São Tomé and Príncipe, an island country off the west coast of Africa, is facing a learning crisis. Already before the pandemic, two out of three students at the end of grade 2 were unable to read. With support from UNICEF, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education has stepped up to the task: The small nation is now becoming a trailblazer for digital learning. Thanks to large investments from the World Bank, the Millennium Foundation, the Akelius foundation and the Learning Passport fund, access to digital learning technologies and platforms is being expanded. The Millennium Foundation and jp.ik have already provided enough laptops to reach every child and adolescent in the Autonomous Region of Príncipe.
Understanding that technology by itself does not ensure learning outcomes, the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and UNICEF have teamed up to develop a systems approach to digital learning. This approach includes improving electricity and connectivity, training and upskilling teachers, developing digital learning solutions and content, maintaining and managing devices – and lastly, engaging young people, communities and educators around the topic.
The nation’s ambitious project and learnings from its implementation could benefit not only the country, but children everywhere. Generating evidence, especially for offline digital learning is crucial in a country where 70 per cent of the population does not use the internet and 25 per cent do not have access to electricity.
That is why the Ministry of Education and Higher Education, UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe, the University of São Tomé and Príncipe, and UNICEF’s Office of Research – Innocenti are working together to embed mixed-methods research into the deployment of the enhanced digital learning system.
Using human-centered design, the team aims to learn from students and teachers about how to improve the learning experience, to then share the findings among users, partners, developers and colleagues facing similar challenges across the globe. The research will answer the following questions:
- Which skills and support do teachers need in order to use technology effectively in their teaching practices?
- What are the best ways for teachers to manage technology in the classroom with their students?
- How can digital learning solutions like the Learning Passport and the Akelius digital course be used to improve learning?
The journey to reimagine education in São Tomé and Príncipe has just begun. Follow along the progress of this research as we test, iterate, learn and document a path to deliver digital learning at scale in West and Central Africa. When implemented well, digital learning has the power to transform education systems worldwide, mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on learning and improve learning outcomes for all children.
Mirabel Costa Ribeiro is the Chief of Education at UNICEF São Tomé and Príncipe.
Rafael Pontuschka is an Education Researcher at the UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti.
Nujoma Quaresma is the Coordinator of the Technology Studies in the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of São Tomé and Príncipe.