Pioneering life skills based education in Turkmenistan
By Gulyalek Soltanova
Teenagers and young people make up one fourth of Turkmenistan’s population. They have access to free education that makes the literacy rate very high. A number of school students have won international competitions on science, language and arts. In general, children have an opportunity to learn in the school, but what they are really missing are skills that will help them overcome the challenges of every day life and avoid mistakes.
Ahmet Babajanov is one of the pioneers of life skills based education in the country. Ahmet has been able to change the lives of thousands of children by teaching them how to communicate with people, how to behave in critical situations and how to avoid bad habits and have a healthy life style. He believes that his training provides teenagers and young people with skills that will help them take informed decisions in future.
“School curricula in Turkmenistan do not include special subjects that would teach students how to acquire life skills. Because families in Turkmenistan are mostly traditional and conservative, parents also don’t discuss such issues with their kids as reproductive health, HIV/AIDS prevention, and drug addiction. Obviously, young people may be exposed to risky behaviours and my goal is to empower young people to positively affect their own lives,” says Ahmet.
Ahmet started teaching life skills based education in 2002 as part of the UNICEF-supported Young Adolescent Development programme. He headed the Youth Organization branch in Dashoguz city in the north of Turkmenistan. Though Ahmet was not a formal teacher, he had access to schools and was able to carry out hundreds of training sessions as part of children’s extra curricular activities. For the year 2007 he and his colleagues have been able to train more than 20,000 teenagers and 700 teachers with their own efforts.
Ahmet represents a new generation of educators that brings about change in the teaching process in Turkmenistan. He not only uses interactive methods of teaching, but he also trains other teachers how to apply them in their subjects. The most popular methods among children are games, role plays, feature stories, quizzes and peer education. Teachers like discussions, brainstorm exercises, presentations, and situation analyses.
“I loved participating in sessions that Ahmet taught us!” says Gozel, 16 year old girl who participated in Ahmet’s training. “Information I have learned during the training helps me communicate with my peers effectively, because now I am more confident, I know how to negotiate and how to control my emotions. Moreover, I am not shy anymore to talk about such issues as my health and how to prevent HIV/AIDS. Different games, quizzes and discussions had created an environment conducive to learning and my friends and I have felt that we were heard, understood, accepted, and supported,” adds excited Gozel.
Gozel is one of many young people who benefited from the training and have developed skills to say no when needed, to self-protect, convince, resist, self-respect??, take right decisions, handle emotions, communicate effectively, interact with others, and critically assess a situation. Overall, life skills based education also contributes to Gozel’s and other children’s improvement of school results, strengthening teacher-student relationship, creating a school environment that supports a learning process and promotes a healthy life style.
The school year is over now, but Ahmet enthusiastically searches for opportunities to educate children during their school vacation. This summer, Ahmet will assist in carrying out UNICEF supported life skills based training in summer camps throughout the country reaching hundreds of children.
“I hope that one day life skills based education will be introduced in the school curriculum. This way, not only me, but all teachers throughout the country will be able to contribute to children’s socio-psychological development and will progressively use the interactive methods of teaching in all their classes,” wishes Ahmet with optimism.