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Sao Tome and Principe

Official Country Name: Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe
Region: Africa
Population: 159,883
Language(s): Portuguese
Literacy Rate: 73%

The small island of Sao Tome was discovered between 1469 and 1472, along with its smaller sister island Principe, by Portuguese navigators. However, Principe was first successfully settled in 1500. As settlers discovered the great abundance of sugar, the Portuguese crown soon took over in 1522.

The Portuguese then started to bring many African slaves to the plantations. As two new cash crops, coffee and cocoa, were discovered, the need for more workers increased. Although slavery was abolished in the 1800s, the Portuguese continued to bring Africans to the island and make them work under harsh conditions, so these workers grew angry and began to revolt. In 1953, Portuguese troops killed hundreds of these workers; this famous event is called the Batepa massacre.

Soon the people of Principe were demanding an end to Portuguese rule and, on July 12, 1975, along with Sao Tome, they gained their independence. During this time they made many changes, including a new constitution. The country was now a republic electing a new president ever five years. A very important issue for the new independent country was education. The government made it a "top priority to extend education, invest in new schools, and launch an adult literacy campaign" (United Nations House 1998).

Prior to the independence, only 20 percent of the population was literate. In 2001, some 62.1 percent of women and 85.2 percent of mencould read and write. By law, children are required to complete elementary school, but many do not; a rare few progress to high school. Sao Tome and Principe had 13 preprimary schools with 3,446 students in 1989; 69 primary schools (grades 1-4) with 20,502 students in 1997, and 10 secondary schools (5-9) with 12,280 children. There is one vocational training center and, in 1997, a teacher training college was completed; however, it teaches pre-university level education and is located in Sao Tome City. The island of Principe comprises only 5 percent of the country's population; therefore, they have only one technical school and three secondary schools. Information is limited to education only in Principe.

The staff of the schools is primarily foreigners who are insufficiently trained and poorly paid. There is a shortage of classrooms, so these teachers are forced to teach as many as 70 students per class. The enrollment rate had been rising since 1975, but it decreased in 1993. According to the United Nations House, it may be because of the suspension of the feeding program. The program is supposed to restart in the 1999-2000 school year.

Under the newest constitution passed by the National Assembly in April of 1990, multiparty elections are allowed, which means that the country is more of a democracy now. Approximately 18.8 percent of total government expenditure is on education, and statistics in 1995 show that 21.2 percent of the public investment program was spent on education. Rusa Misericordia, the minister of education in 2001, expected that education will improve. Funding remains dependent on outside funds, but Sao Tome and Principe is doing much to improve education.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, 1 January 2000. Available from http://www.cia.gov.

The Europa World Year Book, 41st Ed., Vol.11. London: Europa Publications, 2000.

Spotlight on Education in Portuguese-Speaking Africa, 1998. Available from http://www.unesco.org/iiep/news.

United Nations House. Sao Tome and Principe, 1998. Available from http://www.uns.st/uns/country.html.

—Deanna Edens

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