‘Changes are dramatic!’ exclaims Ruhshona Pulodi. A 14 year-old girl in Grade Eight, she attends School 73 in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. ‘This school used to be in very bad condition. The toilets were very bad too.’
Indeed, before the Fast Track Initiative (FTI) funds were made available, the school – a crumbling building with dilapidated trailers – was a health hazard. ‘The worst season was winter,’ recalls Rahimov Rahim, the School Principal. ‘Students were constantly sick and missing lessons. We also had a very poor supply of textbooks, with never enough in Tajik language.’
Then the FTI arrived and financed a new school, furniture and textbooks.
‘Now we have nice warm classes,’ continues Ruhshona. ‘Separate toilets for boys and girls have been constructed. I have textbooks on all subjects and can prepare my lessons on time.’
School 73 is located in Sino district of Dushanbe, where 43% of the population cannot afford to meet basic needs. Its story is typical of many schools across the country.
After gaining Independence in 1991 following the break-up of the Soviet Union, Tajikistan was hit hard by a civil war and an economic catastrophe that wiped out 70% of real GDP. One fifth of schools were destroyed or severely damaged by war. One fifth of children stopped going to primary school, and this in a country where virtually all children had previously completed eight years of schooling.
The legacy of conflict and economic collapse are such that 80% of schools are still in need of major repair. Nearly half of schools are without safe drinking water and one third do not have functioning latrines or toilets; about one third of students do not have proper space at a desk. While primary enrolment rates have fully recovered, it seems that at least one in every four girls and one in every six boys do not complete basic education.
But things are improving. Steady economic growth helped to lift over a million people out of absolute poverty during 2003-2007 alone. From 2000-2008, education spending increased eight-fold. This enabled improvements to school environments and much-needed increases in teacher salaries. But the gaps remain enormous. Teacher salaries still hover near a dollar a day, while the funding gap for 2009-2011 alone for such items as school buildings and furniture is 286 million USD.
The Fast Track Initiative has been part of this progress, providing USD 18.4 million during 2006-2009. This went to build or fix up 47 schools benefiting 25,000 students, and to supply new furniture and equipment for 50,000 students. It financed the publication of 27 textbooks in 1.6 million copies, helping to eliminate the shortage of Tajik language textbooks in major subjects. It supported the training of 3,700 teachers and over 400 school directors. In all these areas, FTI support has been coupled with improving standards, and these in turn are helping to improve the effectiveness of all education spending.
FTI support to Tajikistan is organized by donors, who coordinate their efforts to complement one another in support of the national education strategy. In some cases, donor-supported pilot reforms have been scaled up using FTI funds, as with education financing reforms.
Under the per capita financing (PCF) principle the public funds allocation to schools is based on the number of children enrolled, and schools have more flexibility in managing their budget in consultation with the PTAs (Parents – Teachers Associations). As a result, budget allocations nationwide are fairer and encourage a more efficient use of resources; while money management at the school level has become transparent, encouraging parents to be much more involved. This has led to schools improving their conditions as they spend money according to their priorities while community members pitch in.
It is just such a school that Mr Rahim leads and Ruhshona attends. ‘Last year,’ says Mr Rahim, ‘because of PCF we bought generators and paid for utilities.’ That enabled him to ensure that the school is heated and has electricity throughout the school day. ‘We also paid to clean the garbage away from in front of the school.’
Ruhshona and her classmates have ambitions for the school, hoping that one day it will have a library and an indoor room for sports. As for herself, ‘In future, I wish to be a journalist. My grandmother lives with me. She never went to school. She supports me very much, I am always telling her what is going on in school. She feels happy and proud of me. I want to study and complete the school.’