5 Minute Inspiration: How thinking big and acting small makes kids smarter

by 27th Dec 2018
Angeline and Clarette at school in Ampaho village, Vatomandry District, Madagascar Angeline and Clarette at school in Ampaho village, Vatomandry District, Madagascar

In Madagascar, kid’s test scores in French increased by 46% by thinking big and acting small. Learn how the community acheived this through the Fanamby project.

Tapping into parents’ ambitions for their kids and their communities was a huge part of the Fanamby project to improve access to education for more than 19,000 students. The evaluation says that the secret to success was “think big, but act small.” By pairing a grand vision with tangible actions that communities led themselves, they were able to show huge gains in education.

Parents aren’t ready to stop here—they’re excited about possibilities beyond the project. As Desire Rafanomezana says,

“It’s true that the project will end, but for those of us who have seen the benefits, it’s our duty to share what our experiences with others."

What did we accomplish?

  • Kids learned more: kids in the project saw scores on their government exams go up by 24% overall, and by 46% on the French language exams. They were also 34% more likely to be successful in school exams.
  • More kids went to school and stayed in school: there was a 57% increase in access to education, a 16% increase in retention, and a 45% decrease in dropout rates. Kids were 25% more likely to be in school during the hungry season instead of leaving to get work.
  • Girls stayed in school: there was a 21% increase in girls coming to school, from 80% at baseline to 97% when the project ended.
  • Families spent more money on education: family spending on education nearly tripled (up to 19% of the household budget). Partly that’s because families’ incomes in VSLAs was 2.5 times greater than at baseline.
  • Policies changed: communities created conventions to improve education.

How did we get there?

  • Focus on teachers: the project spent a lot of time on training teachers and principles using government-approved modules. There was a direct correlation between how much training the teachers got and the students’ test scores.
  • Build infrastructure: the project built or repaired 11 schools, increased the number of classrooms, and built girl-friendly toilets and water sources in the schools. Teachers also said the improved conditions made them more motivated—and there was a correlation between improved infrastructure and student test scores.
  • Use VSLAs: the project created 47 VSLAs with 2,572 members. Annually, they give out an average of $297. VSLAs also spontaneously replicated, so there were many more in communities than the project created itself.
  • Think about emergencies: the project focused on communities that had been affected by cyclones, and trained parents in Disaster Risk Reduction so they felt ready to face whatever comes their way.
  • Let communities run the show: the project worked with 108 parent-teacher associations—many of whom recruit and pay teachers locally. They focused on tapping into parents’ aspirations for their kids and communities to build support for education. These groups also got involved in maintenance of schools, project planning, and evaluation—so they felt real ownership of the activities and results.
  • Think nationally: the project tied it’s work to the national government’s goals under Education for All, so were able to build lots of momentum for change because the government wanted to meet those goals.

The Fanamby project reached 19,138 students (9,568 of which were girls) and 17,000 parents between 2014 and 2018. It was funded with $1.1 million from Lyreco for Education.

Want to learn more?

Take a look at the final evaluation.

Note: The photo used to illustrate this blog is not directly from the project described.

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Email: ejanoch@care.org