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Official Country Name: Republic of Guinea-Bissau
Region: Africa
Population: 1,285,715
Language(s): Portuguese, Crioulo
Literacy Rate: 53.9%

Located primarily on the western coast of Africa (and including the archipelago of Bijagoz), Guinea-Bissau has approximately 1,000,000 inhabitants. As a colony of Portugal, education was originally the province of Roman Catholic missionaries, who followed the governmental policy of assimilating indigenous peoples into European culture. Upon liberation from Portuguese rule in 1974, the Partido Africano da Independencio da Guine e Cabo Verde or PAIGC (African Independence Party) established broad educational goals for the country that included the elimination of illiteracy, free compulsory education for ages 7 through 14, and the provision of technical/professional training.

The educational system currently has 2 main levels—primary and secondary. Primary education represents 6 years (ages 7 through 12) of free, compulsory, basic schooling divided into elementary (4 years) and complementary tiers (2 years). In 1994 approximately 64 percent of children were receiving a rudimentary education in primary school. Secondary education consists of two types: a 3-year general-secondary stream (grades 7 through 9) and 2-year postsecondary education (grades 10 through 12); and 3-year vocational programs. The National lycee Kwame N'Krumah includes grades 7 through 12, while other lycees include only grades 7 through 9. Upon completion of grade 9, students can attend the National School of Physical Education and Sport or the School of Law. Vocational training is available for students who have completed Grade 6 and wish to take courses in vocational-technical training such as mechanics, construction, and agribusiness. Since the agrarian economy is predominant, there is a focus on vocationaltechnical education to improve the country's economic status and offset the effects of widespread poverty. There is one agricultural college—the residential School of the Comrades Institute in Boe—that offers a three-year course following graduation from Grade 6.

Since there are no universities in the country, students seeking tertiary education must go abroad, typically to Cuba, Portugal, Eastern European, and neighboring African countries. In addition, nonformal night courses in basic education aimed particularly at illiterate adults were added to the formal educational system beginning in the late 1960s. By 1982, literacy courses in Creole and other national languages were being developed.

Although the PAIGC supports education as the right of every citizen, illiteracy remains high. Despite the fact that the official language of instruction is Portuguese, 90 percent of the inhabitants speak Creole and/or other native dialects. In 1991, the illiteracy rate stood at approximately 68 percent. With the introduction of mass literacy programs, UNESCO estimates the average rate of adult illiteracy had declined by 1995 to 45.1 percent.

Educational problems include the lack of educational facilities, teaching resources, and equipment, as well as transportation difficulties. In particular, Guinea-Bissau's inability to hire qualified educational personnel has been detrimental to the PAIGC objective of providing a culturally and economically relevant education that meets national needs. Like many emerging nations, the educational system still displays vestiges of the former colonial system (found most notably in the lycee).

The Commissariat of State for National Education and Culture is the chief educational policy-making agency. For the period 1990-1991, the education budget was 300 million pesos (US$60,240), amounting to six percent of the GNP.


Carneiro, Roberto, and Jeanne Marie Moulton. An Outline of the Educational System in Guinea-Bissau. Paris: UNESCO, 1976.

Darcy de Oliveira, Rosiska, and Miguel Darcy de Oliveira. Guinea-Bissau: Reinventing Education. Geneva: IDAC, 1976.

Leal Filho, W.D.S. ronmental Problems and Structural Development in Africa: Cultural Challenge.Geneva: UNGLS, 1991.

Mendes-Barbosa, Julieta. "Framework for Educational Reform in Guinea-Bissau: The Choice of Language of Instruction (Africa)". Ed. D. diss., University of Masssachusetts, 1990.

—Jayne R. Beilke

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