Government cuts hit education hard

Madagascar's unresolved political crisis is causing havoc in its education system after steep cuts increased the island state's inability to meet schoolchildren's basic needs, bringing a spike in child labour.



A World Bank report published on 1 February, noted that Madagascar's leader, Andry Rajoelina - who ousted President Marc Ravalomanana from power in March 2009 with the backing of the army in a move widely condemned as a coup - slashed the budget allocation for public services by an estimated US$200 million in one of the world's poorest countries.



"The crisis, at both a political and economic level, is accelerating the erosion of essential services in the whole social sector, and the impact on children is severe," Bruno Maes, Madagascar representative for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) told IRIN.



"We are seeing a minimum 20 [percent to] 30 percent decrease in the education budget; as a result, funds and materials are not reaching schools. The second impact of the crisis is an increased vulnerability of already poor families, which means that more children are having to work," he said.



Suspension of aid



Many foreign donors, including the US, suspended aid after Rajoelina's "illegal" rise to power. The International Monetary Fund estimates that donor aid accounted for about 75 percent of the government's investment budget. The economic effects of the coup have been compounded by the global slow-down, and job losses have been keenly felt, especially in the tourism and textile sectors.









''Most children in public schools work before or after school to earn money to buy their books, and to give to their parents''

The number of students enrolled in private schools has plummeted, with only three or four pupils left out of a class of 12 in some instances, according to a study by the Union of Professional Graduate Social Workers (SPDTS). "The situation for children now is even harder than before the crisis," Norotiana Randimbiarison, president of SPDTS, told IRIN.



The study was based on a sample of 47,000 pupils in the capital, Antananarivo, and two of the country's other major cities, Ambositra and Fianarantsoa.



The survey found that more children were combining work with school studies than before March 2009, earning money in activities that ranged from making bricks and charcoal to washing laundry.



"Most children in public schools work before or after school to earn money to buy their books, and to give to their parents," Randimbiarison said. As a consequence, "Children arrive in school late, and are tired and are unable to concentrate."



Ando, 12, who declined to give her surname, told IRIN that before school she queued at the local water pump and then delivered five buckets of water to customers, earning 250 ariary ($0.11) daily, which she gave to her mother.



Her classmate, Michel, sold nuts after school. Each evening he returned home at about 8 p.m. and gave his earnings of about 1,000 ariary ($0.44) to his parents; his father is a labourer and his mother is unemployed.



"I never have time to do my homework and the teachers are always asking me why I am not prepared for the lessons," Michel told IRIN. "But I am scared to tell them why."



A promised 10 percent pay rise for teachers, to take effect in January 2010, has yet to materialize; educators are still getting between 130,000 ariary ($60) and 300,000 ariary ($138) a month.



Teacher salaries



"I personally have not yet received my pay rise," a public primary school teacher in Antananarivo told IRIN. "I am worried that we will not be paid in the coming months, and the [promised] pay rise does not cover the rising costs of basic foods like meat, sugar and flour."



The World Bank set up an $84 million "Education for All" programme that included funding for teachers' salaries, among other things, but the withholding of non-emergency donor assistance money has created confusion about the future of the initiative. With restrictions on funding to Madagascar still in place, $49 million allocated to the programme remains inaccessible.



"At this point the loss of donor funds could have an impact on the ability of the Ministry of Education to keep the system functioning ... threatening the future of nearly 40,000 teachers," Maes said. "At least two million children depend on these teachers to be able to go school."



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