Madagascar Children: starving to learn, learning to starve

While on a trip to Madagascar I had the option of visiting a typical village school.  Primary school in Madagascar is compulsory for children from ages 6-14, but after the age of 14 many children drop out to care of their siblings or to go to work to help support their family.  Per UNICEF statistics, only 60% of children complete their primary education for a variety of reasons, and class repetition rates are very high. 

Following primary school, three years of junior level education is offered, with a certificate of completion awarded to the student for finishing all three years.  Completion of secondary schools is only at 25% with an enrollment rate of 35% over the past 10 years.

One reason for the elevated dropout rate among the young Malagasy school children is the need for them to find work to support their family, as Madagascar is among the poorest of nations with high rates of poverty.  Formidable poverty rates account for the crisis of chronic malnutrition, which is estimated to be the 4th highest in the world. 

One of the consequences of malnutrition is the stunting of the physical and intellectual growth of the children, which can lead to long term consequences for future generations.  The cycle of stunting is propagated as malnourished girls give birth to malnourished infants.  It is estimated that many Malagasy adults are intellectually stunted because of malnutrition they suffered from as children. 

Most Malagasy children attend school in dilapidated and overcrowded classrooms with essential supplies such as chalk, pencils, and paper, greatly lacking.  The school I visited was a one roomed affair with children of different ages, most who appeared to be under the age of eight years. 

Teachers are challenged with initial overcrowding of students leading to high teacher-student ratios and the burden of educating a spectrum of ages and learning abilities. 

Although my group tried not to disrupt the classroom lessons during our visit, it was obvious the children were excited to show my group what they had learned.

Before leaving the school my group took up a donation to purchase some basic school supplies for the children and their teacher.

Further donations to assist with Madagascar’s need for higher education can be investigated through the UNICEF organization (www.unicef.org) or Project Madagascar (www.accirelief.org.au).