Preschools bring back hope to Armenian villages

With UNICEF's support more than 140 children aged 3–6 in Armenia’s regions of Lori and Syunik already attend preschool

Tigran Zaqaryan
A 5 year old girl in the alternative preschool staring to camera while painting her hand.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan
04 April 2019

Early childhood learning is often taken for granted in developed countries. Parents can choose among different early childhood programs to make sure that their child grows and develops in a stimulating environment. The picture is more or less the same in Yerevan where there is a variety of preschools, both public and private.

The reality is entirely different about 100 miles away from the capital. Until recently children in the village of Shamut in Armenia’s Lori region had no access to early childhood education. Shamut is not an exception. The problem exists in 400 other remote communities of Armenia.

Early childhood learning is crucial for every child. It helps them build a solid foundation for their physical, mental and social development. A child’s brain develops fastest in the first five years. At this age children can memorize every new word and experience, and preschool environment inspires enthusiasm for lifelong learning. As a result of education at preschool, children learn better at school and are more likely to have better career prospects in the future. Research shows that those children who attend preschool will earn on average 25% more as adults, which will help cut poverty by 13%. Yet only 30% of children under five in Armenia are enrolled in preschool programs. 

Only 35 % of children in urban areas and 17% of children in rural areas like Shamut attend preschool.

A very green Shamut village from bird eye view.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan

There are only seven preschool-aged children in Shamut, making it difficult for the remote community to maintain a standard kindergarten, as the educators of Shamut report. Notwithstanding, the small number of children, lack of financial resources and the geographic remoteness of communities should not be a reason for children to miss out on early learning opportunities.

UNICEF has developed an alternative model of preschool to ensure that children in small villages too can have access to early education. This model is cost-effective in many ways. 

Compared with regular preschools the overall costs are reduced fivefold. Since the number of children is small, only one, or two teachers work there. The preschool operates only four hours a day, which makes it more cost-effective, yet delivers the same results regarding the development of children. As the research shows, regular preschool attendance is more important than the total number of hours spent there on a daily basis.

Nushik, the mother of Narine, 4, is pleased with the alternative preschool in Shamut. “My elder son did not attend a preschool, and I can see what he has missed. Ever since my daughter went to preschool, she has become more confident and self-organized. Preschool has helped her overcome her shyness and become more sociable. She has also developed the vital skill of concentration. While she is at preschool I can make time to work,” she says.

Another advantage of the preschool is that it is environmentally sustainable. The use of solar photovoltaic panels installed as part of the UNDP Global Environment Facility Small Grants Program will result in community savings and help save the environment in the long run. The alternative preschool in Shamut maintains a close connection with the standard kindergarten in Tumanyan region, which is ready to support children and educators in the small village if there is an additional need. This is also essential for the long-term sustainability of the learning center.

“Access to preschool education is a major problem in Armenia, especially in some 400 remote villages,” Alvard Poghosyan, the head of the education projects at UNICEF Armenia, says. 

“Following the implementation of this model, more than 140 children aged 3–6 in Armenia’s regions of Lori and Syunik already attend preschool. Another 100 will join them in the next five years. We conduct ongoing monitoring to ensure that the quality of education provided meets the requirements set by the Government.”

Alvard Poghosyan
Five children are playing a board game in the kindergarten of Shamut village.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan

The alternative preschool in Shamut inspires hope and optimism about the future of the community. “Before I would often hear people say “Children have no future in the village because they don’t live a normal life here. Gone are those days. The preschool has brought back hope,” Mane, the preschool educator says.

Investment in early childhood learning pays off. Early learning helps children reach their full potential as adults and become well-rounded citizens. Each and every child in Armenia has the right to early education. Even small contributions can bring a significant impact. Help make it a reality!

No child in Armenia should miss out on this lifelong opportunity.

A caregiver in Shamut's preschool dances with children in the room.
UNICEF Armenia/2018/Malkhasyan
UNICEF Armenia
70% of children under 5 in Armenia don’t attend preschool. There is no preschool in nearly 80 villages, while existing ones are not functional in 190 villages.This is mainly due to the lack of financial resources, size of villages and the small number of children living there. UNICEF has a solution to this problem. We have developed a different model of preschool to ensure that children in small villages can have access to early childhood education.