Swazi Time: A Lesson in Patience

I’ve mentioned Swazi time before, it’s the understanding in Swaziland that there is no rush, things happen when they happen and I don’t need to worry about being on time. For the typical American this concept is difficult and even painful. As a child I was taught being early was on time and being on time was late. I have done my best to carry that with me into adulthood. I try to arrive 10-15 minutes (at least) early for appointments. I schedule things and expect others to show up early as well and when things have a time limit I do my best to stick to a schedule and finish the meeting promptly at the designated time. Swaziland has taken my American proclivity for promptness and thrown it back at me saying “That doesn’t work here. Things will happen when the happen. Don’t worry so much. There’s no pressure.”

The school year is Swaziland started January 22nd this year. Term one will go from January to mid April, term two from mid May to mid August, and term three from mid September to early December. So like I said school started on January 22nd but unlike the states this did not mean that classes began. This is the first day that all students and teachers attend school. At this time the teachers have meetings and the students hang out or maybe clean the school. The teachers meet in order to discuss the plan for the school year and hopefully to set a timetable to follow for the year. These meetings go on throughout the first week but hopefully instruction will happen starting at the end of the first week or at least the beginning of the second week. Meetings happen during the school day regularly, while students are still in attendance but just sitting in the classroom while these meetings take place. There are no teacher institute days or teacher work days during which students stay home and teachers are expected to attend and work.

It’s currently week eight of school and my school has half a timetable. There are slots that are missing but I’ve been told they should be filled soon. I just keep hearing the phrase “no pressure” from the teachers because that is the expectation in Swaziland. I had a discussion with two teachers about how foreign the concept of “no pressure” is to me because in the US students would have been in an uproar for not having teachers in the classroom teaching during the school term. It is not unheard of in Swaziland for teachers to just not show up to class. I talked about how Americans would sue the school if that were the case because the students’ educational rights are not being met. I was told it is “unSwazi” to sue and people understand because this is the same educational system they were a part of. I doubt that in my two years here I will see much change in the way the school system works here but I do plan on continuing to ask questions about why things are done certain ways. I hope that I can get a few people thinking and maybe even considering alternatives.

One of the main problems I see with the Swaziland education system is the lack of incentives or motivations for teachers. At the end of the day the ministry isn’t keeping track of whether or not teachers are going to class. There are no teacher evaluations. If a teacher is not going to class the only action a head teacher (principal) can take is to report that teacher to the ministry. Head teachers do not have the right to hire or fire teachers. Their only authority is in reporting. Without teacher evaluations there is also no acknowledgement of teachers that are doing their jobs really well. There is no path to higher pay, or a better position. What’s the motivation to teach when I know that I can’t go anywhere with my job and no one is going to actually check if I’m even doing it? I think the education system in Swaziland would benefit greatly from the addition of teacher evaluations and incentives for good teaching. I want to see the teachers that are performing well acknowledged and demanded more of but I also want to see the teachers that are teaching, and doing it well, credited for their hard work and perseverance.


Related to schools but separate from the rest of the post, I get to go to Lesotho this month for a Peace Corps training about safe schools! Peace Corps Swaziland sent out an email asking PCVs from my group that are interested to write a statement about why we would be the right PCV to send to a training about positive discipline in place of corporal punishment, preventing abusing in schools, building relationships between head teachers and other teachers and increasing counseling services available at schools. This training sounded perfect to me. I completed my MSW last May with a concentration in School Social Work, this training is right up my alley. I was selected to go (I don’t know how many people applied). I will get a free trip to Lesotho for the training from March 23rd to March 28th. I will be sure to share about Lesotho and then training when I return!


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