2001 AZE: Reaching the Last Few: Girls' Education in Azerbaijan
Author: Kane, E.
This report is part of the Education for All assessment process, which recommended a series of studies including one on girls' education.
Purpose / Objective
This study has been undertaken to examine the causes of girls' drop-out in Azerbaijan and to make recommendations for the joint Ministry of Education and UNICEF Project Plan of Action.
The information in the study is based on data and reports prepared for and by the Ministry of Education, the State Statistics Committee, the State Committee on Women; the Department of Science, Education and Culture, and from a variety of reports and studies produced by and for the Ministry of Education; interviews with officials and informants in ministry offices, non-governmental organizations, an internally-displaced persons (IDP) camp, and schools; classroom observation; sample textbook analysis, and analysis of cultural materials.
The study included a workshop for the Ministry of Education officials, senior educators, NGOs on the use of Participatory Learning and Action for girls' education activities.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Even though eleven years of compulsory primary and secondary education are free, at least 7-8% of children - and probably more, according to varying figures - are out-of-school. In the 1970s and 1980s, wastage was described by some Ministry officials as minimal and, by others, as almost non-existent; but now is described as "a lot." It is likely that many, if not most, of those who are not in school - poorer urban children; rural and isolated children; refugees and internally displaced children; and street/working children - are out of school because of financial hardship/opportunity costs of schooling. It is also likely that their numbers are going to increase. Given the continuing harsh economic conditions of the 1990s, girls in these categories will probably be more vulnerable than boys as parents are forced to make decisions about how to use their scarce resources, and as girls' labor in domestic activities and household production become more valuable to some hard-pressed families. Some rural girls are also affected by cultural attitudes about early marriage and the need to protect girls' morality. According to Ministry officials, a small percentage of such girls are continuing to secondary level.
In addressing these issues, it is important to bear three points in mind: 1) the lack of adequate data on the educational situation and what people need; 2) the lack of government funding for social services; and 3) the fact that many families lack the means to help themselves. However, there are many ways in which existing resources can be targeted more effectively to meet local needs, and there are many steps communities can take to help themselves. Participatory Learning and Action is an approach that can produce timely and cost-effective identification of vulnerable categories of children/parents/communities, pinpoint their needs more effectively, and create effective action to help.
The major problems associated with both boys' and girls' basic education in Azerbaijan appears to relate to quality rather than to access. Although, as many other analysts have noted, the lack of reliable census and survey statistics between the period 1989-1999, which corresponded to a rapid and unprecedented set of changes, make it difficult to establish a pattern and position from which to assess and plan. In particular, the restricted range of officially published gender-disaggregated data makes analysis of the current situation of girls and projection of trends very problematic. According to a UNDP report, the collection and use of gender statistics is now being incorporated into all State structures and various studies are being proposed by the government. As the forthcoming national assessments within a sample of schools at basic education level are introduced, the results of these, too, should be disaggregated by gender, in order to examine girls' achievement.
In recent years, various observers have expressed concern about the quality of textbooks in Azerbaijan, including UNICEF and the World Bank. Efforts have been made, with varying success, to create textbooks that are more relevant to Azeri culture and reflect modern pedagogical approaches. This has led to a series of newly designed textbooks. Little attention seems to have been paid to gender bias in the texts, which can have a serious effect on educational quality. During the short period of this consultancy, only one textbook, a Grade 2 Reader, could be analyzed in detail. As this report shows, it depicts males three times as often as females. While it presents a wide range of occupations and activities for males, there are very few for females. International research shows that when girls perform poorly in school, one contributing factor may be textbooks, which are irrelevant to girls' experiences.
There are clear gender differences in occupations and choices of field of study at secondary vocational, technical and third-level education, and there are almost no girls taking technical training. Women predominate in fields such as health, education and personal services and are very poorly represented in almost all other areas. Women are also poorly represented in management by a factor of six to one. Other indicators of poor female representation include the small number of women academicians and senior university staff, and the decline of women parliamentarians from 40% in 1985 to 12% in 2000. A basic analysis of national newspaper advertisements from a range of newspapers over a two-week period during this study shows that 20% specify the gender of the applicant, and may also, in the case of females, specify appearance ("good-looking") and character ("well-behaved"), which are not found in advertisements that seek male applicants.
Trends in girls' educational access, participation and achievement should be carefully monitored through the collection and publication of statistics that meet international conventions and the needs of educational analysts. UNICEF's institutional partners in educational programme management should be encouraged to undertake qualitative and quantitative research on access and participation by gender, and to encourage such research among students pursuing higher degrees.
The Ministry of Education has declared the year 2001 as the Year of Quality in Education, and while many areas for improvement have been targeted by various organizations, it is important to draw upon the resources and insights of all the stakeholders in this situation. As part of its active learning, child-centered and rights-based approach to education, and bearing in mind its emphasis on drawing upon the opinions of stakeholders as part of its management process, a team of at least twelve people in Participatory Learning and Action approaches should be trained in order to work with communities, parents, teachers and children to assess needs and options, and to help communities to participate in the educational reform process. Such communities might be chosen from the existing pilot school communities, and the results used to strengthen the joint programmes.
Using an approach such as Participatory Learning and Action, make the best use of limited resources by identifying groups at risk and assessing their needs and possible options for addressing such needs before deploying strategies that have worked elsewhere but may not be the most effective for various communities in Azerbaijan.
The Government/UNICEF should develop a comprehensive national project to improve girls' awareness of, and confidence in, their ability to participate in a wider range of careers, and to work with employers and schools to address stereotypes about suitable occupations for women.
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