SEATTLE — The Republic of Seychelles is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean comprised of 115 islands, none of which are larger than 61 square miles. With just 94,228 inhabitants, Seychelles has the smallest population of any sovereign African country.
Despite its small size and population, Seychelles has assumed a leading role in regional and global initiatives to improve education. It was reported in 2014 that Seychelles was the first African country to have achieved education for all by meeting all six of the goals outlined by the Education for All initiative directed by UNESCO.
The six EFA goals are:
- To improve early childhood care and education
- To ensure that all children have access to free compulsory primary education
- To meet the learning needs of young people and adults
- To achieve a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy
- To achieve gender equality in education by 2015
- To improve all aspects of the quality of education, particularly in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills
At the World Forum Education Forum held in Dakar in 2000, 164 countries from all over the world pledged to meet these goals by 2015, meaning that the system of education in Seychelles had accomplished these directives a year ahead of the deadline.
Central to the small African islands’ success was the implementation of a system of free education in 1981. Today, education in Seychelles is still free and compulsory up to the age of 16, and free through secondary school until the age of 18. Students are obligated to pay for uniforms, but not books or tuition. Given the well-known correlation between education rates and poverty rates, it comes as no surprise that Seychelles currently has the highest gross domestic product per capita in Africa at $15,410 in 2016.
The 2015 EFA Global Monitoring Report found that only one-third of the 164 countries registered had matched Seychelles’ success and met all six of the initiative’s goals. When understood in the context of Seychelles’ relatively recent independence (1976) and democratization (1993), the country’s achievements are even more remarkable.
Numerous studies have shown that education is an extremely powerful tool for alleviating poverty both on an individual and national level. According to a 2013 UNESCO report, access to education allows individuals to gain the skills necessary to improve their own livelihoods, as well as contribute to national economic growth through productivity gains. This study found that if all students in low-income countries left school with basic reading skills, 12 percent of world poverty could be eradicated, and that for every US dollar spent on education, between 10 and 15 US dollars would be generated in economic growth.
These data highlight the importance of and potential impact of the EFA initiative. The success story of education in Seychelles and its corresponding economic strength compared to other African nations will hopefully inspire its neighbors to adopt similar measures.
– Savannah Bequeaith