- The Malagasy Ministry of Education, with international aid, has started on an ambitious programme to educate the country's estimated 1 million out-of-school adolescents. The first tiny group of 258 youngsters have now been "graduated" in an Antananarivo ceremony as a result of the programme, which may become a model for other developing countries.
- I was so glad the day my mother saw the poster advertising this project, said 16-year-old William, who lives in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo. "I dropped out of school in the third grade because my father did not have a job and my family was too poor to send me to school. But due to this initiative, I can make receipts and even bake cakes!"
William is just one of the many young people - aged 12-18 - who is part of this Malagasy initiative to deal with the country's estimated one million out-of-school adolescents.
Over the past year the joint initiative, known as DESCOL, has helped more than 400 youngsters attain both basic education and vocational skills in the Indian Ocean island of some 18 million inhabitants, where one in every five children still does not go to school and only 39 out of every 100 pupils complete primary school.
The DESCOL initiative so far operates in 17 districts of the Antananarivo region. Each district identifies local artists who take in the young people as apprentices and provide them with future income generating skills in areas such as baking, mechanics, tailoring, etc.
The initiative, which runs for nine months for each group of young people, includes three months of basic education training. Young people here learn basic numeric, Malagasy, French and civic education, including HIV/AIDS prevention and health issues. This is followed by a six month vocational training course.
- Before taking part in the project, I didn't know what my future would be like, said Narindra, another DESCOL graduate. "Now, I want to open a restaurant with other graduates. We still do not have enough money, but we are full of hope," she adds.
The DESCOL project is initiated and coordinated by Madagascar's Ministry of Education, which already has achieved international attention and financial aid from the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF). UNICEF says it expects that the lessons learned from the DESCOL initiative will help inform national policy on out-of-school youth in other developing countries.
The UN agency today celebrated the first successes of the promising Malagasy project. "While it is true that in the big scheme of things, this is a small step, it is nevertheless, an important one," affirmed UNICEF's Chief of Education, Francisco Basili.
- Every child has a right to an education, added Mr Basili, "and it is important that we find these school dropouts understand better why they are not in school and identify local and national resources to comprehensively integrate them back into society."
In 2002, Madagascar's government, with the assistance of UNICEF, set about reforming the educational system, both in terms of quality and access. A key element of this reform process was also to ensure the right to education for out-of-school youth. This is in part what gave birth to the DESCOL project, according to the UN agency.
In Madagascar, as in other developing countries, dropping out of school is particularly common for poorer students. Data from the Ministry of Education further indicates that only 12 percent of children in rural areas complete the primary cycle as compared to 60 percent in urban areas.
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