Supplies and Logistics

School bags for the children of Madagascar: Realising education for all

© UNICEF/Denmark/S. Blanchet
Nirina, 7 year old, takes her pencil-case out of her school bag. She received the bag and other educational supplies for free at the beginning of the 2004 school year.

ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar, 1 June 2005 - Amidst dozens of running and laughing children in the school courtyard, Nirina is quiet. She holds her blue pencil-case very tightly and is careful not to trip. Nirina is seven years old, although she looks much younger in her beige blouse and pleated green skirt. She lives in a hamlet a few kilometres from Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, and goes to the Anbatolampy primary school there.

Asked why she takes her pencil-case with her during play time, she answers “I’m afraid I’m going to lose it, so I keep it with me all the time.” The pencil-case is part of the free school equipment she received at the beginning of the new school year in 2004. In addition to the sturdy blue rucksack given to 1.2 million children in Madagascar starting in grade 1, each child also received a pencil-case containing a pencil, three pens, a box of 12 colouring pencils, an eraser, a pencil sharpener, a compass and a set square. These school kits were bought and distributed through UNICEF Procurement Services on behalf of the Ministry of Education. UNICEF also procured 2,000 teachers’ kits and 1 million textbooks. The total value of the procurement was $4 million.

Nirina particularly likes the box of colouring pencils, as drawing is her favourite activity at school. Her face lights up when she shows her pencils. Oddly, they’re cut in half. “My dad cut them and sharpened the halves. I use the sharpened ones and the rest, I keep in the box as a reserve”, she explains.

Her mother, who raises five children alone, says that she would have tried to send her daughter to school, even without the bag. “But I wouldn’t have been able to buy such a good bag. I would have asked my neighbours to give me an old bag. And she would never have had the colouring pencils.” While striving to get the best price by asking several suppliers all over the world to bid, UNICEF also paid attention to the quality of the educational supplies it bought. The bags should last several years.

For Nirina, like over a million of other young children in this poor country, these bags represented the chance to go to school for the first time. In 2004, under the Government’s ambitious primary education programme, school fees were abolished, and each newly-enrolled child received free educational supplies. As a result, enrolment increased by 18 per cent in comparison to 2003. Ultimately, the objective is to enrol all children, and keep them in school for at least five years so that they can complete their primary education.

© UNICEF/Denmark/S. Blanchet
Nirina shows her box of colouring pencils - her favourite item in the school bag she received.

“Many families, especially in remote, rural areas, are too poor to buy bags and educational supplies for their children,” says Mr. Randimbivololona, Secretary General at the Ministry of Education. “That’s why we decided to give free bags, educational supplies and textbooks to all children starting school. But we needed help in the procurement and distribution because it was such a huge and complex task, and so we approached UNICEF. We knew they could buy cheaper, good quality supplies and they would deliver on time.”

The Ministry of Education is extremely satisfied with its collaboration with UNICEF Procurement Services - the needed supplies were delivered on time and at a better price than what was found in the private sector. 

The role of UNICEF Procurement Services, through the UNICEF Supply Division in Copenhagen and the Country office in Madagascar, was to buy the supplies, transport them from the supplier to Madagascar, ensure customs clearance and distribute them to 111 distribution points in the island. The logistics operation was particularly complex as some areas of the island are isolated, with poor roads. In addition to trucks and cars, buffalo-pulled carts and canoes were used to transport cartons from the main distribution points to the schools. Many parents came themselves and carried cartons on their backs.
Another challenge was the very tight deadlines. In only a few months, competitive suppliers had to be identified, and bags and books produced, packed, shipped and distributed. Over 90 per cent of the supplies reached the children in time for the new school year, an unprecedented success in Madagascar.

In 2005, the Government of Madagascar renewed its contract with UNICEF Procurement Services. In addition to school bags and books, UNICEF will procure motorbikes for school inspectors, and ensure that they receive training in driving and maintenance. These motorbikes will be used to transport educational supplies to children, but will also contribute to the monitoring of schools. The Ministry of Education also anticipates that the collaboration with UNICEF will enable its staff to receive progressive training in procurement and logistics, as capacity building is another important aspect of UNICEF Procurement Services.



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