Educational Challenges in Cape Verde: the sea and other barriers

Written by Samira Andrade

Cape Verde is an insular country located approximately 500 km off the African west coast. This archipelago, formed by 10 main islands and several smaller ones, is home to approximately 550,000 people, of which more than one-fifth are children between the ages of 6 and 14 and therefore obligated to attend school for a minimum of nine years, according to the Education Law of Cape Verde.

After Cape Verde gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the country set out to establish an educational system that would better serve Cape Verdeans. The early years were marked by significant challenges as the legacy of colonialism left the nation with limited means and structure to create access to universal education.

During the 80s and 90s, regular reforms were undertaken by the government to gradually improve the functioning of the education system and the quality of services provided to its people.

One of the most significant developments has been expanding access to education, particularly at the primary and secondary levels. Today, more than 80% of the population is literate, and most children in Cape Verde attend school, bringing the country close to achieving the Millennium Development Goals concerning universal basic education.

However, an in-depth analysis of the educational system reveals that there are still significant challenges to overcome, such as disparities in the quality of education experience between central and more rural areas, lack of qualified personnel for specialized and crucial areas like sciences and technologies and a defaulted articulation between the curricular program and the needs of the national economy.

The kindergarten graduation in Santiago island. Photo by Duncan CV

Insularity as a barrier to standardize education across the country.

Although, in general, there’s a relatively even distribution of population across the nation, Santiago is home to nearly 35% of its total population and, therefore, the most populous island.

Despite the decentralization policies implemented in the last years to empower local governments and address the unique needs of their communities, historically, there has been criticism about the unequal distribution of resources and investment funnelled to Praia (the country’s capital) and other regions.

Alongside other spheres of the national economy like trading, commerce, medical care and other specialized services,  the quality of education experienced in the capital and urban centres is different to what is the reality in more remote areas of the country. Schools in Praia tend to have better resources and infrastructures, more qualified teachers, and higher educational standards. In contrast, some schools in remote areas often lack essential resources like textbooks, electricity, and running water.

While there is a significant concentration of schools in urban areas, students in rural regions and less central islands like Brava, Santo Antao, and Sao Nicolau see themselves forced to travel further distances to attend school but unable to rely on a public transportation system to cover regular allocation. Because many families cannot afford the transportation cost, in this scenario, the distance to schools can be a significant barrier for children to access and complete their education. For many communities in the more interior regions of these islands, roads and infrastructures are debilitated. During the rainy season, travelling can be dangerous, leaving them temporarily isolated and students unable to travel safely to school.

The inequality in the level of education experienced across different regions of the cape-Verdean territory can have a considerable impact on the academic prospect and life opportunities of the youngsters. If those living in remote locations have limited access to quality education and training, their ability to secure employment in areas that require higher qualifications is being hindered and limits the extension of their contribution to the country’s development.

Neglected, with fewer resources and qualified teachers, schools in rural areas experience higher dropout rates, and illiteracy rates are twice more elevated than observed in the capital.

One way to balance the plate and pave a path towards a more standardized education across the country could be by redirecting social funds. Social action and funding are crucial to universal access to education in Cape Verde. Still, the internal sectoral analysis revealed that the education system consumes most of this resource with personnel and social support in primary education. Distribution of these funds that prioritized more impoverished groups could be a way to close the existing gap.

The modernization of the curricular program versus the needs of the economy

Since 2017, cape-verdean schools embraced a new curricular matrix to adapt to the country’s and the world’s modern challenges.

In an interview for a national newspaper, the cape-verdean National Director of Education detailed that the reform was designed to approximate the ones followed by foreign and modern countries so that cape-verdean students can respond to the challenges of the country but also prepare them to be capable of integrating foreign markets. Although around 40% of the population lives in rural areas, food production has a low weight in the country’s GDP (4.9% in 2020), which sentences the country to bare crushing importation rates to sustain its internal food necessities. On the other hand, significant but more labour areas of the national economy like agriculture, fisheries, and livestock are poorly supported by the curricular program leaving those who live from it stuck with precious but outdated knowledge and techniques passed down through generations.

In resemblance to what is currently being made around tourism, tailoring the national program to provide students with the knowledge on how to leverage technology to enhance local food production, improve the quality and quantity of livestock and expand their resources to take better advantage of their vast and rich maritime territory, Cape-Verd stands an excellent chance to enhance productivity, sustainability, and efficiency in the food production reducing its reliance on imported goods and bring primary products at a more accessible price to its people. 

In the context of scarce natural resources and recurrent cyclical periods of drought, Cape-verd could resort to education to empower the next generation of farmers, fishermen, and agricultural professionals with skills to employ cutting-edge technologies like precision agriculture, aquaculture systems, and intelligent livestock management practices. Modernizing their curricular programs centred on the needs of the internal economy and forming qualified people with skills to suppress those needs can ultimately lead Cape-Verd to achieve self-sufficiency and security at all levels.

Teachers – The vehicle to modernization

In Cape Verde, one of the challenges faced by the educational system is the limited number of teachers with qualifications and specialization. Although this “lack” constitutes a more significant issue in rural areas, it’s a problem that touches the whole educational system,  particularly in specialized areas such as science and technology. Although there has been considerable growth in the percentage of active teachers with higher education due to governmental programs, this number still needs to be increased across the primary and secondary levels of education, which can hinder their ability to effectively teach subjects requiring specialized knowledge and expertise. Areas like science and technology play crucial roles in today’s rapidly evolving world, and students need competent and knowledgeable teachers to guide them in these fields. Furthermore, as the ultimate facilitator of implementing curricular reforms, the teacher must be able to follow and absorb information to educate the students properly.

Continuous training for teachers and access to the latest research and pedagogical approaches empowers teachers to provide accurate and up-to-date information, cultivating an intellectually stimulating environment that nurtures students’ curiosity and prepares them to thrive in an ever-evolving world. Ultimately, investing in teachers’ professional growth and development is an investment in the quality of education and students’ future success.

To address this challenge, efforts should be made to enhance teacher training programs, provide professional development opportunities, and encourage teachers to specialize in specific subjects. By investing in the professional development of teachers and promoting specialization, Cape Verde can improve the quality of education in science and technology, equipping students with the necessary skills for a rapidly advancing future.