Dawson, C



The Swaziland Experience in Basic Education and Qualitv: A Discussion Paper

Cooper Dawson

Education Specialist

Note: this electronic copy is still being edited constr1.gif (4369 bytes)


The paper addresses two objectives of the symposium, which are to explored and describe the link between:

i) education, research and educational research and quality of life; and

ii) educational research and policy-making processes in addressing quality of life in the Eastern and Southern Africa regions.

Swaziland's experience in working towards quality improvement in basic education is examined over 30 years. A number of questions are addressed. How does one bridge the gap between a way of life, ideas, educational planning and policy-making? How does one address the "quality of life?" How does one forge the link in a meaningful way; how does one then conceive and develop manageable projects and programmes? And finally, how does one make this process and linkage meaningful to lay persons, and to specialists and generalists in education, alike?

The paper explores how education, research and policy are interlinked in their quest for quality improvements; and how they are all woven into the fabric of quality of life. It describes the interplay between research and action, and the interplay between the macro issues, where policy-making is likened to "clearing space," and the micro determinants of effective schools, likened to "filling space.

The paper looks at some fundamental features of reform and concludes with a summary of lessons learned. It suggests that a focus on changing behaviours and attitudes through providing essential learning skills, and basic learning content, will improve quality of life. No formula for policy-making and planning quality of education is given, but what happens in individual schools is highlighted.

The human condition, and development experience, are such that it takes time for new perceptions and new ideas to percolate through the porous layers of everyday life. The percolation process, often mystifying, often painful, and often exhilarating, takes its own shape and its own form. Swaziland's experience in working towards quality improvement in basic education presents such a profile over 30 years. On reflection, the experience is very positive and very encouraging. This paper intends to explore how education, research and policy are inter-linked in their quest for quality improvements; and how they are all woven into the fabric of quality of life.

The theme chosen for this year's symposium is challenging. How does one bridge the gap between a way of life, ideas, educational planning and policy-making? How does one address that nebulous concept "quality of life?" How does one forge the link in a meaningful way; how does one then conceive and develop manageable projects and programmes? And finally, how does one make this process, and linkage, meaningful to lay persons, and to specialists and generalists in education, alike? The challenge is especially complicated when painted against a background of underdevelopment and its consequences: ignorance, poverty and disease.

Exploring the past..... Looking back over the years in Swaziland, to 1968 when independence was regained, building an education system was identified as one of the major elements in the development process. It was the key to moving the country forward, from underdevelopment, towards reaching the goal of 'developed' country status. 25 years later a review in celebration of that milestone revealed that we had, indeed, achieved much. The number of students in primary and secondary schools had grown three-fold, the number of teachers had quadrupled, and the number of classrooms had doubled. Many new programmes had been developed, planned and executed, including distance learning. A curriculum centre was established, and planning institutionalized. A university and an additional teacher training college was built, technical and vocational training were expanded, and skills training centres were created. The system was on the move in terms of physical expansion and quantitative growth.

However, numbers are meaningless unless they demonstrate something. What does all this growth mean in qualitative terms? The overall pupil/teacher ratio dropped from 40:1 to 33:1. At the same time, the qualification profile of teachers improved: around one third of primary school teachers were not qualified to teach in the early 70s. By the 90s less than 2% were unqualified. In addition, teacher training programmes accepted students with a minimum of 12 years education, up from 10 years a few decades before. Moreover, the basic teacher training course increased from two to three years. These are numbers that evoke envy in many systems around the world. Their significance grows when one considers that enrolments were increasing at an accelerated rate of around 10 per cent per annum. The gross enrolment ratio at the primary level grew from around 70% to over 100% of the age group 6 - 12 years. This is doubly significant when one considers that the population was, and still is, growing at a hefty rate of 3.2% per annum. Government's perceived priority in The First 25 Years: Learning and Growth, Education Sector Report for Swaziland's 25th Anniversary of Independence 1968 - 1993, Mbabane.

Primary enrolments increased from 62,000 to 172,000; secondary from 6,000 to 44,000; the number of pre-schools increased from 42 to 300. The number of teachers grew from 1,600 to 5,300 at primary level; from 300 to 2,400 at secondary level, allocation of resources, combined with the determination of communities in the country to invest in education, and build schools, served to boost education's growth in quantitative terms. The system was growing and catching up with the backlog accumulated from pre-independence days wise leadership was expressed in terms of not suppressing the demand for services, and for new schools, (a policy of which planners were critical, and there are some who still are today).

