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Reaping the benefits of a flexible approach to early education
Author: James Brindley
Djizzakh Region, 15 September 2014 - Roza Shakirova has a unique connection to Kindergarten #11 in the Zaamin District – she teaches at the school she attended in her earliest youth during Uzbekistan’s soviet period. During a UNICEF visit to the Kindergarten, she told us how the school had changed fr om when she attended, to the one that operates today.
“I have been a witness of change – there has been a big difference in this school,” Ms. Shakirova said in her classroom, after a cooking lesson where students and their parents prepared somsa pastries.
“When I was in school, the focus was on strict rules. In any class the child had to sit all the time and follow exactly what the teacher said. Now the main focus is child-centred education, giving children the freedom to choose what they want to do and discover their own talents.”
In 2012, Kindergarten #11 joined advanced preschools in Uzbekistan that are applying a child-centred approach to education, wh ere the objective is to nurture the individual unique abilities of every child, an approach which has been a far cry from the traditional teacher-centred methods used in previous decades. Child-centred education (ECE) has been accepted by the Ministry of Public Education as the key methodology to be applied in preschools.
The kindergarten has also introduced half-day school-readiness classes into its curricula – utilised by 30 of the school’s 180 attending children. The half-day programme is designed for children to attend a kindergarten for three hours a day without charge, with a curriculum that ensures the development of a child’s abilities within the domains identified by the State Requirements for preschool education. These include physical, social and emotional development, speech, pre-literacy and numeracy, and knowledge of the world around them.
“I don’t separate children who come for short periods, but rather they learn everything taught to their peers,” said school director Inobat Tupchieva. “Parents recognise the benefits of half-day groups, seeing talents in their children they hadn’t noticed before.”
One such parent is Barno Fayzieva, a mother of a five-year-old student who attends the kindergarten’s half day programme. Her daughter previously stayed at home each day, but having a nearby school with the option of a cost-free, half-day programme encouraged Barno’s family to organise enrolment.
“At the beginning it was difficult to bring her to school, she was not used to social interaction and didn’t want to come, but slowly she saw how good the teachers were and wanted to be among her peers,” Ms. Fayzieva said. “I want my daughter to be here, because it is very important for school preparation, and you can see a difference between children who stay at home and children who go to a preschool.”
The use of half-day groups at Kindergarten #11 is one of numerous results of UNICEF’s efforts to encourage alternative preschool models in Uzbekistan, as a means to provide cost-effective education, thereby making early education appealing to the most vulnerable children.
Preschool education is an important component of an education system, as it provides the best foundation for future years of learning in later childhood, and it helps develop a child to her or his full potential. In financial terms, investing into the improved access and quality of early childhood education provides the best possible return.
By making quality flexible early childhood education a good financial option nationwide, and by encouraging families to demand these education options, Uzbekistan’s Early Childhood Development Programme can better benefit a greater number of children.