History & Background
Gabon gained its independence from France in 1960. It was ruled by autocratic presidents from then until the early 1990s when a new constitution provided institutional reform and a better electoral process. Oil was discovered in the early 1970s and now represents 50 percent of the economy; consequently, Gabon is one of the more prosperous countries in Africa with a GDP per capita estimated at $6,500 in 1999. The illiteracy rate was estimated to be 29.2 percent (males 20.2 percent, females 37.8 percent) in the year 2000. Also in 2000, the population was estimated at 1,208,436 people.
The first elementary schools in Gabon were established by American and French missionaries in the 1840s. To this day, Catholic and Protestant schools remain an important part of the educational system.
France applied the same educational policies in Gabon as elsewhere in Francophone Africa. Consequently, the institutions were similar and had a similar purpose: to assimilate the people and make them good French men and women who would spread French civilization and defend France's interests in the colony. Starting in 1883, France required that only French be used for instruction in the schools and that 50 percent of class time be devoted to teaching French language and culture. In the twenty-first century, French is still the official language.
Furthermore, opportunities for education were minimal and very few pupils were enrolled in schools. In 1931, Gabon, a country of about 400,000 people, had 3237 pupils in elementary school, most of them in the first three grades. After World War II, secondary schools were finally opened so students could receive the same diplomas as those awarded in France. At independence, however, Gabon still did not have enough educated citizens to meet its needs. The government, therefore, organized schools to train secondary school graduates for careers in government, forestry, and teaching in the lower secondary grades.
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