04/09/2011 - Education in Swaziland suffers under the financial crisis, as a 60 percent reduction in government allowances puts access to education out of reach for the students already affected by poverty.
At the only university in Swaziland, nearly 6,000 students are boycotting classes over cuts in their allowances, which the government says have only been delayed. However, many students state that the 60 percent reduction in allowances makes it effectively impossible for them to continue with their studies.
Swaziland was hit hard during the economic crisis, and only avoided an economic meltdown due to a bailout from South Africa. The hardest hit of the population are the country’s poor and vulnerable, and in Swaziland this constituted 70 percent of the total 1.1 million population who live below the poverty line.
Some of the affected students state that the student allowances were not used only for the student’s educational and living expenses. They were also used by the student’s families to pay for their sibling’s school fees. Therefore, the suspension of university allowances has created a domino effect in many poorer families who can no longer afford to send their younger children to school.
Most students in Swaziland come from very poor backgrounds where their tertiary education is the only hope of them escaping the cycle of poverty.
Some NGO and advocacy groups are stating that these cuts mean that a university education is only accessible to rich families who can afford to pay the school fees.
The use of allowances to pay for sibling’s school fees is especially prevalent in poor rural areas. Although the government is constitutionally obligated to provide free primary schooling, it only does so up to grade three.
There are increased signs that education spending could be cut even further at the primary level.
Wilson Ntshangase, minister of education, hinted at the fact that primary schools may not open for the final term of the year due to a lack of finances.
It was also reported that the Education Ministry is indicating that the payment of school fees for orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs) across all school grades was also in doubt.
OVCs are estimated to comprise nearly half of the country’s school enrolment and their school fees ensure the schools can pay their bills.