Changing One Community at a Time. Early Education in Gtashen
With the support of the Government of Bulgaria, UNICEF established a new preschool in Gtashen in cooperation with the Ministry of Education, Amasia municipality, and the Armenian Caritas
“Vahe is my fourth child and the first one who managed to attend preschool, although he is already five. Finally, my dream came true. I know that he will benefit a lot in terms of his intellectual development, socialization and speech development, as well as independence. I worked with him at home as much as I could. I taught him the colours, the numbers, we read stories, but this environment will be completely different.”
Raisa lives 23 km away from Gyumri in Gtashen – a small village with only 467 residents. Raisa told us how the village didn’t have a single preschool for 30 years, so the children could not one. The neighbouring bigger village of Amasia has its own kindergarten, but they still could not enrol Vahe as there was no place in the kindergarten and it was too far away and they didn’t have the transportation means to take him every day.
“At UNICEF, we are very proud to have established similar preschool centres in 16 communities across the country, based on our alternative model since 2015. Over 160 children have received early learning and are now better prepared for school and for their future.”
Many Armenian rural remote settlements experience the same issue, which is why UNICEF worked with partners to come up with the alternative model of early learning that is fit to the needs and resources of these communities and will ensure that children do not miss out on early learning. A significant feature of this model is that the establishment and maintenance of these centres is less costly for the community, compared to regular kindergartens. “The number of pre-school children in these communities is small. The model takes into consideration that children of different ages can be taught together in one group. Both the learning programme for children and the training program for educators was created for mixed-age groups, as well as considering the needs of children with developmental delays,” added Maya.
“Parents often raised the issue of not having a kindergarten in Gtashen. We had many parents who even planned to leave the village so that their children are not left behind. I am sure that the fact that we were able to build this small and colourful centre in the village together with our colleagues, will prevent many parents from leaving the village. There should be a preschool in all communities, it is the guarantee of children's development, progress and our future.”
Samvel Yegnatosyan, the secretary of the community, proudly recalled how parents readily supported and engaged in the renovation of the preschool space. “To all those communities who don’t have a preschool, I will advise to start the process, to study this alternative model, to organise meetings with parents, to apply to the government and find a way to open such a centre in the community. It is possible because it is a less expensive model. With the right solutions, such as solar panels, maintenance costs can be further reduced,” added Samvel.
According to the preliminary calculations, the solar panels installed on the roof of the Gtashen preschool, will cover 30 percent of the heating cost of the school building, where the preschool is located. In addition, UNICEF also renovated the lavatory of the school.
“It is not efficient for small communities to have separate big preschool institutions. Unfortunately, many communities across Armenia do not have the means to maintain them and hence do not have one at all. The Ministry of Education amended the law accordingly to ensure that small communities can choose which alternative model of early learning fits their needs. The Ministry then announces an annual grant programme, whereby the communities can apply to receive funding to establish a preschool with the alternative model.”
Three-year-old Astghik is now able to attend the Getashen preschool or, as she says, the ‘Makapatez’ to play and to read books with Miss Rita and Miss Monica.
“Even in this short time that Astghik attended, I can see the development in her speech and socialisation. The preschool was essential. When we learned about the opening of the preschool, we were very happy. This year Astghik started attending, and a year later my little son, Arthur, will too!”