- Madagascar's new President, Andry Rajoelina, could be heading for a collapse of the Malagasy education sector as donors keep assets frozen, teachers' May salaries are not secured and a French language reform alienates pupils and teachers.
Donors are expressing concerns over Malagasy children's right to an education as lack of funds and discontinuity in education reforms threaten the country's schools.
More than 60 percent of the Malagasy government budget was funded by donors during the regime of toppled President Marc Ravalomana, who was able to attract many new foreign partners to invest in Madagascar's development. But as long as an illegitimate government holds power on the island, all foreign development funds are frozen.
In addition, tax and customs revenues have fallen sharply since Mr Rajoelina coup, and the new Malagasy leader has promised to spend large sums on subsidising basic food and fuel commodities.
According to Norwegian sources in Antananarivo, government funds will start running empty already next month. While teachers' salaries were secured for April, government will find it difficult to pay full wages in May.
And donors cannot be moved to step in to save Malagasy schools, diplomats in Antananarivo insist. Not only do they deplore the country's unconstitutional government; donors also are frustrated by the sudden shift in education policies announced by the juvenile President.
Under President Ravalomana - who personally engaged in Madagascar's education policies - foreign donors had gone through a longer dialogue and process to reform the island's education system. The new reform was just around the corner and had secured large foreign funds from optimistic donors.
However, among the first official steps of President Rajoelina was to reverse the education reform and announce a more rigid use of French as teaching language in Malagasy schools. According to officials from the Norwegian development aid agency, Mr Rajoelina has "set other and poorer standards" for Madagascar's education system.
It is speculated that the introduction of strict adherence to French language in all teaching in Malagasy schools may be a step by Mr Rajoelina to win the Paris government over to his side. All other foreign partners - which grew in number and importance during President Ravalomanana - however see this as a major setback.
French was the main teaching language during the colonial period, but also during the first decade of independence. In 1972, however, government changed the teaching language to Malagasy, which is the only language spoken by all inhabitant on the large island. But the problem was that a chronic lack of good teaching materials in Malagasy, leading to the reintroduction of French as the main teaching language again twenty years later.
Currently, Malagasy pupils - out of which 98 percent do not speak proper French - are struggling with French language textbooks adapted to the cultural context of mainland France. Teachers mostly lecture in Malagasy language as most have very poor French language skills, but exams remain in French.
The upcoming education reform was to secure a greater part of education in Malagasy; the only language understood by all of Madagascar's children. But President Rajoelina rejected the reform and has instead given the order that all teaching - including lecturing - shall be in French language.
According to donors, this will mean that neither most teachers nor most pupils will be able to properly understand classes. Norwegian officials hold "this is bad news" for Malagasy children and teachers.
Mr Rajoelina's education policies are now protested. Recently, the Norwegian Embassy in Antanarivo, together with diplomats from South Africa, Germany, France and Switzerland called on Malagasy authorities to take "all necessary measures to create an environment conducive to the protection of children and development in their community, schools and families."
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