With the help of Education International’s COVID-19 solidarity fund, the Fédération chrétienne des enseignants et employés de l’Éducation (FEKRIMPAMA) has been able to get out to meet Madagascar’s teachers. The pandemic has abruptly reduced their quality of life and drawn attention to the lack of social and health security for those working in the sector. FEKRIMPAMA has brought their demands and suggestions to the government’s attention with a view to ensuring quality education and optimal health and safety conditions in the country’s schools.
Union activities aiming to keep teachers informed
According to the organisation’s general secretary, Constant Andrianatrehy Marolaza, FEKRIMPAMA carried out a number of awareness raising activities regarding efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic between 27 July and 11 September.
The Federal Bureau’s teams have been carrying out activities to this effect in nine of the country’s regions, namely surveys on the status of teachers during the pandemic as well as FEKRIMPAMA’s development at the basic level.
The major and underlying recurrent issues highlighted by teachers include the following questions:
- How should the new school year, which is due to start on 28 October, be managed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic?
- How can teachers do their jobs and how do they live with COVID-19 – for example, given that regular hand washing with soap and clean water is required, when some schools do not even have their own water points?
- How can social distancing be properly implemented when many schools don’t have enough tables and benches?
As a result of the surveys it carried out in the regions it visited, FEKRIMPAMA discovered that the majority of teachers and education support staff felt abandoned and forgotten by the Government concerning personal protective equipment and social assistance in cash or in kind – especially teachers not employed by the government and working in private schools.
In addition, many private school teachers have been laid off during the pandemic, and haven’t received their salaries. Contractual FRAM teachers – who are paid by the parents of their pupils – have been abandoned, and teachers without civil servant status but who are subsidised by the Government have received no state assistance.
“We can say that these teachers are among the most vulnerable. Andrianatrehy Marolaza has pointed out that “this may result in the fragility of these teachers and their families in terms of health”.
Similarly, he has highlighted the fact that overcrowding in classrooms is still a major handicap for the resumption of classes: there is a shortage of teachers, classrooms and other infrastructure such as latrines and running water
Furthermore, teachers have received no training or instruction regarding contamination, propagation and efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, with the exception of that given by FEKRIMPAMA and that available through the media.
Thanks to money made available through the COVID-19 solidarity fund, FEKRIMPAMA has been able to organise 27 workshops and consequently 1,215 teachers and education support staff have been trained and 1,680 teachers have completed their surveys.
It has also made 1,023 posters and produced five audio-visual aids, which have been broadcast on national and local radio and television.
Andrianatrehy Marolaza highlighted the fact that teachers and education support staff are genuinely concerned and want the project to continue, because ministry officials have not taken the initiative to train them or keep them informed on the pandemic.
“What really emerged from this project was the opportunity for our union to get back in direct contact with our core members, and to reassure them in the face of the difficult pandemic period we are currently experiencing. According to the union leader, FEKRIMPAMA signed up 216 new members during their regional visits and hope that this will increase further as a result of their upcoming activities.
He added that “the goal of the media coverage is to increase the union’s visibility so it is able to grow. This makes it easier to recruit new members, especially during this pandemic. The use of different networks really helps us raise awareness among our members and supporters about our existence and our actions.”
He went on to explain that “this activity is an opportunity for our union to develop, and it gives us new impetus for the future and the survival of our union. Furthermore, it has taught us many lessons for our future activities – training, workshops, audio-visual broadcasts and advocacy to the competent ministerial and political authorities.”
He believes FEKRIMPAMA must help with preparations for the new school term, “to allay pupils’ and teachers’ psychological and spiritual concerns in the face of COVID-19.”
Union recommendations to the public authorities
He pointed out that, subsequent to these activities and observations, FEKRIMPAMA, as a union advocating health and social security, training and decent work for teachers, has put forward a number of recommendations for the reopening of schools (public and private), which the Madagascar government should consider.
The immediate measures advocated, determined on the basis of the children’s interests and public health considerations, notably include:
- Putting in place the professional training required, and the development and organisation of a social and political dialogue between the ministries concerned, the education unions and the parents of pupils, to avoid going back and forth between the recommencing and suspension of classes and creating a climate of trust to ensure pupil safety with regard to health in order to draw up an agreed schedule of official exam dates and the resumption of classes for all age groups. This is described as, “Plan well and save lives”.
- Promoting health safety and social security services in schools pursuant to the recommendations of the World Health Organisation.
- Implementing group testing for diagnoses and to avoid the rapid spread of the virus, eliminating all concerns linked to suspected cases, encouraging pupils and providing long lasting personal protective equipment for pupils, teachers and all education workers.
- Establishing a cross-cutting policy for the ministries concerned, and establishing a dialogue to raise awareness among parents about the duties and responsibilities they have towards their children.
- Training and supporting teachers and all education sector stakeholders on the teaching methods adopted during COVID-19.
- Recruiting more teachers to make up the lost time – 5 months – in order to support the intensive teaching and learning expected.
Andrianatrehy Marolaza believes that “if all of these measures cannot be taken, it is not yet the right time to reopen schools”. “FEKRIMPAMA is fighting wholeheartedly so that children, Malagasy youths, and teachers are not sacrificed.”
The union’s long-term recommendations include:
- Recruiting heavily, by bringing in approximately 20,000 new teachers per year, in light of the lack of state sector teachers, while abolishing the contractual FRAM and ENF teacher system.
- For teachers working in private schools, reintroducing the permanent contract system and enrolling them with the Caisse nationale de prévoyance sociale (Malagasy National Social Insurance Fund) for their social and professional security.
- Improving the status and reassessing the value and the social, cultural and professional contributions made by teachers, in particular through strict implementation of the provisions of the International Labour Organisation/UNESCO Recommendation of 5 October 1966 concerning the Status of Teachers.
- Building more classrooms to prevent overcrowding (a maximum of 45 pupils per classroom) and installations with hygiene and water sanitation conditions appropriate for each school on the island.
- Creating a platform comprising, at a minimum, the Ministry for Public Health, the Ministry for National Education, the Ministry of Population and the Ministry of Culture and Communication, to replace the COVID-19 Operation Command Centre. This platform would disseminate all directives and instructions to be followed in order to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic in the field of education.
- To eliminate the gaps in pupil knowledge caused by COVID-19, given the non-completion of school curricula for all intermediate classes due to the lengthy duration of class suspension and the fact that holidays were significantly prolonged. It is important to motivate teachers by implementing an overtime system.
According to Andrianatrehy Marolaza, a political dialogue between the Ministry and all education stakeholders must be established before all of these measures and suggestions can be implemented. Thus, he believes it is necessary for a “Technical Conference on Education” to be organised after lockdown restrictions have been lifted.