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Angola, or as it is officially known, the Republic of Angola, is a Southwestern African country with miles of coastline along the deep blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Bordered by Namibia, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola has a total land area of just over 480,000 square miles and is inhabited by a population of nearly 19 million.
As early as the 16th century, the land now known as Angola was inhabited by Portuguese settlers, although up until the late 19th century they had congregated almost exclusively in the country’s coastal Atlantic region. In the 1800s, however, the settlers slowly began to spread eastward into the heart of Angola, until they eventually satisfied the requirement for “effective occupation”—a requirement established by the Berlin Conference of 1884. In the mid 1920s Angola officially became a colony of Portugal, which it would remain until the country finally claimed its independence following a bloody and drawn out war for sovereignty. Sadly, even after its independence, troubles would continue in Angola in the form of a protracted civil war spanning from 1975-2002—a nearly three-decade war between Portuguese and Angolan nationalists that ravaged this already fragile nation.
Present day Angola still faces many challenges, but there are signs of hope. While the country has a wealth of natural resources, including a huge number of mineral and petroleum reserves, that have allowed Angola’s economy to grow exponentially since 2002, it still faces poor levels of human development and a high infant mortality rate, both of which are among the world’s worst.
As of the latest census, Angola remains a very diverse country, both ethnically and linguistically. People of Ovimbundu heritage, who speak the Umbundu language, comprise 38 percent of the total population, while the Ambundu people, who primarily speak Kimbundu, account for 25 percent of all inhabitants. A lesser percent of the population is made up of the Bakongo people, other native African groups, Europeans and Mestizos, the latter of which is a mixture of African and European heritages. Like it is in many underdeveloped countries in the world, population growth in Angola is rampant, with a population that’s expected to swell to 48 million by the year 2060—three-times its current size!
While the core of Angola’s culture is uniquely African, it’s difficult to ignore the country’s Portuguese influence. To this day, Portuguese remains the official language of Angola and is used in all official capacities, including education, despite the fact that it is seldom heard outside of official circles. As with Portugal, the majority of Angolans are of the Roman Catholic faith, and their music, dance andcuisine is a mixture of African and Southern European styles. This unique, almost effortless blending of the two cultures makes Angola one of the most interesting countries in all of Africa and a great place to visit.
Education in Angola
Prior to gaining independence from Portugal in the early 1960s, educational opportunities in Angola were severely limited. Schools during that time were established and administered by the Roman Catholic and protestant missionaries, although educational policy was essentially controlled by the Portuguese government. Primary schools could be found only in urban areas and consisted of two 2-year terms. Secondary education was available to only a small percentage of Angolan students, and the number (less than 20%) that actually went on to attend one of the country’s secondary institutions was very low—a trend that continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s, resulting in a very poor adult literacy rate (20-25 percent).
After independence, the conflict between the Portuguese and Angolan nationalists that eventually resulted in civil war left the education system in shambles. Many of the country’s qualified teachers fled the country, and as a result, school participation was very low. Things picked up in 1976, the year in which the Angolan government instituted a major literacy campaign that ultimately helped nearly half a million people learn to read. By 1997, over one million students were enrolled in Angolan primary schools and nearly 110,000 at secondary schools—more than triple what they were in 1973.
Today in Angola, education is free and compulsory for students ages seven to sixteen. Primary schools span four years, and are home to students ages 7-10, and secondary schools, for students between the ages of 11-18, last seven years—the final two of which are non-compulsory.
Despite a number of attempts to reform its higher education system, the number of students who actually go on to attend one of Angola’s higher learning institutions (colleges and universities) is dismal, and those who do wish to pursue degrees at the undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate level typically do so outside of Angola, particularly at universities in Europe and North America.
Although education in Angola is slowly improving as a whole, the adult illiteracy rate is still over 40 percent. To help boost these statistics, there are currently a number of organizations, including the Angolan military, constructing educational centers and instituting free adult reading classes for people throughout the country, including those in rural areas where educational access has traditionally been minimal or nonexistent.