Schools for Africa - Stories from the field

14 August 2020

The importance of trained preschool teachers

Sandra Jeaninelle David was the middle child in her family, and as with many Malagasy girls, from a young age she looked after her little sisters. While her parents and older siblings worked, she and her sisters would play together in the courtyard after school, and it was then that she noticed that not all the children in her neighbourhood were well cared for.

Some of the young children were abused or neglected, and very few of them went to school. Noticeably, almost none of them had books at home. In fact, in Madagascar only 2 per cent of children have three or more books at home, and more than a third are left on their own or without adult supervision.

It was at this time that Sandra decided she wanted to teach preschool. In 2017 she graduated high school and was recruited by the local parent-teacher association to teach at the Ampasipotsy public primary school in Fenerive Est, Analanjirofo. But Sandra never imagined that being a preschool educator was so difficult! She never thought about how a teacher must be organized to follow the curriculum, and how one was responsible not only for playing with children but also for their learning, health, hygiene, and safety.

Two-years after she started teaching, Sandra received her first training for preschool educators. The two-week training – provided by the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF – helped her understand how to ensure the integral development of a child (physical, motor, cognitive, language, communication, personality, and socialization) and how to combine a child’s learning with play.

Mrs Sandra leads a group work session
UNICEF Madagascar/March 2019/Serge Mamba
Mrs Sandra leads a group work session.

"I never would have understood how gestures of encouragement towards the child and valuing his or her ideas and feelings will help them blossom, develop self-esteem, and become independent."

Sandra Jeaninelle David, Pre-school Teacher, Madagascar

Sandra most appreciated the sessions on ‘Knowing the Child’, where for the first time she learned about the different areas and stages of child development. “I really appreciated learning the benchmarks of child development, and how important it is to recognize that each child has his or her own pace of development.” In addition, says Sandra, “I realize now how important it is to identify problems in development, but always keeping the focus on how to help the child progress from where they are at. It even made me realize how best to help my own child at home. She is now 18 months and is not talking like most children her age. Now I know that I should work with her at her level and not be stressed about what she cannot do yet.”

“Without this training,” admits Sandra, “I never would have understood how gestures of encouragement towards the child and valuing his or her ideas and feelings will help them blossom, develop self-esteem, and become independent.”

UNICEF has supported the development of the preschool cycle in Madagascar for over 10 years, during which time the number of public and community preschool centres has grown dramatically, from just 195 in the 2006/07 school year to 15,132 in 2017/18. The rate of preschool enrolment for children aged 3–5 climbed from 7.5 per cent in 2004/05 to 30 per cent in 2017/18, with slightly more girls enrolled than boys. UNICEF Madagascar has also helped the Ministry of Education, Professional, and Technical Training to train a third of the educators in seven regions since 2015, representing 17 per cent of all preschool educators nationwide.