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Child-friendly schools boost learning in Turkmenistan

© UNICEF Turkmenistan/2007/Lyngstad
In rural Turkmenistan, Sahypjemal (left) and Aigul, both 13, love to spend time in their child-friendly school’s activity centre.

By Bjørn Lyngstad

KONEURGENCH DISTRICT, Turkmenistan, 30 April 2007 – Two years ago Aigul, Nurgozel and Sahypjemal had never used a computer. Now they use the Internet to browse English-language websites.

The three 13-year-old girls are so excited about what they are learning that sometimes it’s hard to tell who is speaking when they tell a reporter about their school.

In an enthusiastic flurry of English and Russian words, the students talk about how they learned English, their new textbooks, how much time they spend time at the after-school activity centre and their plans for the future.

Respecting children’s needs

So how did all of this come about at rural school in the northernmost province of Turkmenistan?

Koneurgench District School No. 1 is one of 20 schools in Turkmenistan selected by UNICEF to receive support for the development of a child-friendly approach to education. These model child-friendly schools create environments conducive to learning by respecting children’s rights and needs.

Providing clean, healthy and safe facilities, the schools employ interactive teaching methods suited to each child’s age, abilities and style of learning. Parents and communities manage the schools, which also offer opportunities for pupils to interact with their peers outside the classroom in order to improve their life skills – including how to protect themselves from HIV infection.

New club, new language

One typical day in the activity centre at School No. 1, Aigul, Nurgozel and Sahypjemal keep themselves busy making a collage. The centre allows pupils to spend as much time as they like in school after finishing their lessons.

Thanks to UNICEF’s support, the centre is equipped with quality games, resource books, dictionaries, jigsaw puzzles, a computer, a model of a skeleton and a microscope. There is also an English-language club that is run by Peace Corps volunteers. This is a novelty in Turkmenistan, where opportunities for learning foreign languages were limited or even discouraged in the past.

“We speak Turkmen, English, Russian and some Uzbek,” says Sahypjemal proudly. “Our school is very good now. We have really good teachers and new textbooks with new information, poems and pictures.”

It should come as no surprise that these young girls have ambitious career plans. Sahypjemal wants to teach and Nurgozel wants to be a military officer, while Aigul aspires to become a businesswoman.

Open-minded and active pupils

The teachers at School No. 1 seem to agree that a child-friendly school is also a teacher-friendly school.

“Since the school became child-friendly, the pupils are more open-minded and active. They now feel they can act and speak freely,” says teacher Gulruh Saparova. “It means that we as teachers have to be just as active as the pupils.”

The teachers were introduced to child-friendly methodologies through a training session organized by UNICEF in 2006. Since then, they have passed on these principles to teachers at other schools in the district.

“All in all, teaching has become more enjoyable,” says Ms. Saparova. “Sometimes pupils even give us advice on how we should teach!”



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