Turkmenistan guarantees to all its children free and equal access to school education, under the Law on Education of May 2013. Data show high and stable school enrolment, retention and completion, accompanied by high national literacy rates. The Government has deepened its process of education sector reform, with a priority focus on aligning the quality of education with international standards.
UNICEF is supporting the Government to build an increasingly inclusive society, including in education. It provides technical assistance to implement the National Programme on Early Childhood Development (ECD) and School Readiness and is helping to institutionalise the Child Friendly School initiative. Gender equality aspects are taken into account throughout.
Early Childhood Development
Emphasis is being given to improving preschool enrolment, which stood at only 37 per cent in 2012. Wide disparities exist between rural and urban areas, with rural areas accounting only for 11 per cent of preschools. Meanwhile, nearly 2 in 3 children living in the richest households attend a preschool, versus fewer than 1 in 10 in the lowest-income households.
The multisectoral National ECD Programme is designed to prepare children for school as part of overall improvements in access to quality and inclusive ECD services, and to develop early childhood standards while also increasing parents’ knowledge on ECD. A new cooperation initiative, jointly financed by the Government and UNICEF, is focused on the common objective of establishing two model inclusive ECD centres, mainstreaming both girls and boys with developmental difficulties, as pilots for eventual national scaling up.
UNICEF also has provided systematic capacity building for the national multisectoral ECD Working Group, including exposure to best practices and models of community-based health and preschool education services. This has helped to build coordination between health, education and social protection services to ensure a continuum of quality child care; commitment to work on early identification and intervention to prevent developmental challenges in children; and designing of a monitoring and evaluation framework for the National ECD Programme, which will form a crucial part of the programme’s implementation.
Child Friendly Schools
An important priority for UNICEF worldwide is to ensure that every child completes quality primary school education. Authorities work jointly with UNICEF on a number of initiatives, including supplying teaching materials to schools and strengthening teachers’ skills in the concept and practice of Child Friendly Schools (CFS) and Active Learning methodologies.
A national CFS certification package has been developed with strong UNICEF technical support, including a comprehensive set of standards and indicators to ensure a gender-sensitive, healthy, safe, protective and child-centred school environment, as well as quality teaching methods. Critically, the CFS package is being used to advance the concept of inclusion so that every child, including those with disabilities, has the right to education in a mainstream school.
To strengthen planning and policy for educational reform, an effort is ongoing to collect and analyse more reliable data pertaining to education, including school access, attendance and achievement. Meanwhile, development of specific Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) standards and indicators in the CFS package is helping to ensure institutionalisation of DRR in the education policy framework. This is being coupled with the proposed incorporation of DRR in the formal curriculum of both primary and secondary education, as well as with capacity development of major national implementing partners and school-level DRR committees at six pilot schools.
Children With Disabilities
Turkmenistan was the first country in Central Asia to accede to the Convention on the Rights of Perosns with Disabilities (CRPD). Disability represents an increasingly visible issue in the country, given that persons with disabilities, including children with disabilities, are a group that has been especially disadvantaged and vulnerable. Reasons include deeply rooted social stigma and discrimination, lack of appropriate support in the community, the persistence of institutionalisation, and physical barriers.
An important issue lies in thousands of children with disabilities still facing ambiguity with regard to their education. The law stipulates that people with disabilities must have access to inclusive education, but it also makes provisions that children with disabilities “who cannot attend mainstream schools will receive education in special education establishments,” thus putting these children at risk of social exclusion without the development of broader-based life skills and vocational training.
At the same time, many children with disabilities still face major challenges in acceptance into mainstream education, including a need for more adequately trained teachers, physical inaccessibility, a lack of equipment, and overall limited understanding of disabilities. Crucially, medical-pedagogic commissions decide on whether the child should be directed to a mainstream education facility or to a special education boarding school. Many other children with disabilities may be out of school altogether, or being provided with home schooling and thus “institutionalised at home.”
UNICEF has prioritised assistance to ensure that children with disabilities in Turkmenistan have the opportunity to develop to their full potential. It has, for example, been instrumental in:
n Helping the Government to introduce developmental paediatrics and early interventions to identify children with developmental delays and disabilities
n Expanding the evidence base for de-institutionalisation of children younger than age 3 years, most of whom have disabilities
n Advocating strongly for the concept of inclusive education in the country, starting with preschool.