Sao Tome and Principe invests in early childhood education to ensure children's success

São Tomé and Príncipe’s participation in the Better Early Learning and Development at Scale (BELDS) initiative, supported by GPE and UNICEF, has played a key role in strengthening the ECE priorities in the country's Education Policy Charter and Action Plan, while supporting capacity building efforts and promoting ownership and accountability for this subsector.

July 30, 2020 by Bleizy Costa , Ministry of Education of São Tomé and Príncipe , Augusta Monteiro and Adriana Neto, Ministry of Education of São Tomé and Príncipe
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4 minutes read
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Fernão Dias’s Kindergarten in Sao Tome and principe
Fernão Dias’s Kindergarten in Sao Tome and principe.

São Tomé and Príncipe is one of few countries in West and Central Africa that has taken the leap to prioritize two years of quality preschool for its young children.

This bold move builds on the country’s significant progress in increasing access to early childhood education (ECE) over the past years. The net preschool attendance rate increased from 66.4% in the 2016-2017 school year to 78.6% in 2017-2018, while the country is still striving for equity and improved quality.

São Tomé and Príncipe’s participation in the Better Early Learning and Development at Scale (BELDS) initiative, supported by GPE and UNICEF, came at a crucial moment of favorable political context and education sector planning cycle, which enabled greater advocacy for ECE.

The update of the Education Policy Charter and the development of the accompanying 5-year strategic action plan (2019-2023) provided the opportunity to bring together the country’s ECE stakeholders and partners (including the World Bank, civil society and religious institutions, education community, kindergarten and preschool directors) to jointly define and articulate the country’s vision and strategies for delivering two years of quality ECE for every child.

Participants at a "Reflection and diagnostic" workshop
Participants at a "Reflection and diagnostic" workshop.

Clarifying the ECE priorities

The process of developing the educational policy framework began with a sector analysis (RESEN 2018), which helped inform the update of the Education Policy Charter. As part of the BELDS initiative, two “reflection and diagnostic” workshops were held with technical working groups, comprised of ECE stakeholders and partners.

The workshops helped identify the strategies and activities to operationalize the country’s ECE vision.

According to Sister Lucia Candido, coordinator of the Lembá Integrated Project and one of the workshop participants, “[t]his [was] an important process for improving the quality of education, but the work in the field is urgent because only through this will we be able to effectively resolve some issues related to learning, especially to understand the real situation of each family and how this can interfere with the development of the child”.

The main objectives of the workshops were:

  • to identify the priority challenges of the ECE subsector, and
  • to refine the main ECE objectives defined in the Education Policy Charter and articulate the ECE strategies and activities of the accompanying strategic action plan.

These workshops followed a joint and multisectoral reflection and analysis. This collaborative effort led to a systemic and coherent vision and approach to planning for the ECE subsector, while fostering ownership and accountability.

Education Policy Charter 2019-2023
Education Policy Charter 2019-2023

ECE fully integrated in the Education Policy Charter and Action Plan

Informed by the workshops, the ECE technical working group developed the ECE plan, with clear strategies and activities. This plan was fully integrated into the final broader Education Policy Charter and the accompanying costed Action Plan (2019-2023).

Reflecting back on the experience, we feel that the BELDS initiative has been a key capacity building opportunity to reinforce ECE stakeholders’ understanding of the subsector and their skills to effectively plan for it.

The experience also allowed non-ECE stakeholders, such as those involved in school administration, sector planning, budgeting and financing, as well as academia, to contribute to shaping and strengthening the ECE subsector in a coordinated manner, ensuring a holistic approach to deliver two years of quality preschool education for all children.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic

Now that the Education Policy Charter and Action Plan are finalized and approved, we have begun to implement several of the ECE strengthening activities. These include:

  1. Defining the profiles for ECE coordinators and managers across central, regional and district levels, based on the country’s Minimum Quality Standards;
  2. Developing and implementing decentralized annual planning guides and instruments;
  3. Training directors of kindergartens in school management and administration, by district based on the Minimum Quality Standards;
  4. Defining mechanisms for engaging parents and communities in ECE; and
  5. Revising and improving national quality standards for the functioning of preschools.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, there was an urgent need to adapt to the crisis to ensure continuity of learning through radio and television programming. With the support of BELDS funds, we were able to print 3,350 exercise books for 5-year-old children to reinforce their learning at home and better prepare them for the next school year. Together with other partners, we purchased 1,000 solar radios that are used to provide psychosocial support programs aimed at training teachers to support children with coping with anxiety, stigma and bullying.

The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted the need to finalize the review of existing governance structures and clearly articulate and define the roles and responsibilities of the actors involved in implementing the ECE plans (including inspectors, supervisors, educators, central and district management technicians, etc.). This is one of the priorities that emerged from the BELDS work and that will enable improved and coordinated actions across levels (central to districts).

The BELDS approach has played a key role in strengthening the ECE priorities in the Education Policy Charter and Action Plan, while supporting ECE capacity building efforts and promoting ownership and accountability for this subsector. As the pandemic situation evolves and going forward, we remain committed to achieving the ECE objectives in Sao Tome and Principe, to ensure that every child can benefit from quality early education, even during emergency contexts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa: Sao Tome and Principe

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