On the continuing support of countries in Eastern Africa to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on education systems in the region, the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Nairobi organized an Online IT Partners meeting on June 23, 2020 drawing on the membership of the UNESCO COVID-19 Global Education Coalition and Non-Coalition members. The meeting was held in partnership with the UNESCO Institute for Information Technology in Education (IITE) in Moscow, UNESCO-IICBA and with the support of the Seychelles National Commission in Victoria. The meeting was graced by the UNRC for the Seychelles, Ms. Christine Umotoni and Chaired by Ms. Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa. The Minister of Education and Human Resource Development (MEHRD) of Seynchelles, Ms. Jeanne Simeon as Co-Chair stated from the outset, that due to the low number of COVID-19 cases in the Seychelles, the country decided to re-open schools after the nationwide closure of educational institutions for two months. The reopening of institutions on May 18th was based on strict measures established by a Task Force comprising officers from both the MEHRD and the Ministry of Health. During the two-month closure, the Seychelles resorted to pre-recorded lessons for primary and secondary schools aired by the National Radio Broadcasting Station, while additional educational resources were uploaded on the MEHRD website for access by parents and students. The University of Seychelles did not undergo any interruption during the closure, as teaching, learning and online exams were made possible through Microsoft 365 Teams, while WhatsApp, Zoom and Google classrooms were used extensively to facilitate learning.
The Seychelles adjusted all school calendars to ensure that students caught up on curriculum and contact time for teaching and learning. The MEHRD also developed several guidelines to ensure that standards are maintained, while three sub-committees have been set up to specifically confirm the implementation of action plans, at Day Care Centres and Child-minding Services, Primary and Secondary schools, Professional Centres and the University of Seychelles.
All action plans are guided by three main principles of ‘heightened vigilance’ in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes hygiene, and physical and social distancing, to control the spread of the virus and ensure the health and safety of the school going population. A number of training sessions were also conducted for the various groups working directly with young children and students to ensure application of the virus prevention protocol.
Despite the resumption of schools in safe conditions, the MEHRD is cognizant of several challenges it faces in terms of distance education mechanisms and the issue of equity since not all households have access to online learning platforms or to learning materials/resources. Teachers too, are hesitant and unsure of how to deliver lessons through distance teaching modes, due to the lack of experience and training. The Minister clearly stated that they needed assistance in variety of quality audio-visual teaching methodologies and capacity building in all related areas from pre-school through to higher education which included development of print-based content, digitizing and uploading content on online platforms and expertise in the development and production of audio-visual materials.
The Seychelles is aware of shortcomings in its education system as pertains to a crisis situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and is determined to work towards a more resilient system which includes digital networks and platforms for which its ICT sector is preparing the ground through upgrading of its mobile networks and move to fiber optics. The Seychelles plans to not only strengthen its workforce of ICT professionals, but also maintain the UN prescribed “affordability” target, and the more demanding target set by the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).
The above background set the stage for the various offers made by IT Partners which included: Microsoft, CDNetworks, NetDragon, Curious Learning, Coursera, Hamdan Bin Mohammed Smart University (HBMSU), Distance Education for Africa (DeA), NISAI Group, International Centre of Excellence for Innovative Learning (ICEFIL), UNESCO-INRULED, Commonwealth of Learning (COL), and UNESCO-IITE. Offers ranged from online teaching and learning platforms and online resources; digitization of content; learning resources for people with disability; to online courses for capacity building of teachers on the use of online platforms.
Consistent with its commitment to strengthen work towards a more resilient education system, the Seychelles is currently considering the various offers made by Partners for continuity in education and build back better post-COVID-19. Plans are underway to hold bilateral meetings with those partners that will fulfill the country’s immediate needs and plans for future.