Learning by numbers: Teachers in Madagascar use data to improve the classroom

Data Must Speak training course helps teachers use school data to report on performance and advocate for resources.

By Darafify Ralaivao
Teachers sit in a classroom, Madagascar
UNICEF Madagascar/2018/Ralaivao
09 January 2019

AMBALATENINA, Madagascar – It’s a full day’s walk to reach the peaceful village of Ambalatenina, located in a remote area of eastern Madagascar. Surrounded by mountains covered with lush bamboo and palm trees, Ambalatenina is connected to the nearest town by little more than a dusty path. The village’s 450 or so inhabitants subsist on rice farming or labouring in the nearby gold mines. They live in huts made of palm leaves and bamboo.

Officially, 113 students aged 6 to 13 are enrolled at Ambalatenina’s primary school, which is also built from materials sourced from the forest. In reality, far fewer attend. In this poor, rural area, families rely on every member to contribute, and children can often be found in the fields or the mines. The school is not only short of students; it struggles to source supplies and appropriately trained staff.

Melene is 11 years old and lives in Ambalatenina. “Last year, I had to sit with many others on the ground because there were not enough chairs and tables in our classroom,” she says. “It made me so tired. I had back pain every time I went to school.”

A girl sits at a desk, Madagascar
UNICEF Madagascar/2018/Ralaivao
Student Melene Miasa sits in her grade 5 classroom at the Maromitety public primary school in Madagascar. Last year she had to sit on the floor because their school did not have enough chairs.

Addressing the gaps

Benedicte Rasoa, 23, is Melene’s teacher. After graduating from secondary school in 2016, Benedicte began working at the primary school. Her degree makes her the most-qualified of the three teachers. Within a year, she was promoted to head of school.

Though she loves her job and the children, running a school was more than the young woman had expected. “I am not experienced and skilled enough yet,” she says. “I don’t know how to ensure the students learn in a safe and high-quality environment.”

Shortly after taking on the new role, Benedicte enrolled in a UNICEF Data Must Speak training course. In line with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Child-Friendly School approach, Data Must Speak focuses on data generation to foster change in schools like Melene and Benedictine’s. It emphasizes local initiatives for school development, community involvement in school management and child rights-based data collection and analysis.

UNICEF has implemented the programme in five regions of Madagascar, covering 5,778 school principals, with trainings in two additional regions scheduled for January 2019. The goal of the trainings is to bolster regional authorities’ allocation of resources to schools and empower communities to have a say in the quality of their children’s education. 

"Last year, I had to sit with many others on the ground because there were not enough chairs and tables in our classroom."

Melene, 11

Building strength from weakness

During the practical and intense six-day training, Benedicte learned how to measure the performance of her school and identify weaknesses in the learning environment. She became familiar with critical education indicators such as percentage of girls enrolled, net enrolment and the dropout rate, and learned how to analyze them to identify problems. The Education Regional Authority provides each school a data dashboard to report on performance, a tool that Benedicte can now use with confidence. During the training, she even made a short presentation on her school development draft plan.

“The training helped me proceed with my new tasks. I learned how to manage school data and to monitor indicators. This helps me make decisions,” Benedicte explains.

Every day at work, she uses these new skills to closely follow students’ experience: How many students drop out? Repeat classes? How many have the supplies they need?

With this information, the parents and local community association realized how poorly equipped the school was. It decided to increase the number of tables and seats in the classroom, cover the damp ground with cement, and provide a roof for the toilets. These measures improve comfort and safety in the school, creating a better learning environment and allowing children to focus more on academics.

A teacher shows a student a data dashboard, Madagascar
UNICEF Madagascar/2018/Ralaivao
A teacher shows a student the indicators used in the school profile data dashboard.

Far-reaching impacts

Benedicte is determined to help more children stay in school and away from the farms and mines.  She regularly organizes meetings with the official in charge of counselling and monitoring, and every month presents performance results to the parent-community association, suggesting new plans and targets with confidence.

Her hard work has already made a huge impact. Today, 70 per cent of the students can sit in the classroom, compared to 30 per cent not so long ago. Benedicte also makes a point to consider girls’ needs, ensuring they have the same learning conditions as boys; for instance, sporting equipment is now offered to both genders. Since the training, girls’ attendance rates have increased from 75 per cent to 90 per cent.

With inputs from teachers like Benedicte, communities are also being given information on the school performance, empowering families to engage with school administrations and ensure their children’s needs are being met.

Melene is pleased with the new developments at her school. “I can sit at a chair and desk and keep my notebook away from dust,” she reports. “My teacher told me that my handwriting has become one the best in the class. I am very happy.”