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Declining literacy rates in Madagascar

In some parts of Madagascar, illiteracy stands at 70%
In some parts of Madagascar, illiteracy stands at 70%

Literacy rates look set to decline in Madagascar, with 1.5 million children currently out of education.

Over the past decade, most countries in the world have seen a drop in the number of illiterate adults. However, in Madagascar, adult illiteracy rates are rising. According to data from UNESCO, the percentage of adults unable to read and write is projected to increase from 29% at the turn of the century to 35% by 2015. The youth illiteracy rate (for those aged 15-24) is also expected to be 35% in 2015.

This rise in youth illiteracy reflects an alarming trend in the growing number of out-of-school children – estimated at 1.5 million by the UN Child Agency, UNICEF. School enrolment rates have been declining in Madagascar since international funding dried up following the coup of 2009. With government spending cut, schools have been receiving less money and have to make up for lost income by charging registration fees. Some families are simply unable to afford these costs.

International charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are doing their best to bridge this education gap. In a recent article, the news agency IRIN highlights the work of one local NGO which runs an intensive adult literacy programme in the south of the country. Funded by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the course aims to teach functional literacy to adult learners, making sure they have the skills needed for their livelihoods. So for example, street and shop vendors and fishermen learn simple arithmetic, while waitresses are taught how to read menus and do basic sums.

Illiteracy is high in the south

In the southern Atsimo-Andrefana region, where one of the courses is being run, illiteracy rates are as high as 70%. Speaking to IRIN, one woman explained how before the classes she was only able to get low-paying jobs such as washing clothes. Now, thanks to her new skills, Marie Louise hopes she will be able to find higher-paying employment, possibly in one of the hotels and restaurants which have sprung up to cater for tourists visiting the unique eco-region known as the ‘spiny forest’.

Education isn’t only vital for the 46 year-old Marie Louise, it’s also important for her seven children. Not only will Marie Louise be able to better provide for their needs, she is also in a much better position to understand the importance of education for them. Marie Louise says that all her children attend a new school five kilometres away from her village, and that even though she has “very little money, I manage to make them study”.

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