Access to early development services, including quality preschool, provides crucial support during the early years of a child’s development, while also facilitating school readiness and learning. In recognition of this fact, several global commitments such as the SDGs and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) highlight the importance of strengthening the quality and uptake of preschool education.
However, the preschool education system in São Tomé faced several challenges. The net enrolment rate in preschools was about 36 per cent. Further, only 60 per cent of educators had training in preschool education.1 Moreover, the quality of training that educators received was unsatisfactory and preschools lacked proper infrastructure.
Towards a Solution
Given this background, UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Science and Communication (MECCC) in São Tomé and Principe chose early childhood development (ECD) as a strategic priority in their 2012-2016 cooperation plan. Subsequently, UNICEF identified the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio) as an academic institution that could provide technical expertise to the Government to develop and roll out a national ECD curriculum for preschoolers aged four and five years. In addition, the University was also mandated to train preschool educators.
In 2013, the Government, UNICEF and PUC-Rio signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU). Subsequently, four professors from the Interdisciplinary Lab of Education Design (LIDE/DAD) at PUC visited São Tomé and Principe for a preliminary assessment mission. This led to the development of a partnership and cooperation agreement (PCA) and a detailed work plan with various steps and missions to be undertaken. During the lifetime of the project, the LIDE/DAD team undertook nine missions to São Tomé. Furthermore, two immersion missions of educators and assistants from São Tomé and Principe were sent to PUC-Rio for 15 days each. This helped the São Tomé and Principe educators to learn first-hand how Brazil has strengthened the quality of and access to preschool education. In parallel to the missions, online continuing education was provided to educators to successfully implement the knowledge acquired on curriculum development in Brazil.
This resulted in the development of a new curriculum in São Tomé and Principe, which includes a module on the pedagogical theory underlining the curriculum and eight curricular modules, distributed on 320 cards containing suggestions of activities for educators. To roll out the new curriculum, a national coordination team and a monitoring team were also created. In total, 17 coordinators/ monitors were trained to test the new curriculum.
A key challenge at this time was the lack of pedagogical material to support curriculum implementation. To overcome this limitation, and ensure greater national ownership and sustainability of the new curriculum, government officials from MECCC and technicians, including school inspectors, principals, preschool coordinators and assistants, participated in discussions to define the skills development guidelines for children in the following four areas: mathematics, languages, artistic expression, and the physical and social environment. Based on these guidelines, 200 copies of pedagogical materials were produced, printed and distributed. The World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education contributed to the printing.
The national teams and PUC-Rio also developed criteria for choosing the pilot kindergartens for curriculum testing and defined the basic parameters of space and infrastructure in preschools. The pilot was rolled out in seven kindergartens in different socio-geographical zones in São Tomé and Principe. After the initial success of the pilots, it was expanded to 17 kindergartens and, finally, to all preschools in the country.
PUC-Rio undertook a diagnostic assessment mission towards the end of the project. The evaluation revealed that the project strengthened the institutional capacity of MECC in early childhood education. It also helped to expand São Tomé and Principe’s capacity to create innovative and creative learning environments for preschoolers and to train early childhood education educators and assistants. This has helped to promote early childhood education, particularly among the most disadvantaged communities such as those in rural, urban and peripheral areas, and children with special education needs. Evidence also suggests that students who have completed the new curriculum are prepared to enter primary school, which will enhance learning outcomes.
The key to the success of this initiative has been the involvement of educators in formulating the programme, development of the preschool curriculum activities, pilot implementation and finally, scale- up at the national level. Moreover, for the first time in São Tomé and Principe, a holistic approach to early childhood development was introduced into educators’ training. With the adoption of the new curriculum, a play-based learning approach linked to child development milestones has formally been introduced in the country.
The project is already being expanded via a new Cooperation Agreement in place among PUC-Rio, MECC, the University of São Tomé and Principe, and the country’s Higher Institute of Education and Communication (ISEC). The new programme will provide training and generate knowledge and political guidance to further support the development of ECD in the country.
Countries/ territories involved: Brazil, Sao Tome and Principe
Supported by: UNICEF, World Bank
Implementing entities: UNICEF, MECCC, Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Project status: Completed
Project period: 2013-2017
URL of the practice: goo.gl/Nmed8w
- Ms. Mariana Ruth Leal, Education Specialist, UNICEF Sao Tome and Principe, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ms. Mirabel Ribeiro, Director, Planning and Innovation, Ministry of Education (MECC), Sao Tomé and Principe, email@example.com
- Dr. Rita Maria de Souza Couto, Coordinator, Team of the Interdisciplinary Laboratory of Educational design (PUC-RJ), firstname.lastname@example.org