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Swaziland, known officially as the Kingdom of Swaziland and often referred to as Ngwane or Swatini, is a small country in Southern Africa, measuring no more than 120 miles north to south and 81 miles from east to west for a total geographic area of just over 6,700 square miles. A completely landlocked country, Swaziland is bordered to the east by Mozambique and to the north, west and south by South Africa. The royal and administrative capital of Swaziland is Lobamba, while the administrative capital and largest city if Mbabane. The nation and its people take their name from the 19th century king Mswati II.
According to the latest census data, Swaziland has an estimated population of 1.2 million—a population that, unlike many other countries in Africa, is very ethnically homogenous. The majority of the population is made up of ethnic Swazi, mixed with smaller numbers of Zulu and White Africans, mostly Afrikaners and people of British heritage. Traditionally the Swazi people have been subsistence farmers, and while most still are, some now work in growing the country’s urban formal economy and in government. A smaller minority work in the mines in South Africa.
There are two official languages in Swaziland: SiSwati and English. SiSwati is a Bantu language of the Nguni group of languages and is spoken widely throughout Swaziland and South Africa. It is also used as the language of instruction in Swazi schools. English is used widely in matters of the government, commerce and in some official publications, and is taught as a second language in many Swazi schools. A smaller minority in the country, approximately 76,000 inhabitants, speak Zulu, while Tsonga and Afrikaans are spoken within each of their respective ethnic communities. Christianity is the most predominant religious faith in Swaziland, practiced by over 82 percent of the population. Most Christians in the country adhere to one of the various Protestant faiths or the indigenous African churches, including the African Zionist, followed closely by Roman Catholicism. Non-Christian religions practiced in the country include Islam, Hinduism and Baha’i, each practiced by less than 1 percent of the population.
Education in Swaziland
Education in Swaziland is overseen and regulated by the national Ministry of Education. Schooling for Swazi children is neither free nor compulsory, but despite this, the government reports that over 80 percent of eligible children attend school at the primary level, and of those, 70 percent reach at least the 5th grade. The education system is broken down into three distinct levels or stages: primary education, secondary education and higher education.
Primary education in Swaziland spans eight years (grades 1-8) and serves children between the ages of 6 and 14. The Ministry of Education pays for teacher’s salaries out of the government’s budget, but the rest of the education costs, including supplies, textbooks, building upkeep and teacher housing, is paid by student fees and money raised by community events. The primary school curriculum in Swazi elementary schools focuses initially on basic skills: reading, writing and elementary arithmetic. By the third or fourth grade, these subjects are supplemented by coursework in mathematics, science, history, geography, language and literature, social and religious studies, practical arts and physical education.
Secondary education in Swaziland, which spans 3-4 years depending on the institution, is not nearly as well-attended as primary school. The reasons for this are many, but chief among them is the fact that most Swazi students are forced to drop out of school following primary school to help their families economically, usually by working on subsistence farms.
Higher education in Swaziland is severely limited and provided by only one multi-racial university. There students can earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in a small number of academic and professional fields.
Education in Swaziland, while recently improving, continues to face many challenges. Poverty is widespread in almost every Swazi community, with most people living on the United States equivalent of only $1.00-$1.25 a day. As a result, many families cannot afford to pay for school fees. Health problems are also a major obstacle to education, as there is currently a widespread HIV epidemic in the country.