Within the child lies the fate of the future. – Maria Montessori
The beginning of each human life is a time of unlimited potential. Every second, a baby forms more than a million new neural connections, linking curious mind to body. But the external circumstances of our early years determine a great deal of how much that potential we can harness.
Over the years, the importance of early childhood has become more clear. Early childhood development (ECD) is now considered a time which lays the foundation for an individual’s future overall health, happiness, success, and social behavior. The years of zero to three can be a time of great opportunity – or a missed chance to give a person their best chance at life.
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Between children born into families with differing levels of income and education, vocabulary disparities begin to appear before a child is two years old. Studies show children with access to early childhood education are more successful adults. For the public, education during early childhood development translates into reduced risk of developmental disabilities and need for special education, less dependence on welfare, decreased crime, and higher tax revenues as children become adults1.
According to UNICEF, investment in preschool and early childhood education yields higher returns than any other level of education, with the greatest impacts felt among poorer children2. Yet such programs receive only 2.5% of Tajikistan’s education budget, and only 8-10% of Tajik children attend preschool3.
The role or absence of education during a child’s early years determines much of their lifelong development – cognitive, emotional-social, and physical. In Tajikistan, a relatively young independent nation with a large youth population, the country’s future depends greatly on the development opportunities granted to its children. More than 800,000 Tajik children today are between the ages of zero and five years4 – that’s ten percent of the country’s total population. Despite a growing youth population, the number of preschools in the nation has been in decline since the 1990s. Without intervention, Tajikistan’s current generation of children will be less educated than their parents5.
A history of early childhood education in Tajikistan
In 1991, Tajikistan gained independence from the Soviet Union and then entered into a six-year civil war. National instability and budget cuts made the government’s public outreach weak, especially within the country’s education system. During the Soviet Era, teachers went through continued professional development every three to five years, but after the collapse of that system, the newly-independent Tajik government had little budget to invest in the teachers or infrastructure of its educational system. Schools buildings suffered physical damage from violence, and a lack of budget for maintenance, and the country’s teachers had low numbers and insufficient training.
According to the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES), 18% of Tajikistan’s school structures pose immediate threats to student safety if a natural disaster – such as an earthquake, flood, or severe winter storm – were to occur6. Also, the lack of necessary school restrooms and sanitary facilities frequently discourage adolescent girls from attending school. Low teacher salaries make it difficult for schools to retain quality, motivated educators, and the motivated teachers are often left without access to updated resources which would allow them to teach curriculum effectively.
Much of Tajikistan has high infant and child mortality rates, widespread poverty, and a lack of parenting resources, including prenatal and natal health care. For those just trying to provide for and feed their family, and stay warm in the winter, the role education plays in early childhood development is just not a priority.
Despite its challenges, Tajikistan has been motivated to improve its educational systems. In fact, free, public education is guaranteed for all children, and compulsory under the constitution. After an initial slump post-Soviet collapse, the country has managed to increase net student enrollment in primary and secondary schooling in recent years. In 2012, the government began prioritized pre-primary, or early childhood, education as well. The Aga Khan Development Network and Ministry of Education in Tajikistan created curriculum and brick-and-mortar centers for early childhood development, yet its resources remained limited – classes were held only a few times per week, and student enrollment was maxed out. The children who were enrolled had incomplete educations, and many children were denied access to early childhood care entirely.
Partnering with the government on early childhood education
Understanding the government program meant well, but desperately needed support, Central Asia Institute in Tajikistan (CAIT) partnered with the Education Department of Gorno- Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), creating a program to increase training capacity and quality for teachers in early childhood education. The government’s kindergarten teacher training and resources were outdated, and years overdue for curricula refreshers.
With support from the Education Department of GBAO, Central Asia Institute implemented the Tajikistan Early Childhood Development Vocational Program, geared toward training GBAO kindergarten teachers in the latest early childhood development methodology.
Since 2012 CAIT has already conducted training for more than 134 teachers through our Tajikistan Early Childhood Development Vocational Program. The program’s primary goal is to expand teacher training, especially in remote areas. 110 kindergarten teachers and 24 kindergarten program directors have completed the program – 134 educators who now bring their experience and expertise to the young children of remote Tajikistan.
After the collapse of the Soviet government, schools in remote areas of Tajikistan suffered the most from low budgets and a lack of access to improved teaching methodology. As part of Central Asia Institute’s early childhood development training programs, we work to reach all teachers with the latest approaches to teaching. Our program brings teachers from isolated remote areas to the city, where they can gather together to learn and exchange experiences with other teachers. Teacher training in early childhood development strengthens the quality of Tajikistan’s teaching and learning environments.
The future of education for childhood development in Tajikistan
In 2019, Central Asia Institute is working to complete a much-needed gym and kitchen reconstruction in an ECD school in Khorog. When complete, this model will be used for other kindergartens across the region and the country..
Central Asia Institute works hard to provide quality training for teachers, especially in Tajikistan’s remote districts. We understand the need to invest in children at a very young age, through early childhood education which contributes to their best chance at a successful life. Central Asia Institute in Tajikistan believes in the importance of providing education which supports ECD especially to the disadvantaged – girls, the very poor, and those from geographically remote areas.
With your support, we can impact the lives of thousands of aspiring teachers, countless young children, and the future of Tajikistan.