Addressing Comprehensive Educational Challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe

Written by Liam Mariotti

São Tomé and Príncipe is a small island nation off the western coast of Central Africa, with a population of 220 000 people and a surface area of 964 square kilometers. Its issues stem mainly from the lack of economic and social capital within the country, a common feature across the African continent, compounded by the geographic isolation and remoteness of the island. The country grapples with numerous educational challenges that hinder its socio-economic progress.  This article delves into the key issues facing the education system in São Tomé and Príncipe and tries to identify some feasible solutions that can improve the conditions of education and the opportunities it can provide to young Santomeans. 

Education system 

   The first topic that will be discussed is the education system. São Tomé and Príncipe’s education system comprises pre-primary, primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 14, but despite this mandate, many children still face barriers to accessing formal schooling.

  • Pre-Primary Education: Pre-primary education is available for children ages 3 to 6, although attendance rates are relatively low due to limited infrastructure and resources. Pre-primary education aims to provide a foundation for learning and development, preparing children for primary school.
  • Primary Education: Primary education in São Tomé and Príncipe typically spans six years, starting at age 6. The curriculum includes subjects such as Portuguese language, mathematics, science, social studies, and physical education. However, challenges such as overcrowded classrooms, insufficient teaching materials, and a shortage of trained teachers impact the quality of primary education.
  • Secondary Education: Secondary education consists of two cycles: a lower secondary cycle (grades 7 to 9) and an upper secondary cycle (grades 10 to 12). While completion rates for primary education have improved in recent years, enrollment in secondary education remains low, particularly in rural areas. The curriculum at the secondary level focuses on academic subjects as well as technical and vocational education to prepare students for further studies or entry into the workforce.
  •  Tertiary Education: Tertiary education in São Tomé and Príncipe is limited, with a few institutions offering higher education programs. The University of São Tomé and Príncipe, established in 2008, is the country’s primary institution of higher learning. Tertiary education opportunities are limited, and many students pursue higher education abroad due to the lack of diverse academic programs and research opportunities domestically.

General issues

The primary challenge to education in São Tomé and Príncipe is the limited access to it, particularly in rural areas. The country’s remote geographical location, coupled with insufficient infrastructure and transportation networks, makes it difficult for many children to attend school regularly. Additionally, poverty often forces families to prioritize immediate economic needs over education, further exacerbating the problem.

While access to education is crucial, ensuring quality is equally important. São Tomé and Príncipe struggles with inadequate resources, poorly trained teachers, and outdated curricula, leading to subpar educational outcomes. Moreover, the language barrier, as the official language of instruction is Portuguese, presents a significant challenge for students, many of whom speak local dialects at home. Gender disparities persist in São Tomé and Príncipe, with girls facing greater barriers to education compared to boys. Societal norms, early marriage, and traditional gender roles often restrict girls’ access to schooling, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality. Furthermore, São Tomé and Príncipe’s economy faces numerous challenges, including limited fiscal resources and dependence on foreign aid. Budgetary constraints often result in underinvestment in education, hindering efforts to improve infrastructure, recruit qualified teachers, and provide essential learning materials.  Retaining qualified teachers in São Tomé and Príncipe is also a significant challenge due to various  factors such as low salaries, inadequate professional development opportunities, and difficult working conditions. Many teachers leave the profession or seek opportunities abroad, leading to a shortage of experienced educators and impacting the quality of education.

The country faces challenges in ensuring inclusive education for children with disabilities, marginalized communities, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Limited resources, lack of specialized support services, and social stigma contribute to the exclusion of these groups from educational opportunities. Effective governance and policy implementation are critical for addressing educational challenges and driving reform in São Tomé and Príncipe. However, governance issues such as corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and political instability can hinder the effective implementation of education policies and initiatives. São Tomé and Príncipe’s education system should not only focus on providing formal schooling but also prioritize lifelong learning and skills development opportunities for individuals of all ages, equipping students with relevant skills and competencies is essential for their personal development and future success in a rapidly changing world.

