|© UNICEF / Tajikistan / 2009|
|A young facilitator teaches the names of animals to a younger student in school no. 40 in Rudaki District in Tajikistan.|
RUMI DISTRICT, Tajikistan, 29 January 2009 – A new initiative called ‘Getting Ready for School: A Child-to-Child Approach’ is being used for pre-school students in Tajikistan, where early childhood education is typically not an option.
The UNICEF-supported pilot project aims to prepare young children for their first year in primary school by building on the social dynamics that exist between older and younger children, as well as their natural tendency to play.
The project matches Grade four students with five- and six-year-olds in weekly sessions during which the older children facilitate activities that develop basic skills such as language and listening, social cooperation, counting, alphabet recognition, and writing.
“Parents are often priced-out of the few pre-schools that do exist,” says local early childhood education expert, Mehrinisso Valikhojaeva. “The Government cannot afford to build the traditional, large Soviet-style preschools in every rural village.”
According to Ms. Valikhojaeva, Child-to-Child provides an alternative approach to strengthening primary school preparation that could be used to meet existing needs in rural areas.
|© UNICEF / Tajikistan / 2009|
|Children at school no. 40 in Rudaki District play a circle game during a break in their studies.|
Participating teachers are enthusiastic about the results of the programme.
“At first I wasn’t sure that the programme would work since it is only children teaching other children, but after the first few weeks, I can already see how much progress the younger ones have made,” said a teacher supervising a Child-to-Child classroom at School No. 33. “Normally when children first come to school, they cannot even hold a pencil. These children already know how to count, and how to read some letters and numbers. I hope to have children who have gone through this programme in my class next year.”
Other teachers have observed that the programme is helping develop leadership skills among the Young Facilitators. It also consolidates and strengthens their knowledge of and ability to apply the academic material they have already learned.
Speaking for itself
The initial success of the initiative spoke for itself on a visit to a school in the rural Rumi District.
In the classroom, young children enthusiastically counted pebbles and pine cones, matched them to numbered cards and reported their findings to their instructors. The instructors – grade four students known as Young Facilitators – eagerly engaged their interest, encouraging participation and gently correcting their mistakes.
Classes comprised of 20-30 children are supervised by grade four teachers who have attended UNICEF-funded training courses on the Child-to-Child approach. They will become grade one teachers of the young learners when they enter school in fall 2009.
Early education opportunities in Tajikistan are severely limited as only nine per cent of children attend pre-school nationwide. Children enter grade one at age seven, and most arrive without the cognitive and social skills so critical for successful participation and retention in primary education.
Since the fall of 2008, UNICEF has supported ‘Getting Ready for School’ in 20 schools, where the Child-to-Child approach is used to jumpstart early childhood education preparation for more than 1,000 young children.
The programme’s impact extends to school administrators, who report having a new appreciation of the needs of young learners.
“After being exposed to the Child-to-Child approach, I see that younger children have different learning needs than older children,” said Shomirzoev Umed, the Principal of School No. 50, “The traditional teacher-student pedagogy may not work with young children even though it is good for older children.”
The programme is overseen by the Ministry of Education and supported by UNICEF in cooperation with local experts in early childhood education.
According to the first baseline evaluation, initial results bode well for its potential as a national-level programme, given the recognition of the need for early learning opportunities by national and district ministry officials, teachers, school administrators, students and parents.
UNICEF provided all materials, which were translated into the Tajik language and adapted to the local culture.
The potential of peer education has shown significant promise in Tajikistan. UNICEF aims to lend support to more programs like Child-to-Child in order to advance Millennium Development Goals worldwide.