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Political economy of literacy in development : a case study of educational policy in Swaziland Jele, David

Abstract

Lack of literacy still presents a challenge to governments in less-developed countries such as Swaziland. The purpose of this research was to examine literacy formation in Swaziland among low- and marginally literate adults. It focuses on investigating the economic, political and educational factors promoting or inhibiting development of literacy, and analyses the discrepancies between stated policy in official government documents and the strategies that were being implemented. Four questions guided the study: (a) How has Swazi literacy policy reflected the dual challenge of providing universal primary education (UPE) for children and promoting adult literacy education? (b) How have notions of human capital development and alternative perspectives played out in the Swazi national literacy policy? (c) How have international NGOs influenced Swazi state literacy policy formation? (d) What factors specific to the political economy of Swaziland account for the particular successes and failures of literacy formation? To this end, a case study design using a range of data collection techniques was employed to carry out the research. Data were collected through individual interviews of officers in government, educational institutions and other organisations, by a review of the relevant educational literature and by examination of official documents and records. All the information collected was analysed, subjecting it to a critical examination through an approach focusing on the conditions of the economically vulnerable and socially excluded in society. The study generated several key findings about literacy formation in Swaziland, (i) The government still had challenges balancing the provision of primary education alongside promoting adult literacy education, (ii) Notions of human capital development informed the strategies for promoting development, including reducing poverty and unemployment in the country, to the extent that alternative notions were almost neglected. Education and training were provided above all to meet the needs of the economy, (iii) International agencies and NGOs influenced most development efforts in the country; at crucial times creating some dependency on these organisations, (iv) The effect of government policy capacity on the particular successes and failures of policy was found to depend on the resources available to the government (financial and human), governance structures in terms of representing an enabling environment for domestic and foreign direct investment, and the extent to which the government was perceived to co-ordinate policy implementation among government agencies and NGOs. Based on these findings, three general conclusions about literacy formation in Swaziland can be drawn: (a) education and training in Swaziland is, on paper, rated highly. However, there is a mismatch when considering overall support. This is true of formal education - particularly primary education - as it is of adult education and literacy training, (b) Structural limitations at the economic, political and cultural levels present a limitation for literacy formation generally as well as literacy formation among particular population groups based on their age, class, gender or rural-urban location, (c) While the conditions in Swaziland reflect those in the wider continent, the country is unique in important respects in the manner it shares resources - including education, status and power. Policy recommendations include involving all stakeholders in policy-making so as to benefit from the diverse expertise of various groups. They also include paying attention to all factors that might hinder successful implementation of policy, especially resources considerations. Participation in education by adults and children should centre on access based on ability to pay fees and timing of programmes to fit adult working schedules. Poverty reduction should earmark specific groups rather than be general, and there should be openness to other opinions in a climate of national dialogue. Policy decisions should be based on research. Finally, further research is required to analyse learner perceptions of adult literacy, in particular.

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