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Community kindergartens address preschool education gap in Kyrgyzstan

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016
Four-year-old Malika (left) at her community kindergarten in the village of Yrdyk. This is the first time her village has ever had a preschool.

By Veronika Vashchenko

In Kyrgyzstan, only one in five children aged 3-5 have access to preschool education. A new initiative for community-based kindergartens is helping rural communities invest in their children’s futures.

BATKEN/KARAKOL, Kyrgyzstan, 26 October 2016 – Four-year-old Malika has been going to community kindergarten in the village of Yrdyk, Issyk-Kul province for the past several months. “I play there with girls and draw letters. I like it in kindergarten,” she says.

Malika and her family belong to the Dungan ethnic minority and live in a small village of Yrdyk in northern Kyrgyzstan, with a population of about 2,500 people. Issyk-Kul province is considered Kyrgyzstan's underdeveloped region, where residents, including Malika’s parents, are mainly engaged in agriculture. There is one school in the village for children aged 7 and above, but until recently, there had never been a preschool.

A lack of preschool education can have a huge impact on children like Malika. The experiences and external influences that children gain in preschool play critical roles in the formation and development of their brains. During the earliest years of life, a child’s brain has the potential to activate 1,000 brain cells every second. When children are protected, nurtured and stimulated, and have access to early education and play, they have the best possible chance of developing fully and learning effectively.

Preschools also contribute to improving school readiness, especially for children in rural areas like Issyk-Kul province.

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016
Elina Asanova, 4, draws in the community kindergarten in the village of Enchylesh, Ak-Suiyskiy rayon, Issuk-Kul province. The experiences and external influences that children gain in preschool play critical roles in the formation and development of their brains.

A countrywide problem

In Kyrgyzstan, limited access to early education opportunities is a problem in many areas. The political, economic and social transformation that followed the country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 left the state unable to finance or maintain preschools. As a result, 74 per cent of preschool institutions were closed in the 1990s, and enrolment rates fell dramatically. Today, participation in formal early education in Kyrgyzstan for children aged 3-5 is still only at 22.7 per cent countrywide.

UNICEF and the Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic have been working to address the shortage of early learning and school readiness programmes in the country.

In 2015, UNICEF and local authorities, with the support of the United Kingdom Embassy in Kyrgyzstan, opened 17 kindergartens, which provide preschool education to more than 1,000 children from cross-border and underprivileged communities in Kyrgyzstan.

In March 2016, two more community-based kindergartens ‘Danaker’ and ‘Seytek’ were opened in the villages of Layla and Maksat in the province of Batken, southern Kyrgyzstan. More than 130 children living in remote communities attend these kindergartens every day.

“The opening of every single kindergarten is so important for us. Expanding early education services and school readiness programmes for young children is one of the priorities for the Ministry of Education and Science,” stated Toktobubu Ashymbaeva, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic, at the opening ceremony in the village of Layla.

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/2016
Milana Maksimova, 8, (left) talks to a child in her village of Yrdyk, Issuk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan. UNICEF is supporting the Kyrgyz Government to open more preschools throughout the country.

Learning in shifts

However, there are still not enough kindergartens for all young children in Kyrgystan to have a preschool education. Furthermore, traditional kindergartens are very expensive and lack places to accommodate children, especially in rural disadvantaged communities. To help narrow the coverage gap, a shift-based model for preschool institutions was introduced.

“Instead of a full day care, community-based kindergartens provide services for child development and education in shifts – one group attends in the morning and another one after lunch. This way one room in a building accommodates the same amount of children two times a day and no rooms for beds are necessary,” explains Chinargul Dzhumagulova, ECD Officer in UNICEF Kyrgyzstan.

Local communities and authorities open these kindergartens by finding the premises and allocating local resources for salaries. UNICEF helps to build toilets, train teachers and provide furniture, toys and teaching materials.

In recent years, more than one hundred community-based kindergartens have been opened throughout the country, which helped to increase the coverage of children with preschool education. The percentage of rural children with school readiness also increased to 40 per cent in 2014, compared to just 8.8 per cent in 2006.

“Research proves that during the first few years of a child’s life their brain grows at a rapid speed. It determines their capacity to learn, social, emotional, physical development, and their success in the future,” says Yukie Mokuo, UNICEF Representative in Kyrgyzstan. “UNICEF is committed to expand our work on early childhood development in Kyrgyzstan to reach even more boys and girls like Malika with learning opportunities, as every single child deserves a fair start in life.”



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