How ‘ecological schools’ can help children advance

Anke De Malsche
06 August 2019
Heavy cyclones or diseases caused by a lack of hygiene and safe drinking water prevent children in Madagascar from going to school. How will Madagascar address these challenges?
 

Madagascar is renowned for its magnificent nature. Unfortunately, cyclones regularly plague this beautiful country and rob vulnerable groups of their homes and facilities. These natural disasters also affect schools, with numerous classrooms being destroyed every rainy season.

The climate-related events have an impact on the level of education in the country: only one in ten children in Madagascar graduates from secondary school. This constitutes a huge waste of talent, as more than half of Madagascar's population is currently under the age of eighteen. That is why UNICEF decided, in collaboration with its partners, to launch a new five-pillar action plan to provide children with greater opportunities: 

⦁    Build new, climate-friendly schools that are resistant to cyclones

⦁    Equip schools with appropriate learning materials

⦁    Raise teachers' climate awareness

⦁    Reschedule missed lessons for children who could not attend school

⦁    Install WasH facilities (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) and integrate information on the importance of good hygiene in the curriculum.
 

Since the start of the project, 1030 new classrooms have been built. All these schools are made entirely of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. The new infrastructure allows the children to obtain better school results. 
 

More than four walls and a roof 

In 2014, UNICEF started a pilot project to build new classrooms so as to improve the quality of the country’s educational infrastructure. The new schools in Madagascar provide space for 200 pupils. Since the start of the project, 1030 new classrooms have been built. All these schools are made entirely of sustainable, environmentally friendly materials. The new infrastructure allows the children to obtain better school results. 

For example, the frame of the school buildings is made of steel, which is more resistant to cyclones than wood. Traditional clay bricks, baked in self-built wood-fired ovens, have been replaced by climate-friendly building bricks that consist of a mixture of local limestone and cement and are more resistant to heavy thunderstorms. The local community can produce the bricks using a technique that compresses earth. As they are no longer baked in wood-fired ovens, the production of the bricks does not contribute to deforestation and CO2 emissions. The design of the building - including its orientation in relation to the sun and the wind - ensures that the classrooms are cool enough and that children can concentrate better. On top of that, ecological schools prove to be less expensive. 

 

Two kindergarten teachers animate a group of toddlers in a classroom.
© UNICEF/Ralaivita

Outside, there is a garden where children can plant trees. By planting trees at a young age, children are more likely to realise the importance of a healthy living environment. Specially trained teachers deepen the children's climate knowledge and teach them what to do in the event of a natural disaster so that they will be better prepared in the future in times of need. Adults can also follow lessons. They are welcome to plant trees or grow vegetables in the garden. By involving the parents and because the children share their knowledge at home, the project reaches the entire community.

In addition to climate, hygiene is central in the new schools. Through the WaSH program, children are taught important skills on how to protect themselves against diseases. WaSH stands for water, sanitation and hygiene and wants to change the behavior of an entire community. By washing hands, using toilets and drinking clean water, a lot of diseases and malnutrition can be prevented. As separate toilets are provided for boys and girls, the latter are less likely to drop out of school as soon as they start menstruating.
 

View of the toilets of the primary school of Victoire Rasoamanarivo
© UNICEF/Ralaivita

Minor behavioural change, major effect

The project was carried out in close cooperation with the local population, which makes it easier to accept behavioural change. The director of one of the schools already sees major progress: 'The pupils are more motivated to go to school now that they can drink water without fear of illness or abdominal pain. Because they are now healthier, they also miss fewer lessons'.

The pupils too are enthusiastic about their new school. Vola is in the sixth grade and remembers how cyclones destroyed her school: ‘I could not go to school for three weeks because of the cyclones. When I finally went back to school, the roof was destroyed and I could not concentrate because the sun was shining in the classroom all the time and it was very hot. The new classes allow me to concentrate on the lesson and make sure that my exams go well.’

 

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