On the 26th of July 2005, the Kingdom of Swaziland signed a new Constitution. Amongst other things, the 2005 Constitution made certain promises to different sectors of the Swazi society. The preamble of the constitution states: “Whereas we the People of the Kingdom of Swaziland do hereby undertake in humble submission to almighty God to start afresh under a new framework of constitutional dispensation.” In starting afresh, the Kingdom of Swaziland, under section 29 further states that:
“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.”
This section marked the beginning of the Education for All (EFA) era in Swaziland which many African countries were already implementing or engaged in processes to roll out EFA. In amusement, we as the people of this beautiful Kingdom started engaging and debating what this might mean. It had never crossed our imagination that we would one day realize education for all in our lifetime. With surprise and some doubt, many critical questions had to be asked and answered. Chief amongst them is the source of funding for this programme aimed at empowering even the poorest of the poor Swazi child with an opportunity to access education which is very important in ending poverty and destitution.
The Constitution clearly states that education will be free at the primary level in public schools. What about those living with disabilities and have special needs? Does section 29 mean that they stand to benefit from this provision of the Constitution? Could this mean that our government will begin to put in place policies and structures to cater for the needs of people with special needs? These questions now talk about the quality of education and its accessibility to all.
Most importantly the above questions seek to call for the involvement of citizens and civil society to participate in ensuring that education for all is realized by every Swazi child regardless of gender, race, place of origin, religion, creed, age or disability. The Swaziland Network Campaign on Education for All (SWANCEFA) formed in 2007 is a national education coalition campaigning for Swazi ‘rights to quality and inclusive education for all’. The coalition is currently implementing a grant supported by the Open Society Initiative for South Africa (OSISA) which aims to achieve the Education for All (EFA) goals.
The OSISA funded project promotes continuity in education and training opportunities for children with disabilities by increasing their enrolment and reducing their drop-out rates at ECCDE and primary levels. With this grant, SWANCEFA is contributing to social inclusion by enabling greater access to the regular public education system in Swaziland for children with disabilities through its support to the Ministry of Education and Training for the development of a strategy on Early Identification and Intervention and to build the capacity of ECCDE educators, and parents.
Mandla Methula, the President of Federation of Organizations of the Disabled in Swaziland (FODSWA), says he is excited by this strategy. However, he is quick to point out that for it to be successful, it has to be implemented. “The National Strategy for the Early Identification and Intervention (EII) of Children with Disabilities will ensure that children living with disability are supported with relevant interventions immediately after birth,” said Mr. Mathula. He says some of the conditions of children born with disability are worsened by the ignorance of those who take care of them after birth by virtue of their not being aware that the child lives with a particular disability.
Inception and consultative meetings held with stakeholders in the field revealed a huge interest from the government to own this strategy. Swaziland needs to make an investment in early identification and treatment. This strategy can be utilized to identify children as early as from birth and at less than 24 months of age. Early identification and intervention can positively impact communication and social skills, and may reduce the need for expensive interventions later. Parents have recognized that early years are crucial and have acknowledged that they lack important information needed to support their children’s development such as understanding when children reach significant developmental milestones and that the strategy will also help parents to have easy access to services once a referral is made.
For the ECCDE educators, it is envisaged that the strategy will reaffirm the role of educators to communicate with parents as soon as academic or behavioural difficulties arise. Parents will be informed of learners’ progress through both formal and informal processes. Procedures to identify each child’s level of development, learning abilities and needs are spelled out in the strategy and educational programs are being designed to accommodate these needs and to facilitate each child’s growth and development. This is the core component of the strategy.
The project is expected to have a lasting impact as it will also call for in-service activities and professional development. This will accommodate the need for educators to reinforce their assessment skills, and their skills to interpret different facets of learner’s behaviour. For example, an educator who can recognise a child with the autism spectrum disorder, would be able to call for other professional assistance, such as speech therapy, when necessary.
SWANCEFA and Government of the Kingdom of Swaziland highly appreciate the support extended by OSISA for this particular cause. The next step will entail training and sensitization of different stakeholders about this strategy. According to FODSWA President Mr. Mandla Methula, this strategy means that those dealing with children with disability will no longer be found wondering what to do when it comes to handling a case of a child living with disability. As an organization we can’t agree more and look forwards to the implementation test!
Nelisiwe Nhlabatsi of SWANCEFAShareThis