2013 Turkmenistan: Evaluation of UNICEF Contribution to Promotion of Child Friendly Schools in Turkmenistan
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Turkmenistan Education Context
With a nationally flourishing economy (founded on its hydrocarbon wealth ) and steady GDP growth, Turkmenistan offers a favorable economic environment for ensuring the well-being of the population. However, Turkmenistan continues to face a number of critical challenges – not the least of which being significant issues of quality affecting the education sector. Quality concerns relate to teaching and learning methodologies, curriculum content and textbooks, school infrastructure and teacher professional development. Another issue is the continuing exclusion of children with disabilities from mainstream education. In terms of management, the education system remains highly centralized and the lack of data, disaggregated by gender, region, wealth quintile, and other indicators, precludes in-depth analysis and comprehensive education sector planning.
Despite this, the education system in Turkmenistan is based on the provision that “every citizen has the right to education - general secondary education is compulsory; everyone is entitled to receive it free in public schools.” (art. 35 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan). At the same time, the Government of Turkmenistan is committed to enhancing the quality of education and increasing access to the same for all Turkmen children and youth.
UNICEF Support to Child-Friendly School Development
One of very few international partners that operate in Turkmenistan, UNICEF has progressively developed a significant partnership with the Ministry of Education. The focus of this partnership since 2006 has been the introduction of the ‘Child-Friendly School’ (CFS) concept to Turkmenistan, being a global initiative, but adaptable to any context, strategically focused on the realisation of every child’s right to quality education. To this end, any and all barriers to learning require elimination. Consequently, a child-friendly school is typically characterised in the following terms: proactively inclusive and child-seeking; academically effective for every child; gender-sensitive; healthy, safe, and protective; working in close partnership with parents and the community; and supported by strong leadership and management practices. While limited to 26 CFS Model schools, the intention has been demonstrate the effectiveness of the approach with a view to national endorsement as the vehicle for advancing quality education in Turkmenistan.
Under the previous UNICEF Country Program (2006-2010), support was directed to building the capacity of critical stakeholders (pilot school teachers, school heads, administrators, parents and local communities) to implement the concept at the school and classroom level. Particular attention was directed to the application of child-centered teaching-learning methodologies emphasizing active learner participation and respect for individual and gender differences. Within the present UNICEF Country Program (2010-2015), the focus has shifted to the development of a set of CFS Standards and a CFS Certification Package. The result target by 2015 is the national education system strengthened to meet international standards on CFS. Progress was to be measured in terms of the % of schools meeting CFS quality standards.
While the Ministry of Education is the lead implementation partner, and active at all levels, other key stakeholders include administration, teachers, students and their parents/guardians in the 26 Model schools, and representatives of a wide range of public organisations and other government departments. A CFS National Working Group (NWG) was established in 2012 to take lead role in the development of the CFS Certification Package.
The revision of the Education Law in 2013, including provisions for the extension of secondary schooling to a 12 year program, the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream schools, and the establishment of public education standards to inform the education quality improvement process (amongst other), presents an opportunity to take to CFS concept to the next step. To inform this important development, the present evaluation of the CFS Initiative was conducted.
The purpose of the evaluation was:
To assess the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency and sustainability of UNICEF strategies aimed to incorporate CFS standards in the secondary education system of Turkmenistan – in relation to targeted result as stated in the Country Programme Action Plan for 2010-2015.
The specific objectives included the assessment of potential modalities and strategies for mainstreaming the CFS framework and determining where and how of UNICEF’s limited resources could be applied for maximum effect.
The main audiences for the evaluation are i) UNICEF and development partners with a view to strengthening the CFS development strategies and mainstreaming of the CFS model; and ii) Government representatives, concerned to make informed decisions about how best to expand the programme to a larger number of schools nationwide.
The evaluation has been conducted by a UNICEF-contracted consultant, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, and more specifically, the CFS National Working Group. The study was facilitated by the active support of a UNICEF national education consultant and the UNICEF staff.
The evaluation involved data collection in all five velayats, including consultations with a wide range of stakeholders and visits to ten schools – two in each velayat, one being a CFS Model School and the other a so-called ‘CFS Applicant’. A range of data collection strategies were used in relation to various sources – including teachers, students, parents, school administrators and representatives of public organizations.
These were complimented by school and classroom observation, including demonstrations of interactive teaching methods, and presentations made by students.
