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Communities in remote Kyrgyzstan help students stay in school

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/ 2006/Pirogoff
According to recent studies, up to 40 per cent of all children in Kyrgyzstan drop out of school during harvest season.

By Galina Solodunova

NARYN PROVINCE, Kyrgyzstan, 18 August 2006 – The noonday sun scorched Askat, 13, as he used all his strength to finish building a hay pile. The last five bales were extremely difficult as the heavy mound threatened to topple over. After the job was done, he still faced a long walk home.

At home, Askat found his grandmother serving tea to three guests. They had come to talk about his problems with school attendance.

For Aisha-apa, an elderly woman with special needs, the visit was a shock. She had been a teacher and was highly respected in her small village in the remote Naryn Province, the most disadvantaged of Kyrgyzstan’s provinces due to its high mountains and harsh climate. With only her pension and a small disability allowance as income, Aisha-apa had struggled to give her three grandchildren an education after their parents left the village in search of work.

Becoming a leader

The three guests in Aisha-apa’s house were members of a village education group. They wanted to know why Askat had missed the last month of his studies and had not finished the sixth grade. “I worked in the fields, mowed the hay and grazed the cattle,” the boy told them.

One year later, however, Askat was back in school. 

“It did not take us long,” recalled a member of the village education group, Muhamidinov Sultan. “Aisha-apa and Askat did not need to be convinced that education was the most important right of the child and was crucial for his life. After our visit, we wrote a letter to the local administration and it helped Aisha-apa get financial assistance,”

Askat and Aisha-apa reconsidered his household chores, and they worked out a timetable that did not interfere with his studies. Askat studied hard and entered seventh grade with the aim of not missing a single class. He soon gained prominence in school, and was elected by other children to the School Parliament. He also joined the village education group, helping them to solve education problems for other children in similar circumstances.

© UNICEF Kyrgyzstan/ 2006/Pirogoff
In some traditional communities, girls are the most disadvantaged. In addition to household chores, they are often required to take care of their siblings.
‘A solid team’

In 2002, UNICEF selected Naryn Province as a pilot area for the Community Management of Education Project. The project aims to help local communities solve education-related problems in their villages and ensure that all children regularly attend school.
“It was much more difficult at the beginning,” said a local teacher, Satyndiev Mirbek. “It took us a long time to understand the aim of the project and the philosophy. We had to take long evening hours to learn it ourselves, and then to explain it to others to get them excited. Finally, we did not only manage to organize our work, but also we made a solid team led by a common idea.”

By mid-2006, the project had reached 80 per cent of Naryn Province. Monitoring in 14 villages showed striking results in increased school attendance.

Extending the project

But the scope of the project is not limited to encouraging school attendance. In one village, a group convinced a respected musician to take over music classes. In another, a local video store was persuaded to stock fewer thrillers and more educational films.

The project has now expanded to the province of Batken. In July, local authorities and leaders met to learn about the results in Naryn Province and began organizing to help children in their villages.

This is just the start for Batken; it will take months of work to see the first results. With UNICEF’s help, the organizers hope that they will soon have even stronger justification for extending the project throughout  Kyrgyzstan.




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