In the National Assembly |21 July 2021
Scholarships, exams and special needs education under microscope
Minister for Education Justin Valentin, principal secretary for education services, Odile de Commarmond and chief executive of the Agency for National Human Resource Development, Nadia Lauricourt yesterday addressed questions by members of the National Assembly.
In starting, Minister Valentin once again pointed out that a total 218 students have met the criteria and qualified for government scholarships. Of them, 81 completed their studies in 2019 and 137 who completed in 2020.
“Presently, there are 670 students who are doing their studies under a government scholarship, 399 overseas, and 271 locally. Up until June 2021, there are 123 students who have completed their formalities to pursue advanced studies abroad this year, and 46 who will follow their studies locally, either at the University of Seychelles (UniSey), or at the Guy Morel Institute (TGMI),” said Dr Valentin.
“Real expenses for the students up until June 30, amount to around R85 million. Real expenses on the 46 new students who will study locally is around R21 million. Forecasted expenses on students who have completed formalities is around R131 million. And the expenses forecasted on the 670 students who are studying will be much more than R85 million, as there will be new tuition fees to be paid and such, and thus, the total may even exceed R302 million,” Minister Valentin explained.
Scholarship expenses include university expenses, stipends, insurance, visa costs, financial assistance for books which are paid once annually, return tickets, PCR tests, quarantine, and if necessary, the extension of studies, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry was allocated R302 million for scholarships in the national budget.
Inner islands representative Hon. Rocky Uranie of United Seychelles questioned the minister as to whether a significant proportion of students have been forced to change their choice of study programmes. Ms Lauricourt responded, saying government has found it necessary to be more selective with regards to venues, on account of increased costs and the public health situation in individual countries. ANHRD has a list of approved venues.
It was pointed out by Hon. John Hoareau, Linyon Demokratik Seselwa (LDS) member for Beau Vallon that students who are awaiting their scholarships and who are teaching in state schools are yet to receive their allowances. Ms Lauricourt again clarified that students who are on work placements and internships are indeed receiving their allowances, although she acknowledged that many students are this year facing difficulties in finding placements, again, due to public health measures in place.
Various members of the assembly proposed questions to the panel, seeking clarifications as to bilateral scholarships and the level of debt racked up by government relating to scholarships.
With regards to major examinations and how they will proceed with the revised school timetable, PS de Comarmond noted that a decision was taken after extensive consultations with school staff, the Parents Teacher Associations (PTA) and the ……….committee in charge of the national committee.
“Schools are being asked to still hold exams, but what we are asking of them is that they decide what the exam is based on and they design the exams,” Minister Valentin clarified.
The minister also said that making students repeat a year is a last option being considered by the ministry and that the ministry is working closely with schools to offer support to students to avoid such instances.
“It is true that the students may not perform as well as they would have. But we do not want this to be an issue or problem. There is also the fact that the students have been in school for five years, and over there has been continuous assessment which is evidence of their performance. So, we are saying that this should all be used by post-secondary institutions that are selecting students. And we can also at this point introduce conditional offers, and maybe it will be adjusted in the first semester. Therefore, I, as minister, will ensure that our students are not placed at a disadvantage because Covid-19 prevented them from performing as well as they should have,” Minister Valentin added.
In response to a question about how the ministry intends to cater to children who are on the Autism spectrum, the minister said the matter of children on the spectrum within state schools necessitates close attention, as the ministry is concerned with the number of parents who have to abandon the world of work to accompany their children to school.
“The ministry is conscious that with more autistic children entering into the mainstream school system, there is a necessity to have teachers who are equipped with specific competences and knowledge to create an inclusive school environment whereby these students can develop their potential. Equally, the teachers in schools and specialised institutions such as the School for the Exception Child will need specialised training to frame the learning and development of children with special needs,” Minister Valentin said, adding that the Seychelles Institute of Teacher Education (Site) now offers a special needs component in its training programmes.
School psychologist at the Ministry of Education, Catriona Monthy affirmed that a significant number of children are on the spectrum, although many remain undiagnosed. Members were also concerned with the links between the ministry and Autism resource centre established by non-governmental organisation Autism Seychelles.
The minister in concluding touched on the matter of making schools autonomous, seizing the opportunity to clarify that with the policy, schools are not imparted full powers, and the ministry remains the authority to give directives to school institutions, as per the law.
“To achieve success in this journey, major sensitisation is necessary with all concerned partners, as well as training because the change will transform the system and replace it by another which places more emphasis on responsibility,” he said, noting that the roles and responsibilities of all partners are clearly detailed in laws relating to education.