number is much lower for women, the poor and those living in rural areas. Cuts in education and health spending could be devastating to this already frail progress.