November 2022: the start of the school year. After a long break, dust was swirling again in the school yard at Fenoarivo middle school. Students were more chatty than usual, catching up after months apart and surveying the new teacher standing at the edge of the yard.
That teacher was feeling a little nervous — it was her first day of school, too. Claudine, a teacher-trainee of the Haute Matsiatra Regional Teacher Training Institute, was embarking on her practicum year.
She felt extra pressure on her shoulders, not only because she was one of Fenoarivo middle school’s youngest teachers and its newest physics and natural sciences teacher, but she was also its first-ever sexuality education teacher.
Pioneering Comprehensive Sexuality Education in Madagascar’s Rural Schools
Along with 113 other teacher-trainees in Haute Matsiatra, Claudine is part of a pilot cohort of public school teacher-trainees bringing comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) for the first time to 97 rural schools in Haute Matsiatra region.
This initiative is part of a groundbreaking collaboration between Projet Jeune Leader, the Haute Matsiatra Regional Teacher Training Institute, and the National Ministry of Education to mainstream a comprehensive sexuality education program in Madagascar’s public education system.
This year, in addition to student-teaching one physics and natural sciences class, Claudine is teaching sexuality education to the entire school, providing one-on-one counseling services to students, and leading school-based extracurricular activities.
In this role as a CSE Educator — or “Mpanabe JL,” as she’s called at school — Claudine is fully supported and equipped by Projet Jeune Leader while also serving as a “regular” public school teacher. She received rigorous, weeks-long training by Projet Jeune Leader in sexuality education, participatory pedagogy, and adolescent development; is using our detailed, scripted curriculum; and benefits from regular check-ins with Projet Jeune Leader’s team.
A Different Kind of Classroom
Claudine’s first-day jitters didn’t last long. Standing in front of her students for her first class as a CSE educator, she recalled the pedagogical tools and tips she had learned from Projet Jeune Leader in her training. She took a breath and lit up in a big smile. “Alright everyone, stand up! You look sleepy today, too much vacation? So let’s wake up together with a little icebreaker game!”
Since then, every time the school principal at Fenoarivo middle school peeks into Claudine’s classroom, he really can’t believe it. Kids are excited to be in class. They are no longer painfully shy to participate. Hands shoot up left and right. “Usually during rainy season, our students stop showing up for school. But this year, they kept coming, and I believe that’s because of Claudine’s work,” he shared.
Claudine’s sexuality education class isn’t like any class her students have experienced before. For one, she teaches about things they feel are practical — changes during puberty, healthy relationships, conflict resolution, leadership. Her classes are exciting: unlike their other largely lecture-based classes, Claudine’s students are encouraged to speak up. They learn through simulations and hands-on activities. They laugh. She asks their opinion.
“The Mpanabe JL’s lessons are good because you learn how to manage your emotions during puberty,” one of her students wrote to us. “It makes you want to improve so you can reach your goals.”
Another wrote, “The thing I really like the most is interacting with the Mpanabe JL. I really love it because I learn new things for my life.”
A Ripple Effect Across the School and Community
Claudine quickly realized how her role as a CSE Educator would benefit her as a teacher. “Learning about adolescent development and psychology really gave me an advantage as teacher,” reflected Claudine a few months into the school year. “When I started teaching, I was able to use what I learned with Projet Jeune Leader to develop better relationships with my adolescent students and better manage my classroom.”
Being a CSE Educator hasn’t just changed her. It’s influenced the entire culture of the school. Mr. Adrien, head of the Haute Matsiatra Regional Teacher Training Institute, visited teacher-trainees in action — including Claudine — mid-year and recounted how “other teachers are impressed by the Mpanabe JL’s ability to maintain a calm, productive classroom environment, even in classrooms of 70 to 80 students. Some teachers even want to know how these Mpanabe JL do it, and want to be able to apply these same methods in their own classes.”
Claudine’s influence also extends to the parents of her students. “I was really scared at first,” recounted Claudine of leading her first workshop for parents. “But when the discussions started I saw that they really liked the information and it was new to them! My interactions with the parents were truly wonderful and they even asked that the Mpanabe JL courses be continued!”
Understanding the Power of a Single Educator in Rural Madagascar
Claudine has just wrapped up her first year of teaching. At this point, many first-year teachers might feel burned out; instead, she’s feeling excited about her career. She wants to stay a CSE Educator, and her school wants that, too.
Before Projet Jeune Leader’s partnership with the Training Institute, which involved a stipulation that the teacher-trainees be placed in under-resourced rural schools struggling with staff shortages, most teacher-trainees had been placed in the city of Fianarantsoa. What’s most remarkable about Claudine is she is working in the most rural partner school of the 113 teacher-trainees in her cohort. Her school and village have no electricity. It takes her a full day of travel — catching multiple bush taxis and crossing rivers by canoes — to reach the district center. (When Fenoarivo middle school’s principal attended Projet Jeune Leader’s orientation meeting for partner schools, he woke up at 1am and walked 6 hours to make it to the 8am meeting in the district town.)
But Claudine’s impact outweighs all of that — and it’s impact she wouldn’t have at a well-resourced urban school, where she might otherwise have been placed. She has filled critical gaps in the school system. She is an integrated part of the community: she walks to school with his students, chatting about their interests and giving them study tips; she is invited to harvest celebrations and funerals; parents approach her at the market to ask for advice about their kids.
One of Claudine’s students summed it up well: “We students have gained better behavior and advice to take a better path. We are grateful because of the lessons and education. Hopefully, Projet Jeune Leader will go far. We hope to become leaders, just like you.”