MBABANE, July 12, 2010 — A new World Bank report, “The Education System in Swaziland: Training and Skills Development for Shared Growth and Competitiveness,” calls for urgent steps for strengthening the training and education necessary to foster equitable growth and boost the competitiveness of the Swazi economy. Written by Mmantsetsa Marope in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Training, Kingdom of Swaziland, the report provides a roadmap of reform and identifies three key challenges:
- Limited and inequitable access to primary, secondary and tertiary education
- Weak and uneven education quality across the system
- Lack of relevance between the education provided and the changing needs of a job market, and limited options for providing advice on career choices.
“This report is a valuable contribution to the ongoing debate about how to foster growth and equip Swazi youth for the job market,” said Patrick Muir, Principal Secretary for Ministry of Education and Training, Kingdom of Swaziland. “Education acts as the cornerstone of development and the challenge for the Government of Swaziland is to create the types of highly-skilled workers that attract foreign direct investment and foster economic growth.”
A country largely based on subsistence agriculture, Swaziland, along with its education system and labor force, has been devastated by the scourge of HIV/AIDS in recent years. Swaziland today has the highest HIV prevalence rate (32.4 percent), the highest death rate and one of the lowest average life expectancies of any country in the world. Tragically, the pandemic has orphaned one-third of Swaziland’s children.
In addition to its tremendous human toll, the HIV/AIDS crisis has eroded the work force and further stymied economic growth that was already struggling due to the country’s constrained resource base. Unlike some of its regional neighbors, Swaziland has neither the blessing of diamond mines enjoyed by Botswana nor the mineral reserves endowed to South Africa. While the Swazi economy experienced annual economic growth of 8.5 percent in the 1980s due to the boom of the textile industry, the country’s competitive advantage has since weakened and economic growth has dissipated to 3.5 percent. The country is also working to improve distribution of resources – the wealthiest 20 percent of the population consumes 56 percent of the resources while the poorest 20 percent consumes only 4 percent of the resources. Such conditions have made the education system all the more critical in the poverty reduction and economic growth strategies being pursued.
“The overarching message of the report is that Swaziland’s education, training and skills development sector needs to significantly improve in order for it to more effectively contribute to the achievement of national development goals outlined in the poverty reduction strategy and action plan,” said Christopher Thomas, Sector Manager Education, Africa region. “Our research shows that the linchpin of a competitive economy is a strong, versatile and skilled labor force, which in turn depends on high-quality education.”
With a quality education system Swaziland will be able to create the highly-skilled labor in much demand across the southern Africa region. By exporting skilled workers to its neighbors, Swaziland would not only generate remittances in the short-term, but also promote the regional knowledge exchange necessary to foster a domestic knowledge-based economy.
“Because Swaziland is not endowed with large amounts of natural resources, the path to economic growth, better livelihood, and income equality is to develop a knowledgeable and technologically savvy work force,” said Tazeen Fasih, Senior Human Development Economist for the World Bank. “Swaziland’s economic growth would benefit from exporting highly skilled labor to its wealthier neighbors in southern Africa. In the short-term such activity would not only generate remittances but also further skills development. In the long-term this sort of ‘brain circulation’ would support the country’s transformation into a knowledge- and technology-based economy.”
Milan Vodopivec, Human Development Sector Leader for the World Bank, emphasized the need for Swaziland to address the three primary challenges described in the report.
“Swaziland's transition to a knowledge-based society can be helped by addressing the challenges identified in this report,” said Milan Vodopivec, World Bank Human Development Sector Leader. “By increasing access to all levels of education, Swaziland can foster growth necessary to alleviate poverty.”