Our partnership with the Seychelles: one year in the making
By Ruth Atkinson
Isn’t it funny how quickly things come around again? It hardly seemed like any time had passed since January 2019 before we found ourselves heading fast for January 2020. The first month of the year is always busy here at Renaissance, as we find ourselves up and down the country at different tradeshows and exhibitions – from the big, like the BETT Show, to the much smaller! But January also brings around one of our favourite, and most unique, events of the year – the Education World Forum.
Taking place in London every January, the EWF is the world’s largest gathering of education and skills ministers, and it’s an opportunity for us to meet with education professionals from across the world. We’re able to learn from them first-hand the diverse challenges they face in their countries, and consider how we can work together to tackle them.
It was at the EWF in 2019 that we first met a representative from the Seychelles government. And this year, at a dinner we hosted in the Tower of London to mark the closing of EWF 2020, we were honoured to officially sign a three-year agreement with the Seychelles allowing all primary schools in the country to use our literacy solutions.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to partner with the Seychelles Ministry of Education to improve literacy for their students. The pilot we undertook in 2019 allowed us to demonstrate the value our solutions deliver, and we look forward to working with administrators, teachers, parents, and students to truly embed and foster a culture of reading across the Seychelles.”
– Chris Bauleke, CEO of Renaissance
Where it all began…
The Seychelles government representative that we met in January 2019 told us how the vast majority of their citizens’ first language is French creole: the government were looking to improve English language comprehension and vocabulary across the country, particularly in children. It was a complex challenge that we knew we wanted to be part of the solution to.
Visiting the Seychelles: January to May 2019
Between January and May 2019, we spoke to government ministers and educators in the Seychelles via email and over the phone, working out how to start working together for the benefit of as many schools as possible. Our first visit to the Seychelles was in May 2019 – and while we were very jealous of our colleagues who made the trip, they assured us that they spent very little time on the beach and very much time visiting schools, talking to teachers and children, and making plans to ensure that teachers and children could gain maximum benefit from the Renaissance solution.
We decided that setting up a pilot study across five primary schools in the Seychelles, involving 500 children aged 7-10 and 65 of their teachers, would be an excellent starting place. They’d be using our literacy solutions – Star Early Literacy, Star Reading, Accelerated Reader, and myON – for English-language learning and improvement. On Monday 13th May 2019, the pilot study was officially launched by Dr Odile de Commarmond, the Principal Secretary for Early Childhood. We held a special ceremony with Jeanne Simeon, the Minister for Education, members of the senior management committee of the department, and some of our colleagues from Renaissance.
The pilot study: May to July 2019
The pilot began with two teacher training workshops to help with accessing and building confidence in our programmes. Our Star Early Literacy assessment was used with some of the children to pinpoint their exact decoding abilities and measure their current English reading ability, whilst Star Reading established their comprehension and progress. A wide range of books, songs, rhymes and poems from both the UK and the USA were also made available to the children and teachers through our digital reading platform, myON.
Using the myON app or via a web browser, children could read both in school and at home – downloading books at school to read later, meaning that even children who didn’t have internet access at home could carry on reading. By increasing access to high-quality, engaging texts, we knew that myON could not only help with English language learning, but also improve the culture of reading: we all know how important reading for pleasure is, reaping rewards beyond academic achievement, and we hoped that myON could be a catalyst to foster this.
The results: July 2019
We were hugely impressed by the results of the pilot, which were only achieved thanks to the hard work of the children, teachers and government in the Seychelles. Our Education Specialist Margaret Allen, who worked closely with the Seychelles throughout the whole process, hosted an awards ceremony to mark the close of the pilot study, where we celebrated the best individual readers across the five schools as well as the schools that had seen the most improvement. In total, over 6,500 books were read during the pilot. One child alone read 29 books in just nine weeks!
We all agreed that the pilot had been a success, and so our three-year partnership with the Seychelles Ministry of Education was born. We now work to improve student attainment for reading in English in all of the country’s primary schools, and 75 teachers and librarians have been trained to support the roll-out of our solutions across the country.
“From planning the original pilot through to committing to a full three-year project, we always had confidence that Renaissance had our – and our children’s – best interests at heart. Their ability to understand our needs and practically apply their knowledge and experience in our schools enabled us to gain maximum benefit from the reading programme during the successful pilot. The children of the Seychelles have specific needs to reach their full potential, but through the strong and trusted relationship we have built with Renaissance we are confident that the wider objectives of the full project will be met.”
– Mrs Jeanne Simeon, Seychelles Minister for Education
We’re very excited to continue our work with the Seychelles, and look forward to sharing more stories of their success over the course of our partnership. Our friends from the Seychelles were kind enough to share their story with our guests at this year’s EWF, and we hope that this year’s events can enable us to begin new partnerships with other countries to improve literacy and educational outcomes more widely than we ever have before. Watch this space…