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Madagascar, officially known as the Republic of Madagascar is a large island country situated in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa.  It is the fourth largest island in the world, with a total geographic land area of nearly 227,000 square miles.  Most of the population occupies the large island of Madagascar, although the nation is also comprised of numerous, yet much smaller peripheral islands as well.  Scientists believe that after the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar was separated from India, forcing plants and animals on the island to evolve in utter isolation.  As a result, Madagascar is considered a hotbed of biodiversity, in which almost all of its wildlife is native and found nowhere else on earth.  In recent years, this diverse ecosystem has been seriously threatened by human settlement, despite the government’s attempts to protect threatened species of plants and animals.  The capital and largest city in Madagascar is Antananarivo.
The native people of Madagascar, known as the Malagasy, account for over 90 percent of the island’s population, which as of the last census was 21.9 million.  The Malagasy are divided into eighteen ethnic sub-groups concentrated in the various regions of the country.  DNA research shows that the ethnic makeup of the Malagasy constitutes a fairly equal blend of Austronesian and East African genes, although the genetics in some communities indicate a blend of Austronesian with Arab, Indian or European ancestry.  Minority groups in the country include Chinese, Indian and Comorian, as well as smaller groups of European ancestry, predominantly people from France, of which Madagascar was once a colony.
The Malagasy language is the most commonly spoken language in the country, a language of Malayo-Polynesian origin, with several dialects that are mutually intelligible.  French remains a co-official language in the country and is used in some areas of government, business and education, and spoken most commonly among those who are highly educated.  Approximately half of the Madagascar population self-identifies as Christian, with various Protestant denominations and Roman Catholicism being most popular among the people.  Nearly 10 percent of the population is Muslim, concentrated mainly in the northwest provinces of Mahajanga and Diego Suarez.  The remainder of the population (roughly 40 percent) practices a traditional island religion, which tend to accentuate links between the living and the “razana” or ancestors.
Education in Madagascar
Education in Madagascar is under the supervision of both the central government and the individual provinces.  Education is free and compulsory for students between the ages of 6 and 13 and the system is much like what you would find in the developed world, at least in terms of its structure.  The system is divided between four distinct levels:  primary education, lower secondary education, upper secondary education and higher or post-secondary education.
Primary education is compulsory in Madagascar, beginning at age 6 and spanning five years.  In the first two years or grade levels, instruction revolves chiefly around reading, writing and basic arithmetic.  Following the second grade, additional subjects are added to the curriculum including courses in mathematics, science, geography, social, cultural and religious studies, literature and the arts.
Lower secondary education spans four years, typically beginning at age eleven and culminating at age 15.  Attendance is only compulsory for the first two years or until children reach the age of 13 and the curriculum includes many of the subjects listed above, albeit at a more advanced level.  Foreign language instruction is typically added at this stage, usually French or English.  Students who successfully complete the four years of lower secondary education receive a certificate and can proceed to the upper secondary school, which offers an additional three years of education.  Students planning to attend the university will typically remain on an academic track during upper secondary school, but vocational education is also introduced at this level for students who plan to join the work force upon graduation, rather than pursue post-secondary educational opportunities.
Higher education in Madagascar consists of a national university with three branches, one in each of the largest and most populated provinces.  These are complimented by a public teacher-training college, as well as several private universities and technical colleges.
Despite increased funding in the education sector (13.4% of total government expense budget) Madagascar continues to face many challenges with regard to the quality and availability of education.  Qualified teachers and educational resources are sparse, and student repetition of grades and drop-out rates remain high.

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