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New educational approach keeps Madagascar’s children interested in learning

UNICEF Image: Madagascar: New educational approach
© UNICEF Madagascar/2006
Normella, 11, is a student of Ramena Primary School in Diégo-Suarez, Madagascar.

By Tokiniaina Rasoloarimanana

DIÉGO-SUAREZ, Madagascar, 28 December 2006 – About 20 feet away from the famous emerald-green waters of Diego, students of Ramena Primary School are discovering that learning can actually be fun.

“Last year, I wasn’t very excited to go back to school, but now I can hardly wait!” says Normella, 11.

Why all this excitement? A new, interactive method of teaching here – with a focus on what students need to learn, rather than what teachers need to teach – is showing positive results. It’s designed to ensure a quality education and combat the high drop-out rates in the country’s schools.

“We were never allowed to talk in class or look at our classmates, but this year, everything is different.” explains Normella. “First of all, we no longer sit in rows, but in a ‘U’ shape so that we can see each other. Then, in the afternoon, our teacher divides us into groups so that we can discuss the day’s homework.

“I like this method because it is often easier to understand what your schoolmate is saying, rather than your teacher,” she concludes.

Competency-based approach

With support from UNICEF, Madagascar introduced a competency-based approach to education in 2003. And the change in Normella’s school is just one of the many positive result the new approach has brought.

“UNICEF was keen to promote the approach because Madagascar had among the highest repetition and drop-out rates in the world,” explains UNICEF’s Education Chief in the country, Margarita Focas Licht. “Some 20 per cent of all students repeat at least one class, and the average primary school student takes eight years to complete the normal five-year primary cycle.”

UNICEF Image: Madagascar: New educational approach
© UNICEF Madagascar/2006
Normella (centre) and her classmates are benefiting from Madagascar’s competency-based approach to education.

In addition to the new learning methods, new textbooks keep Normella and her peers interested in learning. The books offer examples that are closer to their daily realities – such as counting cows, rather than cookies.

Teachers have also become more creative and hands-on. For instance, in math, they bring scales to class as a visual tool in explaining the concept of weight, or fruit pits for addition and subtraction. And for grammar, local songs are used to help students memorize rules.

Showing positive results

Parents are impressed by the impact this new method is having on their children.

“In just one year, I have seen a tremendous change in Normella,” reflects her mother, Anita Bemitombo. “All of a sudden, she is not afraid of talking to adults! And she understands certain concepts quicker than her older siblings.”

To date, the new approach has been implemented across the country for the first three years of primary education. UNICEF has supported the process by providing many schools with curriculum development, teacher training and printing of new textbooks and teachers’ guides.

“We hope that by 2008, all 111 districts in the country will be implementing it for fourth and fifth year students as well – eventually bringing drop-out and repetition rates below the government’s goal of 5 per cent,” says Ms. Licht.



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