In the intervening years two national education commissions made far-reaching recommendations. The first, in 1975, set the goal for universal primary education.' This was achieved by 1985, with community support. More importantly, these gains were sustained to the present. Reporting in 1985, the second commission looked ahead and put quality improvement on the table. But this time the goal was more complex, and more difficult to address. More than ten years later we are still struggling with it. Quality is something more than mere expansion. more than numbers, and cannot be bought with money alone. So we come to the central theme of this symposium: what does research tell us about education, quality and quality of life? How central is it to shaping our thinking? And, how did we begin to fight our way through complex issues, to focus on basic skills, changing attitudes and behaviours, and learning (as opposed to teaching)?

Describing the present..... By the early 90s a mixed bag of indicators had emerged. Firstly, the literacy rate increased by approximately 10% per decade, from a base of 44% in 1966 to 63% in 1986.

In 1995 the male literacy rate was estimated to be 72%, and female literacy 69%. This growth is impressive, when seen in the context of population growth: from around 400,000 to close to 1,000,000 today. But a deeper look at basic quality of life indicators began to show a different picture. Research in developing countries revealed that there is a close correlation between high female literacy and low infant and child mortality.

Female literacy rates in Swaziland are relatively high compared to other



Around 30% of the national budget in the early 90s.


Defined by UNESCO as sufficient places for children of primary school age in the country.


6 "(Basic learning needs) comprise both essential learning tools (such as literacy, oral expression, numeracy, and problem solving) and the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes) required byhuman beings to be able to survive, to develop their full capacities, to live and work in dignity, to participate fully in development, to improve the quality of their lives, to make informed decisions, and to continue learning." World Declaration on Education for All and the Framework for Action to Meet Basic Learnine Needs, World Conference on Education for All (EFA), Jomtien, Thailand, 1990.

7 See Imficndvo Eswatini: A brief review 1994, Ministry of Education, Mbabane.

8 UNESCO/CTNICEF, Joint Working Group, Moving Towards Universal Primary Education and Literacy, UNICEF Occasional Papers Series No. 4, 1984.

countries in the developing world, and yet infant and child mortality rates are also high.' Of more concern to the health sector currently is the deteriorating situation with regard to maternal mortality.

Tf education and training are indeed powerful engines that drive development, if education leads to improved quality of life, why has this not translated into better health indicators in Swaziland?


Secondly, a mathematics study was undertaken in the school year 1980-81 in 29 countries around the world, including two sub-Saharan African nations: Nigeria and Swaziland. The mean score reported in test papers for students in Nigeria was 14.4, and in Swaziland was 12.9 out of a possible score of 40.'0

Thirdly, the Ministry of Economic Planning & Development sought World Bank support to undertake a public sector study in Swaziland in 1991. Because of the large proportion of budget allocated to the education and training sector, the Ministry of Education was one of a few ministries singled out for a special study. The study" found:

1) the net enrolment ratio to be 77% of children of primary school age (6-12 years). In other words, more than 23% of children in the system were either under six, or over 12 years of age. In fact only about 25% of children were the correct age for the grade, and thus learning at a level specified by the curriculum;

2) the system was characterized by high rates of repetition (about 26% of all primary school children repeat a grade every year), and high levels of drop-out (about 40% of children do not complete the primary school cycle);

3) the system was inefficient, as 13 years were required to produce a primary school leaver from what should be a seven-year primary cycle; and

4) the quality of education was poor, employers were critical, thus rendering the system ineffective.

Overall, inefficiency and ineffectiveness pointed toward the need to identify areas of wastage, to review unit costs, and to strengthen planning and management. In short a lot of resources were put at the disposal of the sector, by Government, and privately by communities and parents, but the system was not producing the goods.

From exploring and describing to action.....

Policy makers and planners were left with a lot to think about. There was evidence that gains in building an education system were not producing the kinds of behavioural and attitudinal change

9 The infant mortality rate is 74/1,000 live births, and the under 5 mortality rate is 107/1,000 live births.

'O The mathematics test used in this study was the 40-item SIMS (Second International Mathematics Study) "core" test, which contained items covering five curriculum content areas (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, statistics, and measurement). The test was developed to reflect the mathematics curriculum, and the IEA (International Association for the Evaluation of Educational

Achievement) survey assessed that match.


