Dra. C. Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, Minister of Education of the Republic of Cuba
Ministers from various fraternal countries
Fellow leaders, activists and experts from around the world
We thank you, Dra. C. Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, Minister of Education of the Republic of Cuba for this rare opportunity to dialogue on matters affecting education in the times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The 2021 International Pedagogy Congress’s key theme is “Education, innovation, and sustainability for integral human development. Lessons learned in times of Covid-19.”
As the Republic of South Africa, we are delighted to share our experiences with our peers worldwide. The situation that obtained in our education landscape in the recent past wasn’t unique to South Africa.
The Covid-19 pandemic threatened to reverse the gains in the global education landscape attained in the UN Millennium Development Goals.
It is no exaggeration to say the Covid-19 pandemic almost derailed the work we are all doing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals or Global Goals as agreed through the United Nations multilateral system.
While the year 2020 imposed unprecedented challenges on us as a country, it also reminded us of our fortitude and resilience of South Africans.
It also fortified our resolve to harness the wisdom and resources beyond our borders. As a result of working together with local and global stakeholders, we saved the 2020 academic year.
As a country, we didn’t just save the 2020 academic year but a whole generation of learners from possible long-term cognitive deficiency occasioned by “10 lost months” of schooling while we battled the pandemic.
The discourse on international pedagogy is a significant public interest issue as it affects the most vulnerable members of society, our children.
Although many member states have begun massive vaccination campaigns, and South Africa received its first consignment of the Covid-19 vaccine, the reality is that the real fightback against the invisible enemy has just begun. It is not over by a long shot.
Therefore, I urge member states to remain safe and continue adhering to the novel global COVID-19 mitigation measures and putting its citizens’ safety first.
Our moral obligation is to save lives and protect livelihoods.
Our success factor in managing schooling during the pandemic is that we repurposed our schools as centres to conduct screening and testing for COVID-19.
Each school was linked to the nearest health facility through the Integrated School Health Programme for health services and support in managing COVID-19 cases at schools.
We also ramped up psycho-social support services to our learners as part of managing schooling in uncertain times.
We used our learners as a critical lever in disseminating essential information on the virus and the non-pharmaceutical prevention measures such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and 70 percent alcohol-based sanitisers to wash hands.
Key to our success was the early adoption of ICTs. We developed and deployed several ICT support packages, including:
• Online Digital Platforms, including our websites and those of our partners.
• Television channels dedicated to educational content.
• Using the power and reach of radio (commercial and community) for learning.
While as a global community, we must accelerate adopting the latest technologies for teaching, learning, and commerce. We must be mindful of its unintended consequences of leaving behind the least developed nations.
The critical lesson learnt from battling Covid-19 is the value of sound science, collaboration and transparency.
We used sound science to inform our decision-making. We looked at the international experience and took advice from our health experts, including the Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC).
We sought guidance from the UN organisations such as UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO and factored their input in developing school reopening plans.
Using evidence-based decision-making, we managed to defend in the SA court system no less than eight court cases challenging the schools’ phased-in reopening.
In our all-out battle to save the 2020 academic year, we did not let emotions guide public policy.
Obviously, human capital is vital in any schooling. We decided right in the beginning to grant all teachers with comorbidities special leave. Thus we didn’t risk the lives of our teachers. As a result of this science-based decisions, our teachers responded well to the resubmission of schooling. Our teachers’ commitment, including those with comorbidities, has been extra-ordinary and has inspired me personally to persevere even when things were difficult.
The war against the pandemic isn’t over, but we are better prepared than we were 10 months ago.
Let’s continue to do whatever is necessary to keep our children in education, learn from each other and cooperate with the UN agencies and other multilateral institutions.
I thank you!