Education in Madagascar

Education in Madagascar has a long and distinguished history. Formal schooling began with medieval Arab seafarers, who established a handful of Islamic primary schools (kuttabs) and developed a transcription of the Malagasy language using Arabic script, known as sorabe. These schools were short-lived, and formal education was only to return under the 19th-century Kingdom of Madagascar when the support of successive kings and queens produced the most developed public school system in precolonial Sub-Saharan Africa. However, formal schools were largely limited to the central highlands around the capital of Antananarivo and were frequented by children of the noble class andriana. Among other segments of the island's population, traditional education predominated through the early 20th century. This informal transmission of communal knowledge, skills and norms was oriented toward preparing children to take their place in a social hierarchy dominated by community elders and particularly the ancestors (razana), who were believed to oversee and influence events on earth.

Since coming under French colonial authority in 1896, the education system in Madagascar has steadily expanded into more remote and rural communities while coming under increased control of the state. National education objectives have reflected changing government priorities over time. Colonial schooling taught basic skills and French language fluency to most children, while particularly strong students were selected to receive training for civil servant roles at the secondary level. Post-independence education in the First Republic (1960-1975) under President Philibert Tsiranana retained a strong French influence with textbooks and teachers of French origin. The post-colonial backlash that brought about the Second Republic (1975-1992) saw schools serve as vehicles for citizen indoctrination into Admiral Didier Ratsiraka's socialist ideology. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 prompted a wave of democratization across Africa, launching the democratic Third Republic (1992-2010). Renewed international cooperation resulted in significant foreign aid for the education sector, which adopted numerous reforms promoted by United Nations organizations and other partners in the international development sector.

Education was prioritized under President Marc Ravalomanana (2001-2009), who sought to improve both access and quality of formal and non-formal education. A massive campaign of school renovation, expansion and construction has been coupled with the recruitment and training of tens of thousands more teachers. This initiative was supported with funds from intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank and UNESCO, and bilateral grants from many countries, including France, the United States and Japan. A key pedagogical objective of these reforms included a shift from a traditional, didactic teaching style to a student-centered form of instruction involving frequent group work. As of 2009, Madagascar was on target to achieve the Education For All objective of universal enrollment at the primary level. Student achievement, teacher quality, widespread shortage of materials and access to secondary and tertiary schooling continue to be challenges, as are poverty-related obstacles such as high repetition and attrition rates and poor student health. The 2009 political crisis in Madagascar resulted in cessation of all but emergency aid to the country, further exacerbating poverty-related challenges and threatening to undo much recent progress in the education sector.