24 February 2005

Swaziland: Govt Blows the Dust Off the Covers in Libraries

Mbabane — As part of its efforts to increase literacy, the Swazi government has announced new measures to revive school and public libraries, with improved training for teachers and librarians.

"With little or no access to books outside the course curriculum, there is no way for pupils to improve their fluency in English ... [it also] hinders the development of independent research and study skills, analytical thinking and problem-solving abilities necessary to compete in the world," Minister of Education Constance Simelane said at a workshop hosted by Fundza, an NGO that educates school dropouts.

The education ministry estimates that 70 percent of Swazis are literate, but the degree of literacy is under debate. The high number of secondary school students who failed English in recent exams was attributed to poor reading skills: three-quarters of students failing Standard 5 exams could not pass the English test.

Simelane committed government financial support to Fundza's reading improvement programmes, while new funding from government and private sources will allow for accelerated construction of school libraries. A Fundza initiative will also train 600 teachers in library management, and a separate programme will groom community-based librarians.

The amount to be allocated for these programmes is still to be determined.

Governor of the Central Bank of Swaziland and Fundza's director, Martin Dlamini, said his organisation had tutored 60,000 Swazi students and distributed 100,000 books to individuals in its 17 years of operation.

"The organisation has also seen the need for expansion to involve not only schools but communities, preschools, youth training centers, NGOs and institutions of tertiary education," he said.

Fundza has taken its name from the SiSwati word for "learn" and "read". "The word also means 'gobble', and that is what we find - that once students become independent readers, they begin to devour every book they get their hands on," said Thabsile Tsabedze, a schoolteacher based in the capital, Mbabane.

Improving teachers' qualifications will also help to boost student performance rates, Swazi educationalists believe. The principal secretary of the education department, Goodman Kunene, announced recently that next year the University of Swaziland would introduce new, specialised degree programmes in mathematics and science for teachers.

"Most teachers teaching science and math are qualified in a Bachelor of Sciences degree obtained at the university. This degree does not have an education component, which means it does not teach the individual how to teach these subjects to others," Kunene explained.

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