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Princess Märtha Louise of Norway supports early childhood development in Madagascar

© UNICEF Madagascar/2008
Princess Märtha Louise of Norway visits with Malagasy children while in their country to launch a story-writing contest in support of early childhood development.
By Sara Johansson  

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, 30 May 2008 – Her Highness Princess Märtha Louise of Norway launched a children’s book competition here earlier this month, as part of an effort to promote early childhood development in Madagascar.

The residents of Ambatolampikely village gathered to welcome Princess Märtha Louise as she arrived with members of the Norwegian National Committee for UNICEF and Madagascar’s Ministers of Education and Foreign Affairs.

“In Norway, I have been promoting reading for children for several years,” she said. “I know how important it is to provide children with access to books early in life, to develop their pre-literacy skills. Young children’s minds develop at an incredible pace, and stimulation through books is one way of optimizing their learning potential.”

The Princess opened the competition by inviting the people of Madagascar to send manuscripts for books targeting children six years of age and younger. A jury composed of UNICEF and Ministry of Education representatives, authors and a child psychologist will select 20 manuscripts to be printed and distributed throughout the country in community-based early childhood centres – including centres integrated in public primary schools and certain private centres.
© UNICEF Madagascar/2008
UNICEF Norway’s Executive Director, Kjersti Fløgstad, with a family at a public pre-school in Madagascar.
Ramping up education and development
“Although the positive impact of reading to children at an early age is well known, only an estimated 7 per cent of young children have access to centres of this type,” explained UNICEF’s Area Representative for Madagascar, Mauritius and Comoros, Bruno Maes. “UNICEF is supporting the government to reinforce parental education and to establish public pre-schools and community-based early learning centres such as the one in Ambatolampikely.”

The government has made early childhood development one of its priorities in its ‘Madagascar Action Plan’ for poverty reduction. The plan aims to increase access to quality educational opportunities for young children by 20 per cent by the target year 2012.

Working with the government, UNICEF and its partners are focusing not only on the distribution of educational materials to centres but also on raising awareness of their impact on development.

Minister of Education Stangeline Ralambomanana Randrianarisandy told journalists she was “personally touched by the visit of the Princess, as both a mother and grandmother, and am highly impressed professionally by the Princess. This visit is very important, putting a great weight behind early childhood development in Madagascar.”

Norwegian delegation inspired
UNICEF Norway Executive Director Kjersti Fløgstad said the visit had left her delegation “highly inspired,” adding: “It was impressive and uplifting to observe how UNICEF Madagascar, through a clever combination of advocacy with the government and actual programming in the field, was able to have major impact on the development of the educational sector in the country.

“Our ‘little’ book project was thus part of a very much larger agenda,” added Ms. Fløgstad. “Now one important job remains for us – namely, raising the funds promised – but it should not be difficult after this very rewarding visit."

In addition to the support the Norwegian Government is providing the Malagasy Government in the education sector, Norway is a major donor to UNICEF in a wide range of areas, with a major focus on basic education and gender equality. The Norwegian National Committee for UNICEF is engaged in supporting the book project in Madagascar, in cooperation with Princess Märtha Louise. This ongoing support has allowed thousands of Malagasy children to benefit from, and fully enjoy, their fundamental right to quality education.



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