THE Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Secretariat and the United Nations, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) have signed a joint statement and action plan on ensuring continuity of learning in the context of COVID-19.
In the statement signed by the SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Tax and the Regional Director and Representative for the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa Prof Hubert Gijzen, the two organisations are rallying development partners, international organisations, civil society organisations and private sector in a broad coalition to ensure that learning never stops.
The statement availed to the media yesterday said that the two organisations highlighted the importance of regional coordination and partnerships in responding to the COVID-19 to avoid duplication of efforts and resources.
It said the SADC Secretariat agreed to work with UNESCO, leading a Global Education Coalition to support SADC member states in mitigating the effects of the coronavirus on education, and in ensuring the continuity of education and learning programmes.
The SADC Secretariat and UNESCO partnership will specifically focus on making distance learning possible for all learners at all levels, create awareness on the importance of health and hygiene, and on COVID-19 prevention through age-appropriate information about coronavirus and other infectious diseases for teachers and learners.
It will also support teachers and teacher educators through access and capacity building to use relevant technologies to facilitate and support distance learning and strengthen capacities and skills for quality STEM education, to ensure learners develop creative minds, and the knowledge and skills required by productive sectors for the implementation of the SADC iIndustrialisation strategy.
The two organizations will also work together to improve science, technology and innovation (STI) and research and development (R&D) response to COVID-19 through the dissemination of timely and relevant research output, including sharing best practices, information, mutual learning, and upscaling initiative with regional dimension, and minimizing duplication of efforts on COVID-19.
The statement further explains that, the partnership will seek equitable solutions, ensure coordinated responses, and avoid overlapping efforts, while facilitating the return of students to school when they reopen to avoid an upsurge in dropout rates.
It said that support will be provided to SADC countries for mobilising resources and implementing innovative and context appropriate solutions to provide education and learning remotely, leveraging hi-tech, low-tech and no-tech approaches, and seek equitable solutions and universal access.
The statement said strengthening access to innovative distance learning opportunities will ensure the provision of high-quality curricular contents.
It also presents an opportunity to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), education to ensure learners will develop the right knowledge, skills and creative minds required by productive sectors in member states.
According to the two organisations, the COVID-19 crisis has resulted in massive closure of schools, polytechnics, and universities affecting more than 1.5 billion learners and youth across the planet.
“School closures widen education inequalities and affect vulnerable children and youth disproportionately. We have a responsibility to ensure continuity, inclusion and equity for all learners,” reads part of the statement.
Through their collaboration, the SADC Secretariat and UNESCO seek to facilitate inclusive learning opportunities for children, and youth during this period of sudden and unprecedented educational disruption.
“This is to support countries in scaling up good practices of distance learning solutions, and reaching the most at-risk children and youth.
Investment in remote learning should both mitigate the immediate disruption caused by COVID-19, and accelerate the development of more open and flexible quality education systems,” the statement said.