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Statement by The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, at the end of mission in Seychelles

21 October 2013

Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to start by warmly thanking the Government of Seychelles for inviting me to examine the situation on the right to education in the country. I remain thankful for the full support of authorities over the last eight days to my visit in your country, and for sharing with me documentation and information extensively.

I would also like to thank the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva for their valuable support in preparing for and conducting this country visit.

During my stay, I met with various authorities, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs; the Minister of Finance; the Minister of Labour and Human Resource Development, the Minister for Social Affairs, Community Development and Sports; the Minister for Environment and Energy; the Minister of Health as well as the senior staff at the Ministry of Education. I also met with the Ombudsman and Chairperson of the National Human Rights Committee, representatives from the United Nations system, and numerous civil society organizations working in Seychelles, including various teachers groups, and students’ councils.

It was a great honor for me to meet His Excellency Mr. James Michel, President of the Republic of Seychelles, and the Vice President, Mr. Danny Faure. Both of them have been former Education Ministers, which is indeed unique, and can be an asset in supporting the noble cause of education as a highest national development priority.

I also had the privilege of a dialogue with the Parliamentarians, chaired by Hon’ble Andre Pool, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Seychelles.

I had also the opportunity to visit a number of public and private education institutions and met their management, teachers and students on Mahe Island. I would like to warmly thank all those who received me and took the time to share their experiences, and to provide information.

Today, I am here to share with you my initial impressions. I will limit myself to preliminary remarks on some issues that, along with others, I will be exploring in more detail in the report on my visit which I will present to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Over the last years, Seychelles has made remarkable progress in achieving the universal right to education. A legal framework on the right to education, based on the charter of fundamental rights and freedoms in the Constitution, has been established.

Progress made by the Seychelles in the field of education has its foundation in the constitutional provisions on the right to education, as well as the Education Act of 2004. Recognizing its transformative role of education, several laws policies and regulations have been put in place, seeking to develop and strengthen the state of education, The education of 10 years duration is provided free of costs to all Seychellois. The Dedicated Fund, introduced in 2019 in line with economic reforms is allocated to all State schools to ensure that no child is deprived of necessities that would affect attending schools. As a result, over 90 percent of the employed population has attained at least secondary level education. This level of effort and commitment from a country of less than 90,000 citizens deserves full recognition.

The Seychelles has long ago achieved all education-related goals in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including nearly universal access to education for all children, and parity in education for boys and girls. This also deserves appreciation as it shows that the country has lived up to its political commitment, even engaging in MDG-plus agenda.

There are some important initiatives and developments which I would like to especially highlight.

The Seychelles National Action Plan on Human Rights, being currently developed, places emphasis on greater understanding of human rights values and standards, and thus creating a human rights culture in the country. This is an important step for mainstreaming Seychelles' international human rights obligations into all teaching programmes and curriculum contents. It recognizes the need to ensure that people become more aware of their rights, and with the responsibilities that come with these rights.

The new institutional mechanisms like the Seychelles National Action Plan for Human Rights and the Seychelles Human Rights Treaty Committee clearly bear evidence to the engagement of the government in the protection and promotion of human rights in line with their international reporting obligations. The readiness of authorities to assume their reporting obligations under the international human rights conventions is a welcome development.

Another important initiative is the proposed Education Sector Medium Term Strategy (2013-2017), which seeks to build a comprehensive system of quality education and training reflecting universal and national values. This Strategy will also seek to address many of the concerns that I have seen during my visit. In addition to conducting a review of the education system, from early childhood education all the way to tertiary education, it will seek to address quality issues in education and teaching as well as academic governance. I look forward with great interest to the progress towards the adoption of the Strategy as well as its implementation.

Financing of education is an important component of this Strategy. In my meeting with the Minister of Finance, I discussed the need for a legal framework to ensure that national investment in education remains the highest national priority. We also discussed innovative mechanisms to mobilize national resources to better support education, including the importance of raising investment in education for all ministries when their programmes and protests relate to education. I also welcome the corporate social responsibility tax. I believe, this tax is a well-conceived and is important means of improving corporate sector support to the public investment, and I hope it will be harnessed to strengthen the education system. An effective system of monitoring is required to ensure efficient delivery and utilization of such private resources for public welfare.

