top of page
  • Writer's pictureMaia Ramarosandratana

How We Developed our Newest CSE Curriculum for Adolescents in Rural Madagascar


A female Projet Jeune Leader educator stands at the front of a classroom and speaks to two female students in the front row

“Thanks to you, we are well aware of our rights and the rights of others, and about the importance of good hygiene when we get our period. You have helped us communicate better with our parents, and given us advice to reach our goals, and helped us so that puberty is not a surprise anymore.” – Message received from a student, Ambohimiadana Middle School

Since 2013, tens of thousands of young adolescents in Madagascar have received our holistic sexuality education and life skills course every single week for three years of middle school. From 6th to 8th grade, a dedicated PJL Educator has taught them practical information about their health, built their self-efficacy and communication skills, and challenged them to think critically about healthy relationships and gender norms.


Among the thousands of letters we’ve received from students, parents, and school principals, we’ve consistently received one piece of feedback: to add a course for 9th graders, the last year of middle school in Madagascar.


So this year, that’s exactly what we set out to do — though easier said than done!

“It has been so great to do PJL class, but please keep continuing it during the 9th grade year. It would be good to learn things like what are human rights? And why is there such a high rate of violence in our country?” – Message received from a student, Idanda Middle School

Why We Develop our Own CSE Curricula


Our curricula are foundational to the effectiveness of our comprehensive sexuality education program.


We have reviewed dozens of open-source sexual and reproductive health curricula from organizations around the world. Despite the extensive existing materials, we have opted to develop our own curricula rather than use existing resources, because:


  1. Only a handful of existing curricula are adapted to our target age group of young adolescents (~10-15 years old). The few that do exist for this age group are too complex and not accessible to young Malagasy adolescents’ literacy level.

  2. Our Educators’ classrooms, on average, have 50+ students. Most activities we have found are designed for much smaller groups.

  3. Existing school infrastructure doesn’t allow for PowerPoints, videos, computer games, etc. — the standard delivery methods for many other CSE programs.

  4. Many curricula are designed to be delivered to groups of one gender, not mixed-gender groups as is the case in our classes.



A male Projet Jeune Leader educator stands at the front of a large run-down classroom in rural Madagascar, leading the room of students in an activity.


A Thorough and Intentional Approach to Teaching Sexuality Education


The first step in developing our new 9th grade curriculum: outlining the modules we wanted to cover (27 modules per school year, roughly one a week). For our new 9th grade curriculum, we decided to focus primarily on themes of socio-emotional wellbeing, violence prevention, gender norms, child marriage, and decision-making, given that our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade curricula already cover many topics on sexual health and puberty.


Our curricula are age-adapted and sequential. As students progress through our program from 6th through 8th grade — and now, 9th grade — we introduce new topics relevant to older age groups. We refined and organized our shortlist of topics to follow a logical sequence that builds a mix of knowledge, attitudes, and skills.


There are a number of other key considerations we made when developing the curriculum:


Scripted


All of our lesson plans are scripted. This gives us greater quality assurance, allows the Educator to focus on inclusive teaching and classroom management rather than improvisation, and has shown improved student learning outcomes compared to semi-structured lesson plans (learn all about why we shifted to scripted lesson plans here!). Despite being scripted, however, our lesson plans are highly participatory.


Language


Our lesson plans are in Malagasy, the local language. But with a number of dialects and forms of speech, we needed to undergo multiple rounds of edits and testing. We must ensure that vocabulary and grammatical choices are understood by young adolescents in the parts of the country where we work. We also must guarantee that the phrases are simple, clear, and direct when read aloud by our Educators in a classroom setting. That means no tongue-tying sentences!



A female Projet Jeune Leader Educator stands in between two rows of middle school students in rural Madagascar and points at a student raising their hand.

Gender


We are also very careful about language in order to reduce bias and improve inclusivity — especially around gender. We use gender-neutral names in stories and scenarios. Pronouns in the Malagasy language are already gender neutral, which is great for our purposes! When we do use gender-specific content, we are sure to highlight non-conforming gender roles, as well as boys and girls in healthy friendships — two things we hope become the norm for this up-and-coming generation.


