Across Madagascar, primary
school classrooms once dominated by teacher talk are now buzzing with
the sounds of children learning in groups, singing songs, asking
questions, and sharing answers.
Where children once learned mathematics through recitation and rote memorization, they now sit together and count with twigs or bottle caps. French and literacy lessons are transformed as well, with children building vocabulary skills by reciting poems and creating their own sentences to share with classmates.
These active learning strategies are part of a national effort to invigorate teaching and learning across Madagascar, a country where half the children currently don’t make it past second grade. The new lessons are led by a series of radio programs developed by EDC and a team of local educators.
In 30-minute segments, first- and second-graders learn literacy skills, mathematics, and French. The lessons feature a cast of local characters in games, stories, songs, and group work. Nationwide broadcasts began in fall 2007.
“The programs were initially intended to reach 600 schools, but the Ministry of Education wanted to broadcast them nationwide. We are now in 20,000 schools,” says EDC’s Norma Evans. “They’re broadcast on national and regional stations, so anyone with a radio can pick them up.”
Creating a buzz
To engage the widest audience, all programs are produced in Malagasy, the local language, with area schoolchildren acting the young parts and ministry staffers speaking the adult roles. A scriptwriting team of five local educators works closely with Evans to ensure that the content conforms to the national curriculum and that the pedagogy is sound.
Project staff also invited parent groups to test segments before they aired, soliciting feedback and suggestions for improvement. “When we tested them in the South, parents showed up every day, lining the windows to hear the programs,” says Evans. “They let us know what they wanted more of and what to change.”
Evans and her team were pleased to discover that parents were supportive of the project’s larger goals: “They wanted to see the children more active and involved in learning.”
As 50 percent of the teaching force in Madagascar lacks formal training, the EDC program also offers “radio teachers” who model active teaching methods, such as asking open-ended questions. They also direct teachers in setting up group work and other unfamiliar activities.
Following each lesson, the radio teachers speak directly to their classroom counterparts, reviewing the day’s activities, explaining why they are effective, and offering ideas for building on them.
“We talk to the teachers in very simple, straightforward language and tie the trainings to the daily activity so they are relevant and accessible,” says Evans. “Many teachers tell us this is the first time anyone has spoken to them about teaching in a way they could understand.”
Originally published on January 1, 2008