There is no official definition of inclusive education in Sao Tome and Principe.
According to the 2003 Basic Law of the Education System, special education aims at the socio-educational care and integration of individuals with special education needs. It aims to integrate such children into regular education with specialized support, flexible curricula and programmes adapted to the needs of the learner.
The 2003 Basic Law of the Education System establishes that basic education is universal, compulsory and free and lasts six years. Subsection 4 refers to the special modalities of school education, including special education, lifelong learning, professional education and distance education.
Special education is organized according to diversified models of integration in regular education establishments, taking into account the learners’ needs with the support of specialized educators. Special education also takes place in specific institutions, such as special schools, according to the degree of disability.
The 1975 Constitution of Sao Tome and Principe recognizes the right to education for its citizens (Art. 55). In addition, it decrees that the State will provide compulsory and free basic education and will promote the elimination of illiteracy.
The 2003 Basic Law of the Education System governs the education system in Sao Tome and Principe.
The 2002–15 Education for All National Plan for Action encouraged the adoption of measures to improve the education offer for all students and to promote access, schooling and retention of girls at all education levels.
UNICEF’s Sao Tome and Principe country programme document for 2017–21 sought to support the government’s comprehensive reform of the education system, as outlined in its education sector plan and long-term strategy. Two areas are prioritized under the country programme: 1) improving the quality of teaching and learning at primary and secondary levels and 2) strengthening capacities of parents and educators to provide care and early stimulation.
In its 2017 annual report, UNICEF supported an increase in the provision of quality services in the areas of health, nutrition, sanitation, education, child protection and social inclusion. UNICEF also supported the Ministry of Education in advocacy for early childhood development and social protection.
The 2012–22 education sector plan includes the vision for the education system of Sao Tome and Principe for a 10-year period, together with action plans and strategies to achieve short-, medium- and long-term objectives, with the ultimate goal of ensuring 12 years of quality universal education for everyone in the country. According to the education sector plan, basic universal education was achieved in 2011. However, access to education is still limited at other education levels, in particular in higher education.
Specific objectives of the education sector plan include:
- Improving the offer of higher education and professional technical education
- Implementing high-level training and capacity-building policy aimed at training teachers and staff from the Ministry of Education with the goal of improving the quality and efficiency of the education system
- Guaranteeing the enlargement and adaptation of special needs education throughout the school system and developing material and pedagogical strategies for children with special education needs.
According to the 2003 Basic Law of the Education System, the State must promote and support special education. The Ministry of Education is responsible for defining the norms that govern special education and coordinating the education policies for its implementation. Special education initiatives might belong to central, regional or local power or to collective entities, civic organizations, institutions or non-government organizations.
Some of the objectives of special education include:
- Developing the physical and intellectual potential of children
- Reducing the limitations caused by a disability
- Proving support for the inclusion of children in school, family and society
- Providing adequate professional training for integration in the workforce.
The law also decrees that the State must promote, at the national level, actions aimed at the prevention, diagnosis and early treatment of a disability.
According to UNICEF’s Sao Tome and Principe country programme document for 2017–21, children with special needs, especially those with mobility or hearing difficulties, are very vulnerable to exclusion. UNICEF reported in its programme document that 71.4% of children with severe mobility difficulties were not enrolled in education. UNICEF Sao Tome and Principe helped construct and equip specialized spaces for the education of children with visual and auditory disabilities who are integrated into two primary schools.
According to UNICEF, while enrolment in primary school is high and inclusive of boys and girls, access to preschool education is very low. There are concerns over the high dropout and repetition rates, especially among girls. UNICEF also reported that 87.5% of pregnant girls and young mothers dropped out of school in 2012, probably as a consequence of the lack of a gender-responsive education system as pregnant girls are often only allowed to attend evening sessions.
Since 2006, the Disciplinary Act has prohibited pregnant girls in the third month of pregnancy from attending classes or school activities and mandated girls to attend night school until the end of their pregnancy. In 2020, with the support of the Global Partnership for Education, the Disciplinary Act was removed, marking an important milestone in the protection of the right of education for girls in the country.
People living in rural and remote locations
According to the 2012–22 education sector plan, from a geographical point of view access to some locations in the interior of the country remains difficult, creating an obstacle to access to education for some students. The situation is less critical at the basic education level but is worrying in primary and secondary education. For instance, secondary education establishments are often located in the district capitals. Many students will have to travel long distances to access secondary education, a situation which leads to high dropout rates and hinders education continuity for many learners in the country.
The 2003 Basic Law of the Education System promotes the development of social action services using positive discrimination criteria to provide economic support to the most deprived students.
The 2012–22 education sector plan included information on the situation of people in Sao Tome and Principe. According to the plan, the country had a poverty rate of 66.2% in 2010. Poverty affects more women (71.3%) than men (63.4%), but both groups face challenges to access quality education.
According to UNICEF’s country programme document for 2017–21, secondary school attendance is much lower for the poorest quintile: 42% versus 82% for the richest quintile.
As reported in its 2017 annual report, in order to provide adolescents and youth with opportunities for their full intellectual and social development, UNICEF Sao Tome and Principe, in coordination with the Youth Institute, strengthened the government’s capacity to provide non-formal education programmes through the 13 existing youth interaction centres. UNICEF Sao Tome and Principe and the Youth Institute, which manages the centres, agreed on an improvement action plan which included updating the existing infrastructure and equipment in 2017 and organizing training sessions and other youth mobilization activities in 2018.
The Ministry of Education and Higher Education of Sao Tome and Principe (MEES) is in charge of the planning, development and execution of education policies across the islands.
UNICEF, through its Sao Tome and Principe country programme document for 2017–21, provides support to the MEES to ensure access to education for all learners.
Infrastructure and services
Article 38 of the 2003 Basic Law of the Education System decreed that school infrastructure must be flexible to support the different activities of the school and the community. The school network and dimension of school buildings must be adjusted to the needs and characteristics of the regions and localities in order to ensure a balance in the number of students. The law also decrees that the needs of students with disabilities and special education needs must be taken into account when designing a building and choosing the school’s equipment.
UNICEF reported in its 2017 annual report that it has supported the construction and equipment of specialized education rooms for children with visual and auditory disabilities.
Article 46 of the 2003 Basic Law of the Education System refers to the development of the curricula. It states that the curriculum plans for basic education will include in all cycles an area of personal and social training, which may include components such as ecological education, sexual education, family education, health education and civic services. Portuguese is to be mainstreamed in the curriculum at all education levels to ensure that all students are able to understand and produce oral and written statements in Portuguese.
The 2003 Basic Law of the Education System promotes in-service and pre-service teacher training. However, according to the 2002–15 Education for All National Plan for Action, one of the biggest challenges for the education system is the lack of trained teachers. Only 26.5% of secondary-level teachers had specific training in their area of instruction.
While there are no specific indicators to monitor inclusive education, UNICEF Sao Tome and Principe supported the National Institute of Statistics in the development of the 2017–21 National Statistics Strategy, outlining the main data collection exercises of the period as well as management structures and partnerships. The strategy mentioned that a Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey would be conducted in 2019 for which preparations began in 2017 with the signature of a memorandum of understanding between UNICEF Sao Tome and Principe and the National Institute of Statistics.
The MEES publishes regular statistical bulletins on its website.