Story of the Month

June 2022: Leading with Creativity and Courage: Field Schools in Madagascar

This Story of women who are leading is contributed by Estelle Herimpitia Antilahy

In this web update – we have an opportunity to see how creativity and courage help the people in the Island Country of Madagascar resolve one of their major challenges: how to ensure an educated population.

See how these two women Faniry Tiasoa and Sophie Gisèle are leading in their country through their roles in the Field Schools.

Faniry Tiasoa and Sophie Gisèle (with hat)

“Our education rate is low,” comments Estelle, “especially in rural areas where subsistence agriculture is the main source of income.” She explains that productivity of the available land is low – in part because the men and women who farm are not familiar with information that could increase yield – providing more food for their families, as well as potential income.

A powerful strategy has emerged that creatively deals with this situation: Field Schools.

Initially the “teachers” in these schools were technicians – basically individuals who had been trained in modern agricultural technologies.

However, now farmers – men, and women, including Faniry Tiasoa and Sophie Gisèle are stepping up to teach in their local schools. In the Soamanova Commune currently about 20% of these Field Schools are taught by one or two women. The teachers are called Mentors, and each Mentor has about six students, called Mentees.

The idea for Field Schools grew out of discussions with community members, particularly the youth who abandoned high school and would have loved to go to school for training in agriculture [farming] but had no resources to do so. A group of people who shared the vision about this, and had ideas about education in the field, activated the idea of opening Field Schools.

The process looks like this:

  • If a local farmer thinks a Field School would be beneficial, she or he can talk with other neighboring farmers and members of the Commune staff – usually the Mayor – to see if there is interest.
  • If so, a plot of land is donated, or designated for a pre-determined period of time, for experimental agriculture by a parent or husband.
  • The Mentors and Mentees propose the variety of crops they would like to grow (beans, salads, carrots, tomatoes, squashes, ginger, cucumbers, etc.).
  • Then the Field’s plantings are organized by season.
  • As the crops are growing, Mentees present issues they face on their plots.
  • Mentors/Teachers then provide lessons on these – which might be specific technologies or methods, tools they might use, etc.
  • Every mid-week Mentees, Mentors and Teachers meet at the field school to monitor the experiment – and to discuss how and why the lessons taught were useful or not,
  • Mentees receive a Certificate for the specific “courses and practices” they successfully attend.

Faniry Tiasoa and Sophie Gisèle

Mentors and Mentees have organized to build a sort of shelter as a classroom. This was a decision pioneered by Faniry Tiasoa and Sophie Gisèle (see the photo above.) Now it is considered as a “must-have” for any Field School. They believed that the school should have a nice classroom even though it is in an open field.

Field Schools are now in the third year of implementation. Young women and men leading or being taught in Field Schools are highly appreciated in their communities since they have significantly improved the way they farm. Their income has accordingly increased. Most importantly, each Mentor is able to discuss methods and practices with the technicians more easily than ever. The mentors are considered educated and skilled persons.

Another indicator of the success of these Field Schools is that parents are recognizing the value of education as the key for life development and are engaging out-of-school youth back into formal education.