Context


Perhaps the greatest strength of our team is grounding curriculum content in Malagasy adolescents’ lived realities. An activity from an international curriculum on good touch and bad touch might compare kisses from your mother versus a stranger. We know that parental kisses aren’t really a thing in the Malagasy context, so we adapt it to caresses. Another common activity used around the world on gender stereotypes asks students to imagine that they are explaining what a human “boy” and “girl” are to an alien. The problem: our students have never heard of the concept of “aliens,” thus undermining the purpose of the activity, which is to critically examine gender stereotypes.


Apart from details like these, we strive to ensure that all students see their lives, problems, and aspirations reflected in their weekly lessons. We carefully construct stories and scenarios so that any Malagasy adolescent — boy or girl, urban or rural — can apply the key messages and skills to their lives.


Cost


Years ago, our Educators used a variety of materials to animate their classes, from flipchart paper and markers for groupwork, to printed handouts, to bouncy balls for icebreaker activities. As we focused on building a scalable model adapted to the low-resource contexts in which we work, we saw that these materials were expensive and yet brought little added value.


Today, we design our curricula so that the only materials our Educators need are a large blackboard, 10 small blackboards for group activities, chalk, and a few images/graphics (printed on tarp to be reused with minimal wear and tear). With the exception of the images, these are materials that all public-school teachers already use in Madagascar. We have written participatory lesson plans that creatively engage students using only these materials, making our curricula some of the only ones we’ve found that do not rely on expensive or single-use additional materials.


The Importance of Pre-Testing the Curriculum


With a draft of our new scripted 9th grade curriculum in hand, the next step was to pre-test it. We wanted to get feedback from our Educators and understand whether the lesson plans were comprehensible, relevant, and appropriate for our target audience of adolescents, before rolling it out for use by dozens of Educators.


In each pre-testing session, a PJL Educator taught a lesson in its entirety to a group of rural 9th grade students (during their school vacation). Then, we asked students questions such as “Was this topic new to you?” and “Do you think what you learned will be useful in your day-to-day life?” Students placed a bean in a box (“Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know”) according to their opinion. We then followed up with focus group discussions with both students and our Educators to gather deeper, qualitative insights.


This pre-testing process proved its critical value many times over.


For example, one of the activities in our new curriculum consisted of a group activity in which students were asked to develop a publicity/advertisement — a way for them to internalize and apply the lesson’s key messages. As he was facilitating the activity, our Educator realized that the students didn’t know what a publicity was. Most of them didn’t have a radio, and even fewer had a TV. Consequently, we revised the lesson plan to include the definition of a publicity before the activity began.


This is just one illustrative example of the importance of pre-testing. Despite being highly conscious of the context in which we work (no electricity, limited access to information, low levels of literacy, etc.), and striving to adapt every component of our program to this context, we still risk making incorrect assumptions or leaving out critical information.


Groups of Malagasy middle school students conduct a group activity, huddled around a table, while a male Projet Jeune Leader Educator stands over them giving instructions.


Beyond Curriculum Alone


The curriculum written and pre-tested, we moved on to the many other components that are part of ensuring a high-quality program. This included:


  • Training our Educators in the new curriculum — including ensuring that they understood the content and pedagogical approaches — and planning for refresher mini-trainings throughout the school year.

  • Allowing our partner school principals to experience the new course by organizing lesson simulations, in which they play the role of a 9th grade student.

  • Developing creative print communication materials to explain the content and purpose of the curriculum to students’ parents.


"We can see that all the themes in the 9th grade curriculum are well adapted to their age and contribute to their development as adults, so it's important to offer this program to 9th grade students." – PJL partner school principal after a class simulation

Over the past few months, as we’ve roll out the 9th grade curriculum to thousands of students for the first time, we have been collecting a variety of quantitative and qualitative data points to understand how the curriculum is building students’ knowledge and skills in key areas. This will allow us to make continuous improvements over time in response to data and feedback from students and our Educators.


“I’ve realized that the lessons taught by the PJL Educator have helped me a lot, and helped me to be brave enough to talk to my parents about my problems, and to improve my relationships with my friends and neighbors. Now I’m able to resolve issues even when I’m angry or sad. Every time I have a class with the PJL Educator, I learn something new. Thank you very much! That’s all from me, just a little message. I hope one day to become a PJL Educator too. Bye for now!” – Message received from 9th grade student Lanto at Ambalamahasoa middle school

 

We are thankful for support from Mundo Cooperante’s Right to be a Girl fund for supporting development of our new curriculum for 9th grade students this year.

Comments


bottom of page