The short-lived era of free primary school education in Swaziland has officially come to an end. The move contravenes the kingdom’s constitution.
The Swazi Government has approved a circular allowing the Ministry of Education and Training to charge additional educational fees over and above the Free Primary Education (FPE) grant and Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) grant from government.
The Times of Swaziland, the only independent daily newspaper in the kingdom rules by King Mswati III, sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, reported on Monday (28 August 2017), ‘The signing and endorsing of the circulars brings to an end the impasse that seems to have existed between the ministry and school administrators.’
Principal Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Education Pat Muir advised all primary schools, with effect from January 2017 to forward applications for charging additional fees over and above the stipulated free primary education, the newspaper reported.
The directive goes against S29 of the Swaziland Constitution.
The Swazi Government pays E580 per child but this is supported by the European Union.
School principals complained that the money given to them was inadequate. Local media reported that some schools had declared bankruptcy.
The news of the scrapping of free schooling came in March 2017 when Dr Phineas Magagula, Minister of Education, told a budget debate in parliament that top-up fees had been authorised. No additional money would be given by the Government.
Up until December 2016, the EU had spent a total amount of E110 million (US$8 million) to fund the Free Primary Education Programme in Swaziland. In 2015, it reportedly sponsored 34,012 learners in 591 schools. The EU plans to continue paying for the school fees until the end of 2018.
The EU started funding FPE for first grade pupils in the whole country in 2011.
The decision to charge fees contravenes S29 of the Swaziland Constitution which states, ‘Every Swazi child shall within three years of the commencement of this Constitution  have the right to free education in public schools at least up to the end of primary school, beginning with the first grade.’
In February 2017, nearly E2.7 billion (US$216 million) was allocated in the national budget for the kingdom’s security forces that comprise the Umbutfo Swaziland Defence Force (USDF), Royal Swaziland Police Service (RSPS) and His Majesty’s Correctional Services (HMCS).
Security will take up 12.4 percent of Swaziland’s total budget of E21.7 bn ($US1.66 bn), up 11 percent from last year.
Education was allocated E3.5 billion.
Following the latest announcement, Zwelithini Mndzebele, Secretary of the Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT), criticised the move. The Times of Swaziland reported on Tuesday (29 August 2017) he said there was no need for top-up fees at primary school level given that this was a human right enshrined in the Constitution of the land.
‘Government has the obligation to offer Free Primary Education with no option of top-ups as that affects parents,’ he said.
He called on government to increase the FPE grant instead of seeking an ‘easy way out’. He further said this was the same case with secondary or high schools.
He noted that there was a commission set to view the issue of top-up fees in schools and it had offered recommendations. The educator said it would be best if government revisited those recommendations.
The task team, in its recommendations, had noted that top-up fees in schools were the reason many Swazi pupils attended schools in South Africa. The task team compiled the report on the issue of top-up fees in fulfilment of the dictates of legal notice No. 125 of 2014. This, according to concerns raised by head teachers and school committees, depreciated the quality of education as the funds were insufficient to run schools, the Times reported.
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