In my reports to the United Nations General Assembly, and in various statements, I have always emphasized the importance of a normative framework for financing education in line with international legal obligations, since a solid legal framework is essential to ensure sustainability and continuity to public policies and education programmes.

Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me now focus on the emerging concept of the Blue Economy, emanating from the vision of sustainable development to which the Government of the Seychelles attaches great importance. This concept seeks to create a framework aimed at improving human well-being and social equity in an environmentally sustainable way. It presents a great opportunity for a collaborative approach among the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the context of current discussions on post-2015 development agenda. I welcome this human-centred approach to development which seeks to meet some of today's greatest environmental challenges. This framework will focus on a number of areas such as development of shipping and port facilities; fishing, tourism, aquaculture, off-shore energy, biotechnology and submarine mining. All of these sustainable development concerns have educational dimensions, which will need necessary skills. Emerging concept of the “Blue Economy” requires that skills development be central to the education system.

I am very concerned that today the vocational training is considered a programme for low performing students in academic stream. In some of the most successful economies of the world, vocational and technical training and education is an important and preferred and valued career path. Technicians, craftsmen, managers, operators and many more such professions are critical to the success of any enterprise or industry operating in these areas, and today, the Seychelles requires much more people with such specialized skills and competencies. With more than 12,000 foreign workers in its workforce, Seychelles must develop innovative approaches to ensure that national human resource policies and education system lead to reducing this foreign dependence by developing a competent and skilled national workforce.

Institutional collaboration between the vocational and technical education and training (TVET programmes, both in schools and in post-secondary institutions, and private enterprises, is necessary in order to ensure adequate skilled workers required by industry and economy. I would like to emphasize the importance of such institutional collaboration, which meets emerging needs of enterprises and industry and opens employment avenues, and take necessary steps to that end.

I also encourage the government to review national investment in TVET, all the way to post-secondary institutions and higher technical education, to ensure that this sector of strategic importance receives all the support as a development priority.

The education system has historically focused on academic achievement in the English or French traditions. By working closely with industry, technical institutes can develop training and career paths that will be an asset for Blue Economy. Policymakers, educators and teachers must help spread the message that competencies and skills which respond to the rising aspirations of youth in today’s globalized economy provide leverage in economic development and social progress.

During my visit, I visited the School for the Exceptional Child, as well as the Vocational Training Unit of the National Council for the Disabled. I would like to recognize the meaningful support given to persons with disabilities in the education system. At the same time, I must express my concern that there are currently limited possibilities for students in either of these programs to be included and accommodated in the regular education system. I encourage the Government to consider further ways by which students with disabilities are given the opportunity to integrate into the regular system, in accordance with Seychelles' international obligations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me address some other challenges being encountered in the Seychelles which have figured in my discussions. The first, and most important, is the growing shortage of Seychellois teachers and their professional training and retention as teachers leave the profession for other opportunities.. This seems to be related to the decline in the reputation and status of the profession, and their working conditions and career perspective.

I am saddened that very few of the students I spoke with expressed an interest in becoming teachers. When we consider the low enrollment rates in existing teacher training programs at the School of Education in the University of Seychelles, we find this to be one of the most important education-related challenges that the Seychelles must urgently address. The recent gains made in education are at risk if the crisis in teacher recruitment, training and retention is not urgently dealt with. The shortage of dedicated, trained teachers is very alarming, as the profession is not attractive enough.

If the quality of education is to improve, measures must be taken to restore the esteem of the profession, as well as teaching conditions, to ensure the best students are attracted to teaching. In this connection, I would like to mention that the hiring of international teachers can at best be a stop-gap measure, when we consider how important it is that teachers be able to speak Creole to their students when necessary, which is particularly important in early childhood education.

Beyond quality concerns in primary and secondary level education, such concerns in post-secondary and higher education also call for enhanced attention. The creation of the University of Seychelles in 2009 is a noteworthy development within the framework of the Constitutional provisions on higher education and the Tertiary Education Act of 2011. The Constitution recognizes that every citizen must be afforded equal access with equal opportunities to post-secondary education based on intellectual ability. It is commendable that nearly 95 percent of students pursuing higher studies at the University benefit from Government scholarship.

