Featuring the Caribbean: “Bigi Sma Skoro” (Big People School) in Suriname provides educational opportunities for all

  • 29 May 2017
© Caribbean Development Bank

With a total population of 543,000 (2015), Suriname lies on the north-eastern coast of South America between Guyana and French Guiana. Culturally, however, it is a Caribbean country and a member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Roughly half of Suriname’s population resides in the capital city Paramaribo, which is located next to the Suriname River close to the Atlantic Ocean. Before gaining its independence in 1975, Suriname was occupied by the British and the Dutch alternately. Today, it is one of the most diverse countries in the world, in terms of ethnic origin (including Amerindians and Maroons, taking up respectively 3.7% and 15% of the total population), religion (including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and a number of local faiths) and language (Dutch as the official language with several other recognised regional languages, e.g. creole Sranan, English, Spanish and Portuguese).

The economy of Suriname is mainly propelled by mineral industry (gold, aluminium), energy (oil extraction) and exports. The recent drop in commodity prices has caused a recession and a shrink in GDP in Suriname, despite its earlier economic growth, especially during the last decade. Inequality remains a severe challenge for Suriname’s development, as demonstrated by the Gini coefficient, which at 52.5 is high. Women participate 20% less than men in the labour market; moreover, poor provision of educational opportunities and poor educational legislation (e.g. compulsory schooling only at primary level) have led to disparities in educational outcomes between coastal areas in the north – and the interior, where the majority of the indigenous population resides. This is exacerbated by the fact that the entire education system is designed to be taught in Dutch, creating a language barrier which accounts for both a restricted access to education, and a considerable dropout rate of mostly boys. Along with all these challenges, unemployment in Suriname rose from 7% to 9% in 2015 alone. All of these factors have created the need for promoting Adult Learning and Education (ALE), to offer education opportunities for all so as to strategically solve the development challenges.

Bigi Sma Skoro” [literally “big people school”] is the local term for ALE in Suriname, where since 1988, education is being provided to the adult population, focusing in particular on people with low literacy levels and those who have not completed primary school. According to the third Global Report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE III), although only a moderate portion (estimated between 0-0.4%) of Suriname’s public education spending currently goes to ALE, and this percentage is likely to decrease, the overall participation rate in ALE programmes and activities in the country has significantly increased since 2009. In general, the participation rate of women in ALE programmes is higher than that of men, while more men participate in technical vocational education and training (TVET) programmes in particular.

In Suriname, the National Training Authority (NTA) is the institution responsible for technical and vocational education and training (TVET). Its work is oriented towards the set-up of a qualification structure which complies with international standards. The NTA is a member of the Caribbean Association of National Training Authorities (CANTA) and awards Caribbean Vocational Qualification (CVQ) certificates which are derived from a competency-based approach to training and assessment, and are recognised on national, regional and international scales.

Recently, the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Suriname, in collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank, has allocated USD 18.3 million for the reform of TVET in the country. The government intends to make the provision of TVET not only demand-driven, but also continuously aligned with the latest developments in science and technology.


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UN (United Nations). 2016. Country programme document for Suriname (2017–2021). DP/DCP/SUR/3. New York: Executive Board of the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Population Fund and the United Nations Office for Project Services. Available at: http://www.latinamerica.undp.org/content/dam/rblac/docs/Country%20Programme%20Documents/SUR%20CPD_final_Sept2016.pdf [Accessed 25 May 2017].

The Borgen Project. 2015. Education in Suriname [online blog]. Available at: https://borgenproject.org/education-suriname/ [Accessed 25 May 2017].

The Republic of Suriname [n. d.]. National Training Authority [government webpage]. Available at: http://www.gov.sr/themas/onderwijs/national-training-authority.aspx [Accessed 25 May 2017].

United Nations Suriname [n. d.]. Education [webpage]. Available at: https://sr.one.un.org/what-we-do/education/ [Accessed 25 May 2017].

United Nations Suriname. 2011. United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2012–2016 Action Plan, UNADF. Paramaribo: Republic of Suriname and United Nations Suriname. Available at: http://sr.one.un.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/UNDAP_Final_LOW.pdf [Accessed 25 May 2017].

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