Communique of the Specialized Technical Committee on Education Science and Technology of the African Union on Education, Science Technology and Innovation Responses to COVID-19 Pandemic
The African Union Commission convened the first extraordinary virtual meeting of the Specialized Technical Committee on Education, Science and Technology (STC-EST3) on 30th April 2020 to consider the sectorial response of Education, Science and Technology and Innovation to the COVID-19 pandemic and share national experience and strategies to control the global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting was chaired by H.E. Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, Uganda and chair of the STC-EST3. The meeting was attended by Ministers in charge of education, science and technology or their duly nominated representatives. More than 42 Member States participated in the meeting as well as Partner Institutions. E. Prof Sarah Anyang Agbor, Commissioner for HRST hosted meeting.
The Commissioner in her welcome remarks underscored that the global COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the already existing weaknesses in Africa’s Education systems and has disrupted the continuity of learning, the education calendar, and social safety programmes, and millions of school children and young people have been left without access to education and the situation is worse in remote areas. She called on the continent to provide rapid and innovative responses that ensure education continuity and embrace the African Union DOTSS approach and in the process build more resilient and sustainable Education systems in Africa. She further underlined the centrality of science, technology and innovation, through focused research and development in COVID-19, to provide diagnostic, treatment, and vaccines solutions.
The Chair of the STC-EST 3 in his opening remarks highlighted the critical role of science, technology and innovation, as drivers for evidenced based decision making and called upon Member States to share experience and agree on concrete actions to turn this challenge into an opportunity particularly for the local production of personal protective equipment, and medical supplies in the continent. He further emphasised the need to embrace Africa’s digitalisation as this will underpin virtual education as the new norm. He also welcomed the move by international financial institutions and the G20 on debt relief to ease the burden on developing countries given the socio-economic effects of COVID19.
The Ministers considered and adopted the African Education Science Technology and Innovation Response to COVID-19. In the education sector, the response calls for a coordinated action among African countries with three main pillars: (1) to ensure continuous schooling and learning online and offline particularly for vulnerable children, girls and the disabled in deprived communities without access to electricity and internet; (2) the response further advises on an African plan for re-opening schools with appropriate strategies to catch-up on the lost period of learning and implement back to school campaigns and implement measures to curb further infections in schools and educational institutions and; (3) to document the impact of school closures on girls and vulnerable children, and other vulnerable groups, as well as good practices, and monitor learning engagement with support from partners, and with the view to facilitate intercountry learning and up scaling of good practices.
To achieve the education response, the ministers decided on : (1) Prioritise investments in Internet infrastructure and facilitate broadband connectivity coverage to all education institutions, schools, universities and colleges, particularly those in rural areas, and remote learning and teaching platforms and tools through digital technologies and traditional media such as radio and television, and advocate for access to free data for a period and education content available through Telecom companies and other digital service providers such as search engines; and (2) Collaborate closely with all partners including the UNICEF, UNESCO and other multisectoral partnerships such as the Global Education Coalition to provide appropriate support to AU Member States to implement the education Response to COVID-19.
In the areas of STI, the African response stresses on the need to building on African national and regional organizations and networks such as the African Academy of Sciences and national academies of science, and science granting councils, the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, the AU-AUDA STI Flagship Programmes, and specifically the African Medicines Regulatory Harmonization (AMRH) Initiative, and the networks of centers established by the Africa CDC, the African Scientific Research and Innovation Council (ASRIC) and UNESCO’s Networks- Category I and II Centers and Chairs in Microbiology and Life Sciences.
The ministers decided that the STI response will be further underpinned by the following measures: (1) Establish R&D platforms at national, regional and continental levels; (2) Invest in data science capacity for modelling and analysis and promote data collection, access and sharing of COVID-19 research and development through Open Science principles to bridge the science, technology, and innovation inequalities in Africa’s R&D landscape; (3) Put in place a mechanism to access funding for research and development for COVID-19 and other disease outbreaks from continental and international funds established to mitigate and fight pandemics and; (4) Leverage the critical role that space science and technology especially Earth Observation and GIS has been playing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ministers also shared their country initiatives and actions undertaken at national level in the areas of education, Science and Technology to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, and agreed on putting in place a monthly platform coordinated by the African Union Commission for such information sharing to continue with the view to facilitating mutual learning and joint action among members states until the pandemic is over.
The Ministers also emphasised the need for accelerated development of the African innovativeness and industrial capacity to produce materials and equipment necessary for personal protection against the COVID-19 and also provision of African technologies to respond to the crisis and break the cycle of continuous dependence to other regions.
The ministers commended commitment from all the partners for their on-going action in support of countries, and further called upon the UN Agencies and all development partners to work closely with AUC, RECs and member states and support the effort for the implementation of the ESTI response to COVID-19.