|© UNICEF SZD / Sibongiseni Mamba|
|A group of pupils at Eqinisweni Primary School in Shiselweni region on their first day of school. In the background is one of the mobile classrooms provided by the Ministry of Education and Training.|
SHISELWENI, Swaziland, 25 February 2010 - Last month, schools in Swaziland opened their doors to all of the nation's children after a Supreme Court decision fast-tracked the implementation of a free primary education initiative.
UNICEF and the European Union provided considerable assistance to this effort, which brought thousands of children into school for the first time.
A dream come true
Nearly all schools reported swelling numbers of new pupils in the two grades that will pay no fees. Children who had been out of school for financial reasons saw this opportunity as a dream come true.
Managing the influx of new students took a dedicated effort. By the start of the school year on 26 January, 60,000 eligible children had been registered and most of the needed school supplies and mobile classrooms had been procured.
The offices of the Ministry of Education virtually emptied out as senior staff travelled to the country's four regions to monitor the situation, while journalists canvassed schools for stories and photographs of this historic event. UNICEF staff also visited rural and urban schools to observe the situation firsthand.
At a rural school in the Lubombo region of eastern Swaziland, principal Henry Mabuza discussed his team's participation: "My school has done enough preparations to accommodate the changes brought by the new system, including aligning the school's budget with the government's new rate. As a result, we have no problem whatsoever.... We are living within our means."
Committed to the effort
UNICEF was instrumental in communicating to ministry officials the encouraging results and lessons learned from Malawi and Lesotho, two neighbouring countries that had instituted free primary education. UNICEF also donated books and desks worth $1.3 million to aid the schools in taking on many more children.
The Ministry of Education of Swaziland, with the support of UNICEF and its partners, has pledged full commitment to sustain this important initiative in order to bring free education to thousands of Swazi children.