Thus, to sum up, Sao Tomé’s education system is plagued by a lack of economic resources, which translate into lack of opportunity, for both students and educators, and an incapacity to govern effectively. The lack of social capital also is a major issue as it is very difficult to find skilled individuals who can educate others. The next section will focus on potential solutions to these issues.

Possible solutions

Strengthening governance structures, enhancing transparency and accountability mechanisms, and promoting participatory decision-making processes can improve the effectiveness of education governance in São Tomé and Príncipe. Additionally, fostering collaboration between government agencies, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders can facilitate coordinated efforts to address educational challenges.

To enhance access to education, the government and relevant stakeholders must invest in improving infrastructure, including building schools and enhancing transportation networks, especially in rural areas. Furthermore, targeted initiatives such as school feeding programs and scholarship opportunities can help alleviate the financial burden on families and encourage greater enrollment. Addressing the quality of education requires comprehensive reforms, including teacher training programs to enhance pedagogical skills and proficiency in Portuguese. Additionally, curriculum modernization aligned with the country’s socio-economic needs and cultural context is essential. Investing in educational technology and digital resources can also enhance learning outcomes and prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce.

Empowering girls through targeted interventions, such as awareness campaigns promoting the importance of girls’ education and providing support to families, can help break down these barriers. Implementing policies that promote gender equality in schools, including the recruitment of female teachers and the provision of menstrual hygiene facilities, is crucial. Moreover, addressing underlying socio-cultural norms through community engagement and advocacy efforts can foster a more inclusive and equitable educational environment.

While the government plays a central role in addressing economic challenges, partnerships with international organizations, NGOs, and the private sector are vital for mobilizing additional resources and expertise. Sustainable funding mechanisms, coupled with transparent governance and accountability mechanisms, can ensure that education remains a priority in national development agendas.

Implementing strategies to improve teacher retention and motivation, such as increasing salaries, providing ongoing professional development, and creating supportive working environments, can help attract and retain talented educators. Additionally, recognizing and rewarding teachers for their contributions to education can boost morale and job satisfaction.

Promoting inclusive education policies and practices that accommodate the diverse needs of all learners is essential. This includes providing access to inclusive classrooms, adapting teaching methodologies to meet individual learning styles, and offering support services such as assistive technologies and special education programs. Expanding access to non-formal and vocational education programs, promoting entrepreneurship and technical skills training, and fostering a culture of lifelong learning can empower individuals to pursue diverse educational pathways and adapt to evolving socio-economic demands.


In conclusion, addressing the comprehensive educational challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe requires a multifaceted approach that encompasses various aspects of access, quality, equity, governance, and lifelong learning. While the country faces significant hurdles in providing universal and high-quality education, there are viable solutions that can pave the way for sustainable development and positive societal transformation.

Investments in infrastructure, teacher training, and curriculum reform are essential to improve access to education and enhance learning outcomes. Additionally, efforts to promote gender equality, inclusive education, and community engagement can foster a more equitable and supportive educational environment for all learners.

Furthermore, addressing governance issues, including corruption and bureaucratic inefficiencies, is critical to ensuring effective policy implementation and resource allocation in the education sector. Strengthening partnerships between government agencies, civil society organizations, and international partners can facilitate coordinated efforts to address educational challenges and drive meaningful change.

By prioritizing education as a fundamental pillar of national development and investing in the well-being and potential of its youth, São Tomé and Príncipe can unlock opportunities for socio-economic progress and sustainable growth. Through collective action and sustained commitment from stakeholders at all levels, the transformative power of education can be harnessed to build a brighter future for generations to come.

In closing, addressing the comprehensive educational challenges in São Tomé and Príncipe is not only a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the country’s future prosperity and well-being. By working together to overcome these challenges, São Tomé and Príncipe can realize its full potential and create a more inclusive, equitable, and prosperous society for all.


Cover Image: Children in São Tomé e Príncipe via Wikimedia Commons

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