However, the manner in which the University has taken shape remains fraught with challenges, which should be carefully examined to ensure that lessons which have been learned are taken into consideration. The University must be so developed that it becomes a seat of learning, with the pursuit of excellence in chosen areas of national priority. The people of Seychelles receive the best possible education while optimally utilizing available resources.

I would also like to caution against the deployment of teachers, including at the University level, on a contractual basis. I am concerned that this will reduce the attractiveness of the profession, and will add to the serious retention problem already being confronted. It will also make the teaching profession precarious, negatively impact upon teachers’ career perspectives, and adversely affect long-term research and their commitment to the profession with dedication.

I was also very sad to hear that children, adults and youth are facing many diverse social problems, both in schools and at home, and that moral values are on the decline.

This raises some important issues in education. The first is the importance of moral teaching in education. Through the Personal and Social Education (PSE) programme and the teaching of civics and religion and the code of conduct in all schools, the education system is being geared to ensure that children are educated in a holistic fashion aimed at the full development of the child. However, I am concerned to hear that the PSE is not always treated as seriously as it should be. By not evaluating student progress, we are sending the message that this is not so important.

I urge both senior policymakers as well as the Ministry of Education to take measures to strengthen the teaching of PSE to ensure schools are doing their best to impart a moral upbringing to every child. The role and implementation of parent teacher associations and school councils must be strengthened to ensure they are effective avenues of engagement with parents and students to address these serious issues.

In recognition of many complex challenges, President Michel launched the Social Renaissance Programme in 2011. The National Social Renaissance Action Plan, developed through extensive consultation with citizens, civil society, places into national discussion some of the serious social concerns. Pursuant to the Action Plan, the challenges faced by youth today must be voiced thought public debate, in which all stakeholders in education have an important role to play. Its focus must be on “humane development” enshrined in the Constitution of Seychelles. The humanistic mission of education must indeed not be allowed to be vitiated

The education-specific aspects of the Action Plan draw on many of the concerns I have noted in my visit. There is a need to strengthen the moral elements in teaching, including the PSE, promote spiritual education, implement codes of conduct, and make parents partners in addressing children's behaviour and respect for their teachers.

I would also like to emphasize that this Action Plan should be integrated with the National Human Rights Action plan, to ensure that human rights and citizenship education form its core part. It should also focus on the respect for the richness of cultural diversity, as a follow up to the International Decade for the Rapprochement of Culture (2013-2022), launched on 23 August 2013.

President Michel's National Renaissance Programme, which provides a blueprint on how the serious social issues being faced by children at home and in schools can be addressed, can only succeed if parents and communities are actively engaged in dialogue and actions, to find solutions together. Strengthening personal, social and civic education in schools, and bringing discipline to students, are some important means of addressing this challenge.

While the education system remains the primary responsibility of government, educating children is also collective social responsibility. The active participation of all sectors of civil society, including teachers, students, their parents and communities, is vital for a well-functioning national education system.

Members of the Press, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I take this opportunity to applaud the emergence of Seychelles as a middle income country. This shows the country's economic development, and must be considered an opportunity to spur on progress towards nation-building through human resources development, giving primacy to domestic resources and national potential and strength. Development which is founded upon a nation’s own strength and of its people is far more sustainable, and promises a bright future.

Before concluding my statement, I would like to emphasize that the on-going discussions on the post-2015 development agenda are opportune for Seychelles to project its MDG-plus agenda and future strategic thinking on education. The right to education, which is an overarching right indispensable for the exercise of all other human rights, is a strategic axis for national development. Moreover, Seychelles has been actively participating in the Education Ministers’ Meeting of the Commonwealth countries as well as the Ministerial Conference of the Francophonie, held in recent years, both of which recognize the central role of education in international development planning as also the need to preserve education as a public good.

Thank you

Kishore Singh (India), the Special Rapporteur on the right to education since August 2010, is specialized in international law, who has worked for many years with UNESCO for the promotion of the right to education, and advised a number of international, regional and national bodies on right to education issues. Throughout his career, Mr. Singh has supported the development of the right to education in its various dimensions and worked to promote better understanding of this right as an internationally recognized right.