Upon arriving at a primary school in Yaohe Village, southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, Ranaivoarinsoa Hery Santara was overwhelmed with a feeling of familiarity.
"The low building is surrounded by farmland, which made me think of my hometown in Madagascar," said the 24-year-old.
But he soon spotted the differences.
"We had very few teachers in our village. One teacher is often in charge of three classes, each stuffed with over 50 students. But students in every class here have their own teacher," he said. "The facilities are also much better."
Santara said there was no electricity and no blackboard in the tiny classroom where he went to primary school in Madagascar. "The room even leaked on rainy days," he said.
During senior high school and college, he had to get up at 3 a.m. and it took two hours by bus to get to school. If he missed the bus, he had to walk hours instead. "I was often late," he gave a wry smile.
Santara is the first college student in the village and the only person who has studied abroad. "Graduating from high school is already a great thing in my hometown," said the young man.
About four years ago, Santara came to Southwest University in Chongqing to obtain a master's degree in Chinese international education.
This year, he signed up for a program that invites 10 foreigners to make documentaries of Chongqing from their perspective. He decided to point his camera at education in China's rural areas.
"The atmosphere at the school is very good. The children know well the importance of studying and the teachers are responsible," said Santara, noting that education is still unheeded in Madagascar's rural areas and many would choose to marry and work instead after finishing senior high school.
China provides nine years of free compulsory education, including six years of primary and three years of junior high school. Over the past decades, the policy has significantly raised the enrollment rate and by 2019, the rate of completion of the country's free nine-year compulsory education was 94.8 percent.
"It's a good policy," said Santara. "If the same policy can be implemented in Madagascar, I believe the dropout rate would be lower and more people could go to college," he said, adding that though there are free schools in Madagascar, the quality is poor. "Free education also means equal opportunity," he noted.
Santara plans to bring back what he learned in China to his hometown after graduation to help more children get out of the remote rural areas.
"I've got nothing special, but I worked a little harder. If I can study abroad, so can they," said Santara. "Now studying in China has become a dream for all kids in my village."