Many communities in Azerbaijan do not provide pre-school education. Yet studies show that the earlier a child begins an education the greater are chances for future success. While Azerbaijan has the physical space available to provide a pre-school education for 30% of the nation’s children ages 3 to 6, in fact only 16% in this age group actually attend.
In rural areas, pre-schools do not enjoy much popularity because parents often are home and do not need perceive the need to “send off” their children. While the opportunity to spend more time with parents is laudable, the lack of pre-school slows the development of these children and puts them at a disadvantage when they begin their formal schooling.
Since some parents are reluctant to send children away for the entire day, as is the standard for Azerbaijani pre-schools, UNICEF with the World Bank and Ministry of Education is piloting a three-hour programme for rural areas and low-income families.
Also, UNICEF plans to train teachers to travel to areas without pre-school education and offer short-course “school readiness” programmes to five and six-year old children who plan to enter the first grade the following year. UNICEF is now identifying the regions of the country that are most in need, with the mountainous areas of the country the most obvious candidates. The school readiness programme would be an intensive preschool program which targets children from exceptionally under-resourced communities or geographic regions.
Even in Baku, however, the situation requires much investment and attention. A pilot effort to raise quality of pre-school education can be seen in Kindergarten 183, which has been working with UNICEF for a decade.