The study was guided by the UNEG Ethical Guidelines for Evaluation and UNICEF’s Global Evaluation Report Oversight System. Particular care was taken to ensure participation was voluntary, confidential and anonymous; interactions were characterized by dignity, respect and cultural sensitivity. Schools visited are not named in this report.
The comprehensive programs prepared by teachers and students presented time constraints for the actual data collection process, and precluded more in-depth discussion, verification or clarification.
Furthermore, several significant stakeholders were not consulted during the study, including representatives of the Institute of Education and other tertiary-level teacher training bodies, and representatives of specialist agencies working for children with disabilities were consulted.
Findings and Conclusions:
This study found the CFS Concept to be highly relevant to Turkmenistan – in terms of synchronicity with national education objectives, and in terms of meeting the needs of stakeholders. The CCFS concept is equally relevant to international human rights conventions.
UNICEF support to the Child-Friendly School initiative to date has been very effective. The CFS concept has been translated into practice, not only in the Model schools, but also in other schools who proactively took it upon themselves to become child-friendly. A wide range of child-friendly characteristics was found in these schools. Of particular note are the efforts made by teachers, supported by school administration, in implementing child-centered active teaching and learning practices. Students, teachers and parents all conveyed great pride in their schools. Ultimately, the effectiveness of the CFS Initiative evidenced by the expressed readiness of the Ministry of Education to mainstream the CFS concept – together with widespread stakeholder awareness of, and commitment to, the CFS concept.
The CFS concept is founded on the notion of ‘inclusion’ – and this means inclusion of every single child, no matter what their background or circumstance, in quality learning activities. One core component is dedicated to ‘inclusion’ and the concept is also embedded throughout. The schools visited were seen to be successfully implementing a wide range of inclusive practices. However, this is the area where there continues to be a critical gap – and that relates to the inclusion of children with disabilities, who remain outside mainstream education. The address of this issue requires prioritization. With regard to gender, on the whole, schools appeared to have close to parity in terms of male and female enrolments, and boys and girls appear to have equal access to the range of school curricular and extra-curricular activities.
Particular care is required to ensure curriculum and textbook content, and attitudes of parents and teachers, do not continue to pigeon-hole girls in traditional domestic roles.
While the CFS concept has focused on 26 schools to date, the intention was to extent the concept to every school in the country, so every child in Turkmenistan has the same access to quality education. With reports of widespread disparity in the distribution of education resources, it will be important to ensure even the most remote school receives the same range of quality education inputs as a school in the centre of Ashgabat.
The efficiency of UNICEF support to education has been largely considered from a result-based management perspective. It is considered that the UNICEF Turkmenistan education program would benefit from the development of a comprehensive result framework, articulating the range of actions required from the development of the standards to their realisation in schools. This analysis will enable the identification of any critical gaps in the enabling environment that require attention. One such gap is the whole area of school improvement planning, plan implementation, and the associated school-level capacity building required to achieve CFS standards. This is a critical area, the importance of which cannot be under-estimated.
Sustainability depends on local ownership of, valuing and eventually institutionalizing, the CFS concept. UNICEF processes have been effective in this regard. Stakeholders emphasized that the CFS initiative is not functioning as a separate project but is integrated within the routine operation of schools. The Ministry of Education has indicated that mainstreaming the CFS concept is now part of the national vision for developing education – ‘by 2016, we want all schools to be child-friendly’.
Given this is the intent of the Ministry, there is need to unravel what ‘mainstreaming’ actually involves. A multi-dimensional approach will be required. On the one hand there is need to address any institutional gaps (in terms of legislation, guidelines, resources, methodologies, other) that might constrain the realization of the CFS vision. ON the other hand, there is need to a) develop a sound approach to rolling the CFS concept out to all schools and b) to build the capacity of local-level stakeholders to achieve the quality standards being established.
UNICEF is in a unique position to continue to support the Ministry of Education in this most important initiative.
Recommendations are made in the following areas:
• further refinement of CFS Standards/ Indicators to include the ‘quality dimension’ and simplification of the CFS assessment process;
• building an Enabling Institutional Environment in relation to each standard and indicator;
• development of CFS assessment and school improvement planning processes;
• development of a comprehensive CFS School-based training Manual (covering all key action areas);
• development of an enabling environment for the inclusion of Children with Disabilities;
• review of curriculum and textbooks, and pre-service teacher training programs from a CFS perspective; development of a MOE CFS Capacity Building Strategy.
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