Author: Llanos, M.
Early Childhood Care and Development in Azerbaijan is currently identified with the provision of Pre-school Services. At the beginning of the national independence government, the total coverage of these services was 20% of this age group population but, currently, it has been reduced gradually to 13%.
Purpose / Objective
- Review current status of Pre-school education
- Appraise related ECCD activities in other sectors
- Organise phase 2 in accordance with agreed upon priorities
- Review of relevant documents
- Interviews with different current and potential actors for ECCD. This included upper management of MOE, MOH, MOYouth, and Committee of Statistics, Cabinet Ministries, NGOs, and International Agencies. (World Bank, Soros Foundation)
- Direct observation of ECCD Services
- Interviews with relevant stakeholders: Pre-school teachers, School Directors, District Education Authorities, Education Methodologists, Primary School Teachers, parents and children
- Field trip outside Backu to Shimaki and two IDP camps to observe their activities for young children
Key Findings and Conclusions
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has provided recent information, as of 1999, indicating a total coverage of 112,280 children (from 1 to 6 years old) in the 1814 pre-school centres. In Azerbaijan, the pre-school effort is mainly an urban possibility; in a comparative analysis with the stratified population, it means that 24.7% of children in urban areas have access, while only 8% of the rural child population can participate in these services.
Looking at gender issues, the current enrolment situation indicates that there is some gender bias favouring more access for boys than for girls in general (EFA national figures of children served). This difference reveals a bigger gap between the number of boys vs. girls living in the urban areas (35,784 vs. 29,527) whereas in rural areas (12,990 vs. 11,225), there is less difference between the two gender groups.
One aspect that is still not clear is the situation of children in special circumstances, institutionalised and others. Statistically, they are subject to another classification and they are not included with the pre-school services. The same is valid for the children in IDP camps. During this visit, we were not able to examine deeply the situation of these children. However, many institutions especially NGOs seem to be already involved in some efforts in regard to six-year-old children.
There is still a very limited awareness of the psychosocial dimension and of the "developmental responsibilities" attached to services that should be rendered at this period of a child's life. The only model they have been aware of is this former. Therefore, exposure to new models and ongoing programmes is an urgent need. Also, if more partners are included in the process of advocacy, ECCD could be a great challenge for the development of children in Azerbaijan.
The Methodologists based in each District Education Offices are responsible for the ongoing supervision of the kindergartens. But they themselves have not received training on new methodologies in this field. It seems also that each kindergarten is very autonomous. There is evidence that the low morale of teachers is affecting their motivation. Their main efforts are geared towards feeding the children and the maintenance of old buildings. Hence, the areas of proper child development and socialisation, the promotion of autonomous expression, identity, problem solving skills, more security, and independence are all being left behind.
In relation to the educational materials present in the kindergartens, we have seen many toys and dolls, and other things made by the teachers. However, they give the impression clearly that many of them were just for the children to see. Usually, they are located on high shelves. Therefore, it will be very important to use this positive motivation of the teachers towards a basic package that will allow more active, and exploratory, activities for the children. They are already talents among teachers that have to be activated.
There is a genuine need to analyse the rules and regulations that govern the pre-school scenario. This is urgent, because any other possibility of developing other new models of early childhood services will utterly fail under the current rules. It is not clear under the current reform what the scope and space given for Early Childhood is. There is constant verbal support expressed by the upper management of MOE. However, alarmingly is the fact that, in order to provide the right and opportunity to children, to have a fair start in the Reform of Education, and as subscribers of Education for All, Early Childhood was not included in the World Bank project proposal. However, it is hoped that some mechanisms could be developed in the near future to support new developments in this area and to have a solid foundation for the investment in education.
Few NGOs are supporting some of the efforts for ECCD; Soros is currently experimenting his already designed early childhood programme called Step by Step. The methodology used by Soros is within the framework of active learning and further, also trying out involvement of parents, it sounds quite promising for new alternatives to be developed in this field. Regrettably, the interaction that Soros has with the MOE is very limited and this, unfortunately, seems to cause unnecessary difficulties. It is hoped that, in the near future, a proper communication of their activities could be shared for the benefit of all people interested in Early Childhood and especially the children themselves. A proper evaluation will be needed to bring together all the best lessons learned, thus contributing, together with others, in the national effort towards the vision for the ECCD in the country.
Parental involvement seems, at this stage, still very limited, following the tradition that the kindergartens have always been identified as the place only for the children and the teachers having a strong responsibility for the small children. To recognise the potential of parents to build partnerships with caretakers, teachers, health workers, and others, for the development of their children is a genuine challenge.
The IDP population is quite large and there are already 37 children centres in action in different camps in the country. The physical arrangements have different conditions, but all with a practical focus. They use materials provided by UNICEF. The human resources involved varied very much, from very highly motivated, active and independent ones to others that, like in the old system, seem to be always relying on requests and actions from others. There is, however, the positive aspect that they all belong to the same community and feel motivated to do their best for their children. This experience also needs to be followed up.
As a fact-finding mission, one priority was to look into other potential partners at both Government and non-governmental levels, and to look at their current involvement and the prospects of integrated ECCD efforts. Brief analysis is given of the activities of: Ministry of Health, Committee of Statistics, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Cabinet of Ministries, University/Academics, and NGOs, both local and international.
The current situation of ECCD in Azerbaijan requires a thorough assessment and needs to use methodologies that will promote a dynamic interagency participatory exercise. This, in turn, will provide the basis for an objective discussion, for reflection and the analysis required to jointly (all stakeholders) create a vision for ECCD in the country.
For Azerbaijan, the exposure to new methodologies and to alternative programmes is very urgent. The current Pre-school system has many limitations, not only because of the current economic difficulties, but also because of the limited scope for the quality of the services that are seriously affected.
Mobilisation and awareness of ECCD at all levels should be started. The first priority is to share assets with all interested divisions of the Ministry of Education and other stakeholders. This initial training is essential for the overall success of the assessment. It is suggested as the basis for the II Mission.
All identified actors involved in the provision of Early Childhood Care and Development have to be strengthened in their understanding of this field. This is an area that constitutes a challenge to all investment in human development. Appropriate training and mobilisation are strongly recommended.
Both the current pre-school training and curriculum need to be reviewed. The curriculum should reflect the guiding principles of the new child development framework, based also on the knowledge, cultural attitudes and practices of the Azeri families. It is, therefore, necessary to carry out research on patterns of rearing and child development. There is very limited research information available about teachers and parents as well as on children development.
There is a need for a communication strategy that will make possible that different partners (government, private sector, NGOs) take their share of responsibility for ECCD, and actively exchange information on their activities and results. The children profile proposed and supported by UNICEF has a wider scope as basic information for planning and, therefore, should be reinforced.
To establish criteria for allowing innovations, experimentation and piloting of different early childhood models as well as for training methodologies based on realistic cost-effective alternatives.
To give priority to cost analysis studies. It is crucial to analyse the current cost of the pre-school institutions, and of the institutions for handicapped children, as well as estimated costs of other alternatives in the ECCD area.
To create a dynamic link with the Educational and Health reform that will benefit the already independent programmes for children. This will call for more convergence within and among programmes and sectors.
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