In Uzbekistan, child-friendly preschools are engaging children and improving education
By Rob McBride
BUKHARA, Uzbekistan, 2 February 2012 – In Bukhara, southern Uzbekistan, music and laughter drifted across Preschool Number 11.
Principal Dilorom Samadova was conducting a guided tour of the school’s newly renovated classrooms. The walls were brightly decorated, carpets lined the floors, and curtains kept out flies and dust.
“These outside areas were specially built for the children so they can play outdoors,” said Ms. Samadova, as the tour moved outside. “It is where their parents bring them in the morning so they can decide on the day’s activities with the teachers.”
With support from UNICEF, the school has adopted a child-friendly approach to teaching, meaning the school aims to create a safe, inclusive, engaging environment that operates in the best interest of every child.
Since these reforms, attendance has shot up from just 18 children to more than a hundred.
A community effort
Preschool Number 11 represents a community achievement. Community members were instrumental in renovating the once-dilapidated kindergarten and furnishing it with new books and toys, as well as child-sized furniture constructed by the parents themselves.
Attending the tour was Gulchehra Boltaeva, Deputy Governor of Women’s Issues.
“The Women’s Committee has helped in raising the community efforts,” Ms. Boltaeva said. “And the parents have been motivated by the different activities offered here. It makes them want to send their children, and devote time and money, to the centre.”
And the role of parents remains evident, with many continuing to help out during classes. Parents even play musical instruments during the music and dance lessons.
Dilfuza Burkhanova has two daughters enrolled here, 6-year-old Sarvinoz and 3-year-old Sayora.
“I decided to send my children when I realized there were so many different activities, particularly learning Russian, drawing and gymnastics,” she said. Her children are now better able to interact and form friendships with other children in their neighbourhood, she said.
Fighting low enrollment
Around the country, preschool enrollment remains low; less than 20 per cent of children between 36 and 59 months old are currently attending preschool. But child-friendly education makes school enjoyable for children, offering a possible antidote to these low figures.
Preschool Number 11, designed to stimulate young minds, is a world away from the Soviet-style approach to education that used to predominate.
“The best behaviour was for children to sit quietly and just to follow the instruction of the teacher,” said Eleonora Fayzullaeva, a UNICEF Early Child Development Officer, about the earlier education style. “Now the teacher has to follow the instructions from the kid.”
Marilyn Hoar, UNICEF Chief of Education in Uzbekistan, went further. “We’ve moved from little kids sitting in desks to kids at activity centres, learning through play, enjoying learning, so there’s the social and emotional development as well.”
Free and independent
In the capital, Tashkent, another preschool is adopting the child-friendly approach.
There, 3-year-old Mukhlisa Khodjimukha busily played house with her friends in a toy kitchen. It is her favourite activity, she said, and she is pleased it’s one the teachers now allow.
Overseeing the class, teacher Barno Ergasheva, explained the school’s new operating principle, one enriching for students and educators alike.
“It’s important for children to be free and independent,” she said.