" Education Sector Report. Ministry of Economic Planning & Development, Mbabane, 1991

necessary for improved quality of life; children were not learning mathematics as well as their peers in other parts of the world; and the system itself was found to be a consumer of resources without producing the goods (expenditures were therefore indefensible, and more importantly judged to be unsustainable). The problem was that there were many educational practitioners who felt comfortable with the system. After all we were spending more of the government budget on education than the average for the rest ofAfrica.'2 And more as a percentage ofGDP.'3 Trade union pressures were mounting for a greater slice of the national cake in order to increase teachers' salaries.

The bottom line was that the need for reform was not generally perceived, nor was it the priority of the day -- in spite of the signals. There was a great need for all stake holders to have access to the same information base, and to understand the underlying dynamics of the system in order to build rational policies for change.

Given the picture painted above, something had to be done. First, more information needed to be assembled, preferably in a manner which would provide a continuous flow of management information for decision-making, research, and planning. Second, there was a need to communicate information and analysis to education practitioners and managers, and to the beneficiaries of the system. The Ministry of Education began to strengthen its Management Information System, creating an inter-related web of information that brought together data from the Central Statistical Office, the Teaching Service Commission, community/parental support, and the Treasury. But information on its own is not enough if it is not used, and if it is not responsive to immediate needs.

So work began on establishing a policy support system, and the creation of the Imfundvo Model, a policy-making tool. The model was capable of assembling all relevant data in a computer programme, and of using the data to forecast, in time, what the results of various scenarios would be, over a ten- or twenty-year period. The unsustainability of various current trends became evident immediately, especially in terms of affordability. It was found that, even with the high levels of current support from Government, the system would run out of steam, if reforms and changes were not instituted with urgency.

Action: clearing space for reform, understanding the system's macro dynamics.....

Faced with this alarming situation, what course of action was open to the Ministry of Education?

Senior decision-makers decided to take this information to the public-at-large, to share it "warts and all". However, in policy process terms, a preliminary step was necessary before this could be accomplished: the Ministry began to run a series of workshops for education practitioners and 'Z 30% as opposed to the African average of 16.2% (Source: World Bank, Financin~ Ed~cati~ in DeveloPing Countries, 1986)

In 1991-92 Swaziland was spending 7.6% of GDP; the average for sub-gaharan Africa in 1985 was 5% (Source: World Develooment Report 1992, The World Bank, Washington. managers on key issues and concerns in the sector.'" The rationale was to reach a common consensus within the sector, in-house, on problems inherent in the system, and to begin to contribute to a resolution of those problems. As can be expected, stake holders emerged, some advocated change and others argued for the status quo; still others voiced their highly critical opinions of the system, and began to postulate their own theories and pet solutions. A healthy debate ensued, contributing to open and transparent discussion on important issues. A key outcome of all this was the renewed sense of ownership, of problem-solving, and of policy formation. Different stakeholders came together to express their views, starting with the same basic data set, and information base. In effect "the playing fields were levelled", full and open discussion took place on a professional basis, and to the extent possible (and desirable), the debate was de-politicised and de-personalized. Effectively also, the Ministry prepared its practitioners and managers for the next stage in the process: engaging the public. The preliminaries were over.

A symposium was conducted in mid-1994. Some 400 people were invited from all walks of life: educationalists, traditionalists, members ofparliament, the business community and representatives of various non-governmental organizations working in the social sector. Using the Imfi~ndvo Model, an overview of the education system was presented (past, present and future), and information on financing of education, basic education, and education and the world of work was presented in high-tech fashion with educators leading discussion. What caught the popular imagination was the wastage in education due to repetition and drop-out at both primary and secondary level. Repetition alone cost E38 million per annum; around 25% of the total budget of E170 million for these two cycles. After three days of discussion on the state of education in Swaziland, recommendations called for increased efficiency through the reduction of these two factors, and for increased quality

in order to effect the necessary reforms." And so a new paradigm was born, with widespread support. The Ministry of Education had a mandate to move forward to bring about change and legitimize reform. On the policy-building front, the macro picture cleared space for specific projects and programmes to be established for reform to take root.'6

Action: filling space with change at school level (the micro perspective).....

