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Schools opening: teachers to call mass meeting

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By Ackel Zwane - SWAZI OBSERVER-23-Jan-2010

Teachers want to call a mass meeting shortly after schools open to address hiccups associated with the introduction of Free Primary Education by the ministry of education

On Friday, teachers met at their centre, Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) headquarters in Manzini to gather problems already encountered in the wake of anticipated confusion when schools open next week.

Secretary General Muzi Mhlanga said the General Advisory Council had identified a number of loopholes ahead of next week.

Friday’s meeting was a follow-up to the last November one, which tasked them with organising a symposium to discuss developments on free education rollout. He said they engaged the ministry of education but it felt the symposium was ill-timed because they had everything under control regarding the rollout. He said by Friday the representatives had identified that there was poor awareness of the free education programme countrywide and, as a result, very few students were registered. The most affected are rural schools where communication had been taken for granted. Mhlanga said at the centre of this observation is government’s capacity to handle the anticipated flooding of unregistered children come Tuesday.

The other problem already noted is that of insufficient classrooms even though the European Union had donated 38 but still these will not be ready by next week. The other issue along this one is that of mobile classrooms that are expected to be all in by March. Again, in the interim, government has not provided a clear formula of overcoming the challenges of students that will be without classrooms.

The proposed E560 standard fee was also received with strong criticism by the teachers who argue that some schools are operating in dire conditions and that money will be exhausted in auxiliary costs not directly linked to teaching such as transport costs in obtaining teaching material.

They also raised concern that most schools were built by either the communities or missionaries and, therefore, with the standard fee most were likely to withdraw their contributions and that would result in a crisis on its own.

It also emerged that some schools principals were already asking for top-up ahead of the implementation of the E560. Mhlanga, when asked about their demand for a salary raise during the year of the first roll out of free primary education in the country, said government had an obligation to pay teachers and that this was the year of negotiating teachers’ welfare.

He preferred that these two issues be not confused because they were parallel though closely related. Mhlanga further said teachers were in the process of setting up a research department to inform themselves on matters that inform government such as the research that came about with the E560 standard fee.

“Sometime next month, we shall call a meeting to review whether what government has introduced is working or not. We must reiterate that we are for free education. In fact, we subscribe to the education for all principle, especially the universal primary education. All we are saying is that we cannot go there blindly.”

Donors supports govt effort

UNICEF has donated school material, including books, desks and toys worth E10 million to assist government meet its free primary education obligations, especially for the first two grades.

The UNICEF donation was followed by that of the European Union, which pledged to contribute E100 extra to top up the E560 standard fee being paid by government for every child going to school in Grade 1 and Grade 2 on Tuesday.

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