|© UNICEF Georgia/2012/Blagonravova|
|A girl plays with a ball in the preschool community centre in Chumateleti, Georgia. The centre was set up by the NGO Civitas in partnership with local authorities and with the support of UNICEF and home-products company IKEA.|
KHASHURI, Georgia, 4 September 2012 - The kindergarten in Tezeri village, in the Khashuri district of Georgia, may seem like any kindergarten, anywhere in the world. A dozen children, 3 to 5 years old, play with plastic building blocks, piece together puzzles and draw pictures. Encouraged by their teacher, some proudly recite traditional nursery tales.
Yet this type of preschool institution is unprecedented in much of rural Georgia, and marks a radical departure from the past.
“There has never been a kindergarten in Tezeri before,” says preschool educator Nino Makhatadze. “In the past, few people understood the importance of preschool education. That is changing now, and there has been a growing demand by parents for this kind of facility, not simply as a childcare service, but as something important for their children's development."
Developing the preschool education sector
Preschool enrolment figures are low in Georgia – 41 per cent, according to a 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey that tracked how many of a sample of children aged 3–5 had attended kindergarten the previous school year. Low preschool attendance in the country has been ascribed, in part, to cost, and to a perception that young children are better cared for at home.
In addition, a comprehensive review in 2007 of existing preschool facilities showed that more than 80 per cent needed major rehabilitation, with many lacking such basics as roofing, heating and educational materials. The teacher training system was underdeveloped, without modern pedagogical methodologies or a uniform set of standards.
UNICEF has been supporting the Government of Georgia in its ongoing efforts to develop the preschool education sector. One project, financed by international home-products company IKEA, provides 40 preschool centres for disadvantaged children in rural areas – some of which are conflict-affected, some with a large proportion of ethnic minorities and some with high poverty rates. Tezeri village has widespread unemployment.
|© UNICEF Georgia/2012/Blagonravova|
|A boy in a preschool community centre in Zemo-Khvedureti, a rural village in Georgia. The centre was set up by the NGO Civitas in partnership with local authorities and with the support of UNICEF and IKEA. Using materials provided by Civitas, parents will paint and plaster the preschool.|
“Preschool helps children acquire basic knowledge and skills. Many can't even identify animals or colours; most have no books and very few toys at home,” says Ms. Makhatadze. “It also helps them to develop important social skills and prepares them for primary school.”
Parents arriving to collect their children are equally enthusiastic. “Children learn much more here than they ever would at home. We're all too busy working at home or on the farm to be able to spend time teaching them,” says one mother.
“A good education is so important,” says another. “There are no jobs here – many young people leave if they can – but at least if you're educated you have a better chance. And the sooner it begins, the better.”
Aleksander Kalandadze, of UNICEF’s local partner, the NGO Civitas, explains that, through this project, existing municipal and school buildings are refurbished and equipped, and staff are recruited and trained. Local municipalities will take over the preschool centres once the project has been completed. The commitment and involvement of parents are crucial.
“It is really important that parents are committed to making this project work, both in helping with necessary repairs and refurbishment, and in volunteering to assist the teachers. This will help to keep costs down, and ultimately help to ensure the project’s sustainability,” says Mr. Kalandadze. “For the most part, the parents are very enthusiastic and proactive.”
Good for children and parents alike
While 18 out of the 40 preschool centres are already functioning, some are still works in progress. In Chumateleti village, also in Khashuri district, a preschool has been established in a small former primary school. The surrounding plot of land, however, is hazardous for young children, sloping steeply down to a stream, with no protective fencing. One mother, Tea Gelashvili, says, “We had been organizing ourselves as parents for a long time, asking the municipality to renovate an old building for a preschool, but it never happened until this project started. But clearly more needs to be done to make this place fully functioning.”
In Bijinisi, a picturesque, yet poor, village of some 80 families, the preschool is a central feature. “All the families here with preschool-aged children are involved,” says teacher Lia Gogaladze, whose 3-year-old granddaughter is in the class. As she joins the children and several mothers in playing games outside, she adds, “This place is good for all of us, children and parents alike."