Policy-makers, planners and managers were now faced with the task of establishing programmes to improve quality, starting with basic education. The first step was to establish a quality working group whose task it was to propose and formulate actions that would serve to implement quality 14 Various workshops were held in the years 1992-1993: "Education and the World of Work," "Policy and the Use of the Imfundvo Model", "Basic Education Assessment and Examinations."

Reports were published by Ministry of Economic Planning and Development, Mbabane, 1995/96. 'S National Education Svmr,osium Reoort, Ministry of Economic Planning & Development, Mbabane, 1994.

16 Healey, H., Education Reform SuDoort in Swaziland: A Case Study, Story Board Presentation at the USAID Basic Education Workshop, Dikhololo, South Africa, 1996.

improvement." The group took as its focus the primary school. It was believed that change would need to brought about at the school level, if reform was to be meaningful. The group also determined that its work should be systematic, comprehensive, and above all, participatory. Its membership was representative of senior colleagues in the Ministry (including the Planning Unit), the National Curriculum Centre, INSET, regional office, and the school itself. The first task was to define the goals of the primary school in behavioural terms -- what should a student be able to do after leaving school?'"

The second step was to begin to define factors that determine the effectiveness of primary schools.

At this juncture the group met with some 80 teachers and head teachers from all 4 regions of the country, drawing on their experience. These contributions were refined to their essential elements. Eleven factors were identified and confirmed. For each of these factors indicators of effectiveness were elaborated, thus expressing change in behavioural terms." The group then visited 10 schools for observation purposes, over a period of three days, and tested the validity of both factors and indicators.

The third step was to commission a client consultation (beneficiary assessment), undertaken by two staff-members at UNISWA, one from the Social Sciences, and one from the Faculty ofEducation.20 Qualitative research methodology was followed to ascertain in-depth what communities in seven different school environments thought about quality of education. 21 different criteria were used to determine the selection of a variety of schools in the country for the study. The term "beneficiaries" was broadly applied and included students, teachers, parents, community members and leaders, traditional leaders, and employers -- a multi-layered clientele. Commitment to a quality education for children came through very clearly, with parents even in disadvantaged communities, also saying that they would pay more for education, provided they were convinced that schools genuinely embarked upon quality improvement. The study greatly influenced the thinking of the working group and lead them to pay more attention to community influences, and to find ways to encourage more involvement in quality education.

'7 Quality improvement is defined as "an improvement in the environment in which the student

works with the aids to learning provided for that purpose by the school system, and when this

improved environment (results in) detectable gains in the knowledge, skills, and values acquired by students." Ross, K.N. and Mahlck, L. Planning the Oualitv of Education: The Collection and Use of Data for Informed Decision-making, UNESCO/Pergamon Press, Paris, 1990.

'8 Quality Working Group, Ministry of Education, Oualitv Improvement Plan for Primary Schools, 1995.

'9 Quality Working Group, Ibid.

20 Ndzabukelwako, J. and Mathew, R., Client Consultation on Oualitv of Education in Primary Schools, University of Swaziland, Kwaluseni, 1996.

The fourth step was to begin to plan quality improvement programmes for basic education with the aim of mobilizing local resources (at community and national level); of examining policies and procedures that are barriers to further development (and thus enabling change to take root); and of attracting donor support. About 11 projects are under preparation, with two already in the implementation stage. One project addresses learning in the classroom, encourages a variety of teaching and learning practices, and strengthens ongoing reform in the assessment of learning; the other concerns the development of new modalities for in-service teacher training. The purposes of this paper will be served sufficiently by a description of the former only. Needless to say, both projects address two of the factors that determine the effectiveness of primary schools in the country.

More action: revisiting and endorsing some existing strategies....,

The 1985 National Education Review Commission strongly recommended the introduction of continuous assessment in schools, The National Curriculum Centre began work in earnest in 1990.

