Conducting Seychelles’ Population and Housing Census in the midst of COVID-19
Information on the total number of people and their characteristics, such as gender, age, area of residence, level of education, living conditions and economic status, among others, is critical to government for planning and monitoring development programs. Through such information, national government and other administrative units can improve service delivery, for example, in education, health and physical infrastructure, and identify population groups and geographical areas requiring special support to ensure that no one is left behind in the national development process. Such information is also crucial to the private sector for business purposes, for example, for projecting market growth or identifying areas to locate new businesses. The means to acquiring this information is through a count or census of all individuals and dwellings within a given a territory.
The global standard set by the member states of the United Nations requires population and housing censuses to be conducted after every 10 years or less. Seychelles has conducted six censuses since independence, starting with the one in 1977 followed by another in 1987. The next four censuses in 1994, 1997, 2002 and 2010, were conducted to address national needs, particularly the demarcation of administrative boundaries, and did not follow the standard 10 year interval. Under normal circumstances, our country should have conducted the next census in 2020. The President’s proclamation on the census was gazetted on 9th January 2020 and identified two purposes of the census. The first purpose is the enumeration of persons within the country and the collection of statistics relating to them. The second purpose is the collection of statistics relating to housing and utilities, education, health, employment and household economic activities, information and communication, security, transport and agriculture. Full participation in the census is both a civic and legal duty for all usual residents of Seychelles. This obligation is aptly captured in the 2020 census slogans, “If you are not counted, we are not complete!” and “Don’t leave me behind! Count me in!”
The outbreak of the COVID 19 pandemic at the beginning of the year 2020 resulted in the census being initially postponed to 2021. However, early in 2021, Seychelles experienced a further surge in the level of community transmission of COVID-19. The numbers of COVID-19 cases rose rapidly leading the Health Authorities to impose stricter restrictions on movement. As a result, no permission was granted for large in-person meetings and door-to-door visits. This further delayed the census undertaking since the preparations entail convening large groups of people for training and visiting households to collect data.
In early October, the National Bureau of Statistics received the permission to conduct a pilot population and housing census. The pilot census being conducted in November is a very important exercise that is meant to inform preparations for the main census expected in 2022. Among key areas to be tested through the pilot census are the adequacy of census data collection tools, accuracy and completeness of the mapping of geographic location of households, institutions and other settings where the country’s population reside, the efficiency of data collection and management processes and an estimation of the logistics that would be required for the main census.
The timing of the pilot census has been tricky since it could not be aligned with the school calendar, which would allow recruitment of teachers who are the usual pool of field staff. However, the National Bureau of Statistics has been able to mobilize over 40 enumerators from government ministries, departments and agencies for the pilot census. With the support of its own staff numbering 8 and two consultants from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the National Bureau of Statistics conducted an intensive training for the enumerators from November 8th to 12th. In addition to the detailed coverage of the census questionnaire, the training provided a practical orientation to a new approach to data collection that involves the use of digital tablets or computers to record interview responses. Called the digital census, this approach offers several advantages, key among which are improving the quality of data collected through reducing errors commonly associated with recording interview responses on paper using a pen, and shortening the time between data collection, analysis and availability of census reports as the data are captured in a format that is instantly ready for analysis using statistical software.
Following the training, the pilot census will be conducted in the whole of Anse Aux Pins District from November 18th to 21st, 2021. This district has been selected because of its features that reflect the diversity of Seychelles – populations of different age groups, a variety of dwelling units and mixed socio-economic characteristics. During the pilot census period, the enumerators will visit each and every dwelling and other settings within the district where people live to collect data. The staff conducting the census will be clearly identified by their nametags with the official logo of the census. The officers will also wear other identification clothing that will associate them with the National Bureau of Statistics. All data collected will be kept strictly confidential, analysed and used only for national statistical purposes and by the government for national development planning and monitoring.
In the lead up to the pilot census, the National Bureau of Statistics has also undertaken an aggressive advocacy and communication campaign to create awareness about and emphasize the importance of public cooperation and participation in the exercise. Information materials have been circulated to police stations, Health centres and District Administration offices, while radio and TV programs have also been launched to create wide awareness. Most if not all people must now be familiar with the regular advertisement on the national TV depicting a woman who is not only informed and enthusiastic about the census, but is also able to articulate the benefits of census data to national development and the new approach to collecting data using digital tablets that will minimise the burden on respondents. Like the woman, all residents of Seychelles must become champions of both the pilot and main census enumeration!
The pilot census is being undertaken in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The necessary precautions have been taken to minimise the spread of COVID-19 during the training of enumerators and this will continue into the field enumeration phase. All staff will be wearing a mask while in the field, and household members responding to the census officers are also required to keep their masks on during interviews and take all other precautions to protect themselves and their families in line with the Ministry of Health guidelines. Households in Anse Aux Pins District are being asked to give their full cooperation to the census officers when they come round as the success of this exercise will depend a lot on their collaboration.