Kyrgyz Republic: Preparing children for primary school
- In the Kyrgyz Republic, 39% of preschool children accessed education in 2018. Early learning benefits all children but is especially valuable for the most disadvantaged.
- With the support of a US$12.6 million GPE grant, the government implemented initiatives to expand access to quality early learning.
- Thanks to new infrastructure, teacher training and new learning materials, 10,000 students are now enrolled in community-based kindergartens.
As the early morning light pours into the classrooms, the Ak-Bulak Kindergarten in Grozd, Kyrgyz Republic is ready to welcome children. The atmosphere in the classrooms is vibrant—plenty of engaging learning materials hang from the walls and colorful furniture fills the space—while the chatter of children can be heard in the hallway.
The teachers have an exciting day planned for students. Class starts with a short exercise routine to raise the children’s energy and focus levels, followed by singing the national anthem. Once the children have settled in, the teacher distributes watercolors for finger painting, to stimulate their creativity and imagination.
Towards the end of the day, the children head outside to the playground to play with their friends. This is a typical day for children as lessons at the Ak-Bulak Kindergarten are designed to be a mix of manual, intellectual, and physical activities.
Expanding access to early learning
Since the early 2000s, the Kyrgyz Republic has made significant progress in improving access to pre-primary education. However, in 2018, only 39% of young children had access to preschool, most of them in urban areas.
In the Kyrgyz Republic, the preschool sector suffers from a lack of affordable preschools—particularly for children living in rural areas—and from the poor quality of the learning environment and teaching practices.
Recognizing that early childhood education brings benefits for all children but is especially valuable for the most disadvantaged, the GPE program—through a US$12.6 million grant—aimed to expand access to quality early learning.
To achieve this goal, GPE supported the government to expand a school readiness program in the year prior to starting grade one to prepare children for primary school, enrolling more than 100,000 children aged 5-6 each year during the period 2016–2022.
Teachers play a critical role in improving learning and in child development, hence the GPE grant supported the development of a training program for the 5,200 teachers and 2,930 deputy directors responsible for the delivery of the school readiness program.
Teachers were trained in the content and purpose of the readiness program and acquired knowledge in psychology, teaching methodologies, classroom management and inclusive education.
In parallel, the training for deputy directors focused on how they could integrate the school readiness program into schools’ operations while building teachers’ capacities to support children’s performance.
Data show that children enrolled in the full-year program showed a remarkable improvement in language and cognitive development skills, which play a crucial role in overall academic attainment at a later stage (2017 National Sample-Based Assessment).
Additionally, disparities decreased among the children from the lowest wealth group and their most advantaged peers in two dimensions: language and cognitive development and social competence.
In other words, children supported by the GPE program were catching up developmentally with their relatively more advantaged peers and were less vulnerable as prior to the program.
Reaching the most vulnerable children
To support the government in expanding the availability of kindergartens, GPE funding established 120 community-based kindergartens to offer the program to students in the hardest-to-reach areas and in their mother tongue. These kindergartens operate on a half-day basis—the Ak-Bulak Kindergarten is one of them.
To ensure that the kindergartens have qualified teachers, the GPE program funded in-service training to build teachers’ knowledge and skills. Learning materials—including pedagogical toys and materials, visual aids and reading materials—were distributed to classrooms where the program was taught. These classrooms were also furnished with desks, chairs, blackboards, shelving and cabinets to create a conducive learning environment. Furthermore, sanitary facilities were built or upgraded.
Thanks to these efforts, 10,000 students were enrolled in community-based kindergartens.
The GPE program employed a participatory approach, engaging the community, parents and local authorities. This generated a shared ownership over the community-based preschools—which contributes to their sustainability.
Fostering parental involvement is critical in ensuring that children can benefit from early learning. Communications and advocacy campaigns were launched to stimulate parental demand for early learning as well as to keep them informed about the curriculum reforms and the full-year preparatory program, among other initiatives.
A focus on equity
In the Kyrgyz Republic, kindergartens that consider the needs of children with disabilities are inaccessible to many of these students. In general, teachers have limited knowledge of how to create an inclusive environment and lack the applicable pedagogical skills and parents and local authorities are unaware of screening and referral services. As a result, many children with disabilities are either home-schooled, receive no special attention at the regular kindergarten, or receive no formal education.
To promote inclusive education, a pilot program was launched to integrate 4 to 6-year-old children with special educational needs into mainstream kindergartens. The pilot was implemented in a district with little or no access to specialized schools. Out of 70 children screened, 50 children with special educational needs were enrolled thanks to the program.
GPE strengthened screening and referral procedures, improved the skills of 244 teachers and social workers and provided 120 schools with essential learning materials to expand inclusiveness. But perhaps the most important achievement is that this program provided a model for national expansion—the government’s action on this is a clear indication of its sustained efforts to improve equity in early learning.
Continued GPE support
Despite these achievements, the government of the Kyrgyz Republic has a long road ahead to ensure quality early learning is available for all children. To support this effort, a $5 million GPE Multiplier grant was allocated in 2021. The grant aims to continue to increase access to preschool education for the children from the most vulnerable households and to improve their school readiness.
The Kyrgyz Republic has been a GPE partner since 2006 and has received $33.6 million in GPE grants to support the implementation of its education sector plans. Partners agree that GPE funding has had a catalytic effect to mobilize additional support and to improve the use of national resources and donor funding.
With GPE’s support, more children in the Kyrgyz Republic are acquiring the building blocks of a quality education and getting the best start in life.