Following development work on materials and methodologies, continuous assessment (CA) began to reach the schools in 1993, with the training of Grade 1 teachers to use diagnostic testing techniques with a view to determining which children in the classroom required remediation, and which needed enrichment. This year the system of enhancing learning acquisition reached Grade 5. The 1994 National Education Symposium call for increased efficiency (less drop-out, less repetition), and improved quality, supported this on-going reform; as did endorsement from the systematic, and comprehensive analysis undertaken by the quality working group.

Ongoing monitoring of CA's impact reveals that repetition and dropout figures are declining,2' and a statistical review of data collected pre- and post-implementation in the classroom shows that children are learning more, and better.22 A monograph-in-progress de scribes classroom observation where CA methodologies are practised and concludes that children in these classes are far more interactive, are acquiring the basic tools oflearning, and are more apt to engage in problem-solving.?j

As with any reform, particularly in the education sector, there are many sceptics. Strategies have been employed to win some over, but in the end one must accept that not everyone will be convinced of the direction and nature of change; nor should this be expected.

A healthy scepticism is what transparency and new democratic movements are all about. In terms of our examination of "the link between policy-making processes in addressing the quality of life", an important point arises at this juncture. It is very important to have constant monitoring and evaluation of new activities, of the sort described above, to ensure that the course of action chosen


?' Central Statistical Office, National Education Statistics 1994. 1995. and 1996, Mbabane.


22 Aronson, J. Technical Assessme

programme, EPMT project/Institute for International Research, Washington, D.C., 1996.


?3 Ministry of Education/Institute for International Research (IIR), Edg~t~2~4L,

Management and Technology Proiect: Final Report, Washington, D.C. 1996.

remains on track and works towards the attainment of set goals. Many interest groups are waiting in the wings to assert themselves, either positively or negatively. Constant vigilance, and tireless commitment is required. CA benefited from this "creative tension", particularly among practitioners; as more teachers were trained, and as they gained more experience, learning increased. As learning increased, their effectiveness was enhanced. And as they became more effective, so their dissatisfaction decreased. The results speak for themselves in terms of diminished repetition; and the more dramatic decline in dropout. It is important in educational systems that children generally are the right age for the grade, that they keep pace with the curriculum designed for them.

And still more action: more space clearing for more action.....

A new dimension added to the reform in learning assessment: gender. This reflects both the dynamism, and the complexity of quality improvement -- once it begins to take root. A programme, twinned with CA, is getting under way in which a new construct is being developed to introduce a gender perspective in the classroom, and in learning. This is an important addition to the paradigm shift towards educational quality in Swaziland.

This new programme demonstrates that assumptions cannot always be made from what is learned anecdotally. It underscores the necessity to research situations carefully and vigorously; rigorous qualitative assessments need to be made. In the first instance, it was somewhat surprising to find that Swaziland's Gender Development Index is in the top 50% globally, better than most countries in the eastern and southern Africa region.24 There are more than 90 countries in the world whose ratings are lower. On first glance there would appear to be justification for complacency: firstly, a look at various indicators reveals that the participation of girls in the school system is equal to, if not better than, that of boys.25 A deeper look at the data reveals that girls tend to start school on time, tend to move from one grade to the next on time, and tend to complete primary school before boys. This is so largely because they are "on time", i.e. they keep pace with the cuniculum.26

Secondly, CA performance data cited above was recently analysed for gender differences. This involved reviewing baseline data (i.e. test scores before children were taught by teachers trained in CA methodologies), and post-implementation test-scores, up to the third grade. The analysis yielded no surprising information -- both girls and boys performed equally well in both English and mathematics, with girls doing marginally better before and after the introduction of CA. This research also found that the information yielded was consistent with information from other areas


24 UNDP, Human Development Report, New York, 1996.

?5 UNICEF/Ministry of Education, Baseline Data: African Girls' Education Initiative,

Mbabane, 1996.

26 Ministry of Education, Imfundvo Eswatini, Ibid.

in the system. Once again it was established that girls and boys were learning more, and better,

under the new regime,"

What all this suggests is central to the theme of this paper: with indicators such as these, why is the

situation of women generally, and the quality of life for women especially, not better than it is?

