Education differences

I knew coming into this that the education system in every country is different. I mean it’s even different in every state in the US. I don’t think I expected quite what I walked into though. This is going to be a general account of education in Swaziland. I may throw in some things about the school I am placed at but I am going to try and avoid specifics for confidentiality purposes.

Swaziland has a mixture of private and public schools. Some schools are run by religious organizations or churches but all, including public schools, allow pray in school. Most schools start the day with a morning assembly in which all teachers and students are supposed to be present. This is kind of like morning announcements on the intercom or whatever school tv channel schools in the US have these days, the difference is that all of the students and teachers are present in one location for announcements in person. Some schools sing religious songs, say a pray or sing the Swazi national anthem at assembly as well. Like most things in Swaziland morning assembly doesn’t always start at the time it’s supposed to. My school assembly is scheduled for 7:30am and usually starts closer to 7:40-7:45 by the time the students and teachers have arrived. Saying a pray or three and singing (signing) religious based songs at school is really something I am trying to get used to. It seems so strange to me. I went to public school for my entire life, kindergarten thru grad school even. Swazis view the ability to pray and sing religious songs in school as religious freedom, where as in the US parents would be outraged and talk about their religious freedom being taken away. It’s a different understanding of what religious freedom means to people.

School fees are another difference with the education system here. Swaziland is starting to make public education free, starting with the younger grades and working the way up. So far grades 1-5 are free but that leaves seven grades that still have fees. School is expensive here though. School fees can be around E5000-8000 for the year. This seems outrageous when you realize the average salary is about E1800/month and there is a 29% unemployment rate. That fee is also per child and just the fee for going to school. This fee does not include the cost of textbooks, notebooks, writing utensils or other school supplies. It also does not include the cost of school uniforms, which every school in the country has and they are all different. Schools also don’t simply have one uniform that is worn everyday. There are button up shirts, sweaters, sweat vests, polo shirts, track suits (pants and jackets, skirts for girls and dress pants for boys. There are also specific uniform shoes that all students are required to wear. I don’t even know how much each piece of clothing for the uniform costs but I do know I bought a pair of jeans that were originally E170 and on sale for E80. If each of those items fall in that range, let’s say E100 each, that’s E700 just for one of each of the uniform pieces, not including shoes. Some schools also are boarding schools and therefore have fees for electricity use, water, food, and hospital fees. The cost of school here is mindboggling when you start to consider that a family most likely is sending more than one child to school and there is a good chance they are making very little or are unemployed.

The government of Swaziland also used to pay for every Swazi citizen, who had passed their high school exams, to attend university. They would pay everything. Once the program was complete and the person is employed they are expected to pay back half of the cost of the degree. One woman I know is now paying back her half of the college fees and that comes out to E500 per month for 12 years! If she were to lose her job she would not be expected to pay but as long as the person is employed they are expected to make these payments every month. Currently there is a university in Swaziland that is offering free Master’s and PhD programs in education as long as the degree is a thesis only degree, which would mean no course work, just research and thesis writing. The stated goal of this offer is to increase the number of Swazis that pursue Masters and PhDs. It seems like a good idea in theory but I wonder how much is actually missing from the education since there would be no coursework at all.

Education in every country is different. Expectations, teachers, required classes, fees, and teaching methods are just some of the things that can vary from country to country and even school to school. I am learning a lot about education in general from this experience already. I anticipate even more growth in this area as well as I become more integrated into the country and can maybe start to ask the hard questions and even potentially get some honest answers through the relationships I have built. 

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