In October 2015, Matthew Bane, Managing Director of New England’s Regional office of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, traveled to Madagascar to explore the country’s education program and visit various Let Us Learn schools where UNICEF has supported the construction of primary school classrooms and water and sanitation facilities. Matthew was joined by Karen Metzger, Managing Director of Planned Giving, and four regional board members who wanted to experience UNICEF’s field work first hand. The team was also joined by the Chief of Education for Madagascar’s Sofia region, Matthias Lansard, and other local staff, whose aim was to evaluate the region’s teacher trainings, construction, safety, water, and sanitation of school facilities.
Let Us Learn provides access to education for children that are hardest to reach, specifically those in very remote areas. The program addresses financial barriers and issues of access through scholarships, provision of transportation, construction of dormitories, and teacher training. With 1.5 million primary-school aged children out of school, Madagascar desperately needs the program’s support. Of children in primary school, a meager 20% move to secondary school, with less than 50% of girls completing their secondary education. In addition to poor attendance rates, only 28% of public primary schools have access to clean water. Also, more than 80% of community teachers are underqualified, leaving children unprepared to move to secondary school.
Madagascar is ranked 155th of 187 counties in the Human Development Index. The country ranks 6th lowest in the use of safe water and 4th worst for use of improved sanitation globally. With regards to nutrition, the country has the 4th highest rate of chronic under-nutrition rate in the world, resulting in stunting in about half of children under age five. As if all this wasn’t enough, the country ranks 5th for being most threatened by cyclones.
Matthew explains, “Madagascar is facing many more challenges than I anticipated. The central government holds little power so UNICEF must work through decentralized structures at the regional and local level. UNICEF is currently the only organization funding the country’s education”.
Thankfully, Let Us Learn has greatly contributed to improved education over the past years. The construction of 150-200 classrooms per year and the training of 17,000 community teachers has allowed for more than 45,000 children to attend catch-up classes.
Matthew states, “I find the Let Us Learn program to be breathtaking. The holistic approach finds ways to scale education in places that have defied scaling education in the past. We can take the lessons learned from our field visit and implement them to other education programs around the world”.
Nevertheless, there is still much progress to be made. In order to move forward, Madagascar needs more system-wide investment. With more advocates and more funding, the country will be able to develop properly.
Matthew explains that this field visit “enabled donors to see how UNICEF works on the field with local partners. It is critical that donors displace themselves to understand UNICEF’s work because it is a full-body experience that must be lived.” Upon returning home, donors made a financial commitment to Madagascar’s education programs and returned to their communities to get their networks involved in efforts to raise Madagascar’s profile.
“We have high hopes that future visits like this one will bring more attention, greater support, and increased funding to improve Madagascar’s education system” states Matthew.
Written by Emmanuelle Plucker, U.S. Fund for UNICEF Intern.