And, by extension, why are the mortality and morbidity indicators not better for women and

children? So we return to the need to examine more carefully quality of education. Are we doing

the right things? Are we doing things in the classroom that are prejudicial to girls? Are boys

favoured more when the teacher interacts with them in the classroom (even when more than 80

percent of teachers in primary schools are women)? Is there gender bias in the text books? Are we

doing enough in guidance and counselling, is career guidance the key? How can education address

abuse and child protection issues (daily press reports have increased awareness of many forms of

abuse -- domestic violence, sexual abuse, harsh physical punishment)? There is clearly a need for

more research to determine fi~rther action. Researchers, policy-makers, practitioners, and managers

of educational programmes have a new set of complexities to work their way through, hopefully

taking the route of communicating with stake holders and formulating policy by building policy

support -- clearing space for action.


Iterative processes make a difference.....

So what has been demonstrated in this paper? I have described the interplay between research and

action, and the interplay between the macro issues, where policy-making is likened to clearing space,

and the micro determinants of effective schools, likened to filling space. I have described these

events in terms of real experience in Swaziland. I have probably raised mure questions, and

answered less. There is no formula for planning the quality of education. There is no formula for

arriving at an optimum set of policies that will bring about an improved quality of life. You may

conclude that policy on its own is not necessarily the guarantor of change for the better; and for

improved quality of life.


In concrete terms, what is the positive policy outcome of all this work? Space was successfully

cleared: basic education and its central role in the development of education is now an integral part


of the policy shift required to move education forward into the 21st Century. Basic education is an

integral part of reform in Our Children First,28 the document which lays the foundation for

Swaziland's educational development in the National Development Strategy for the next two

decades. Improving quality, reducing wastage, increasing learning through continuous assessment



?7 Aronson, J. An E loration of Gender Differences in the Leamine Responses of

Students Taueht Using. Mastery Learning. Con ts and a Continuous Assessment A roac

Ministry of EducationiUNICEF, Mbabane, 1997.


28 Education & Training Sector Committee of the National Development Strategy: Ou~

First: Education & Training Development Strategy, Mbabane, 1996.

are given due recognition. And so is the recognition that reform is ongoing. Change accelerates

change; and it must be managed if it is to deliver the desired outcomes.


J hope I have also demonstrated that what teachers and head teachers actually do with children has

the greatest imp"ct on their leaming (and this may not always be policy-driven)2' What happens

in individual schools is more significant with regard to children learning than selecting the "correct"

mix of inputs such as buildings, furniture, books and the like.


L~~~nhSaS~Bv~:~el~;;;;ed so far.) What has percolated through the layers of experience over the past

30 years that can be distilled, and lead to further knowledge and actions that will contribute to

improved quality in education, and improved quality of life? 1) The chronology of events described

in this paper were not planned in advance. Educational policy change, and reform is part of what

goes on in civil society, and is therefore depende,t.. what is possible in the political economy of

the day. It cannot be pla""ed step by step; 2) the interpla~ of "filling space" and "clearing

space" is a way to understand the real connectedness between macro-policy issues and what goes

.. where the micro elements are, and where the need for action is· To harness the interplay between


these forces is one of the powerful keys to success: action is moved forward as a result;

3) Information, analysis, and indeed research are not enough. Dialogue, discussion and debate

in public fora are important to enhance unde,standing of the need for policy shifts, chan~es and

reform, andto provide the basis for ownership, and, suhsequently for partnerships in order to get the


job done; and 4) The reform process must be strategically managed, with great sk;ll. Educat;onal

practitioners, managers, and policy-makers must lead the action, and not the other way round.


In short development processes are iterative; the challenge is to find systematic approaches to

achieve our goals. The attainment of our goals should be reflected by demonstrating improved

results that are qualitatively different from the situation understood at the outset (the key is to strive

"to make a difference"). To the extent possible, our research should be empirical, i.e. based on

experience rather than theory. Also, however, to the extent possible, we should use qualitative

research methods, in order to understand better the underlying issues of quality improvement.


Ultimately, if the focus is kept on changing behaviours, on changing attitudes, and in the case of

basic education, on increasing basic learning skills, then the potential for improving the quality of

life exists. Educational planning, research, and appropriate policies are then what they should be:

merely the means for achieving that nebulous, but desirable goal -- quality of life.



29 Heneveld, Ward Planning. and Monitorinrr the Oualitv of Primary Education in Sub-Saharan

Africa, AFTHR Technical Note No. 14, Human Resources & Poverty Division, The World Bank,

Washington, D.C., 1994



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