Education has never been free in Swaziland, but the kingdom took impressive strides to expand access to primary education after independence in 1968. Communities took the initiative to build schools and initially hired teachers whose salaries were covered by the government. Curricula were determined centrally, but management of the schools was left with local school committees and head teachers who were also responsible for setting school fees to cover running costs of the schools. Children had easy access to education as the system rapidly expanded into the early 1990s, in sync with the country’s economic growth and prosperity. A strong extended family tradition helped children whose parents were too poor and could not cover the fees.
However, from the late 1990s, the educational sector started experiencing reversals due to economic stagnation and poverty. Increasingly, it became difficult for families to pay school fees. Large numbers of children were sent home every term for lack of payment, and the disruptions resulted in very high repetition rates and outright dropouts.
The state of children at the primary school level was further impacted by severe food shortages caused by drought in many parts of the country. School dropout rapidly escalated under these conditions and 80% of school children in the communities hardest hit by the drought were coming to school without breakfast and going home without eating lunch . Teachers reported children fainting in class. Learning under these conditions has been difficult at best.