AZERBAIJAN: Child-friendly schools give hope to a young IDP girl
Rena Garayeva was born in Baku, far away from her native Agdam, which is now partly under occupation and attends school in the southern district of Lankaran.
“My father fought in the Karabakh war in 1992-1993. It started just three days after my parents married. We had to move to Baku and then here to Lankaran,” a 9th grade student Rana recalls stories of her parents.
Rana’s family was among hundred thousands displaced Azerbaijanis who fled devastation and bloodshed in the wake of the Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan that claimed thousands of lives on both sides and resulted in the occupation of seven Azerbaijan districts.
The town school #4 that Rena attends is one of the pilot schools practicing active learning. Rana says that she admires the new method of learning as compared to the way she had to study at her previous school in Baku.
“We can learn better this way. It has changed relationship between teachers and students. Now teachers take us seriously as grown-ups – who knows and understands a lot. With this ‘active learning’ every one gets involved and teachers also work harder,” Rena says.
With all ups and downs in her life, Rena has a dream – to help children from her native district study better and maintain good health. “I want to introduce active learning in my native district - Agdam,” she says. “I want to be a doctor and open a private hospital to cure children in the occupied districts after they are liberated.”
Rena is also the vice-chairperson of the students’ parliament, dealing with the rights of refugee and internally displaced children in the school.
“There are lots talented children among refugees and IDPs. We want to help them so that they do not feel alienated,” Rena says.
Rena together with her friends from the student parliament is actively involved in the work of the local Parent, Teacher and Student Association (PTSA). Having a membership of three teachers, two parents and three students, the PTSA works to involve communities in education through communicating with parents, inviting them to attend open classes and implementing short term projects such as cleaning up the town.
The school has been applying active learning for two years and it is being practiced in both primary and secondary classes.
Teachers from the Lankaran school meet once a month with colleagues from other schools in the region to discuss and promote active learning methods.
Low pre-school attendance rate remains a huge concern like elsewhere in the country where kindergartens were put up for privatization last year. Only 15-20% of children in primary classes attend pre-school facilities.
Despite all the challenges Rena Garayeva like many of her peers aspires for better opportunities. “I want to tell other IDP children that they should work and study twice as hard to enhance their abilities and have a better future that they dream about,” she says.