Pre-school education: “Time to pause and think”
How self-assessment helped a Kazakhstani kindergarten reconsider its work performance
Saule Bibatyrova, a methodologist at “Karlygash” kindergarten in the city of Nur-Sultan, has been working in the pre-school education system for 29 years. Today she organizes advanced training courses for teachers, publishes methodological handbooks and holds seminars for her colleagues. In spring of 2022, Saule Tokmanovna was facing a new challenge: to carry out the self-assessment of kindergarten development programs according to additional preschool education quality indicators.
These indicators were developed as part of a joint project of the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti in close cooperation with UNICEF Kazakhstan and the Centre for Information and Analysis.
Over the last decade, the number of private pre-school institutions in Kazakhstan has increased more than 13-fold. Given the shortage of places in public kindergartens, parents send their children to private ones. In this connection, the issue of the quality assessment of their services becomes relevant.
Therefore, the project aims to support the Ministry of Education in enhancing the capacity of quality assurance and monitoring of public and private pre-school institutions in Kazakhstan.
“We train and instruct our teachers to use innovative methods. This broadens the knowledge and hones the skills of the teachers, and they, in turn, take the knowledge and skills to children. We have three kindergartens attended by 750 children,” Saule describes her daily duties.
She sees the main objective of a kindergarten in providing conditions for the harmonious development of the child’s personality, nurturing their talents while accounting for the age-specific psycho-physiological traits.
“Kindergarten should focus on the natural talents of children, sustain their interest, using a personalized and differentiated approach, while building a partnership with their families,” believes Saule Tokmanovna.
Saule also believes in the need for the constant monitoring of the quality of services provided by kindergartens. According to her, “in order to set and achieve the goals, both monitoring and control are required.”
It is with this objective in mind that the self-assessment tool for the pre-school development programs was created in cooperation with UNICEF. Self-assessment is an important element of quality assurance systems, helping pre-school education programs internally monitor their key quality aspects.
It is suggested that the quality assessment in preschools should include additional indicators reflecting the teacher’s empathetic interaction with the child, their understanding of his/her emotional, physical, intellectual development and needs, his/her cooperation with other children and adults, and his/her ability to participate in developmental activities.
To date, more than 350 public and private preschools in Kazakhstan have tested the newly developed module of quality indicators to assess the reliability and validity of their prospective implementation.
“We filled out the module for the third kindergarten. There are 14 groups of 25 children each. “There are two teachers and one assistant teacher in a group,” Saule Tokmanovna explains, “The indicators are meaningful and interesting. This module is extremely useful, I would recommend it to my colleagues.”
She recalls how she and her colleagues-methodologist and teacher-educators participated in a multi-day training session at the Information and Communication Center on understanding and correctly filling out this module, and was pleased to see that the indicators were close to her understanding of the profession.
“The nature of the interaction between the teacher and the child is the indicator I liked very much,” says Saule Tokmanovna. She recites a nursery rhyme that prompts a child to put on mittens, and explains why such playful moments are especially important:
“Pre-school children tend to play most of the time, so all learning processes should take the form of a game. The teacher and the child are equal participants in the game and both can change the rules and the course of the game.”
A separate block of indicators of the self-assessment module focuses on family involvement. Participation of parents in pre-school education programs generally contributes to children’s learning and development. Saule Tokmanna agrees: “It is impossible to form a well-rounded personality of a child in a family or in a kindergarten alone. We are, so to say, in the same boat. We are sailing in the same direction. The methodologist even commented that it was difficult for her to calculate the number of individual meetings of teachers with parents, because “meetings take place every time a parent brings their child.”
Saule Tokmanovna had similar technical difficulties assessing a couple of other parameters, for example, the time a teacher spends planning the educational process and the time they spend reading to children.
Methodist commented on the latter: “We read fiction as part of our scheduled educational activities. We also read fairy tales, stories, and poems to the children in their free time, which may come before the outside activities or after the second breakfast. We don’t have scheduled time for that. Therefore, reading times vary from group to group.
By the way, the ready availability of books that match the development level of children is one of the indicators of a quality environment in a kindergarten. Filling out the self-assessment module, Saule Tokmanovna notes, helped her colleagues notice that their bookshelves needed updating. The need for record keeping also prompted teachers to reflect what kind of aids they would like to request from kindergarten management, and, according to Saule, “at this point it requires creativity from the teachers”.
“These questions directly concerned their pedagogical work, the teachers were open and interested in filling out [the module],” Saule Tokmanovna says of her colleagues’ reactions to the self-assessment. She notes that much really depends on the team of specialists, on how much teachers “crave creativity, accept change, and believe you can’t use old methods to effectively help children develop, and so they search for new technologies and innovations.
The methodologist assumes that such “trendsetters” among teachers should respond positively to the proposed self-assessment procedure. Saule Tokmanovna believes that, in order to really improve the quality of preschool education, teachers and methodologists should fill out such a questionnaire at least twice a year “to compare and reassess their work at certain areas.” She sees the main point of the project in the opportunity to rethink existing approaches.
“We need to pay even more attention to the indicators presented in the module. We should approach them creatively and responsibility. These indicators give us this opportunity,” concludes Saule Tokmanovna.