Advice on Improving Preschool Education in Russia

December 21, 2011

Sakha Republic—Yakutia—is a region of the Russian Federation in the Arctic Circle the size of India, but with about one million people and a layer of permafrost that attests to its long winters. A sparse population with deep roots in Sakhan language and culture, and tough weather have to be reckoned with as Yakutia embarks on a priority reform: modernizing early childhood development and education.

The reform is an important step towards engaging the region in the international conversation on early learning, and bringing them best practices from other parts of Russia and the world. As the Government of the Sakha Republic tackles early childhood education reform, it will draw on analysis and guidance from the World Bank under a fee for service agreement, signed in 2010.

" In the Republic of Sakha, the joint work of Russian and international experts has helped to develop a unified approach to understanding the quality of early childhood development and education in order to ensure consistency among all elements of the education system. "

Afanasy Vladimirov

Minister of Education, Republic of Sakha

Yakutia faces several challenges. Demand for preschool slots far exceeds supply, with about 12,000 boys and girls on the wait list in Yakutsk city. And wait lists are only going to get longer with a rising birth rate that is predicted to climb even higher. "We have an acute problem of shortage of places in kindergartens. Total coverage of preschool education is 63.3%. More than 30 thousand children are in the queue," said Afanasy S. Vladimirov, Sakha Republic Education Minister.

Many preschools are shabby—a lot of facilities are without running water or toilets. Preschool managers need training, teachers need to learn more modern and child-focused techniques, and the quality assurance systems need improving. These issues require a multifaceted approach—one in which the World Bank has experience.

World Bank experts are working with regional officials, managers, teachers, parents, and inspectors. Using best Russian and international examples, they are drawing up concrete proposals to enhance early childhood education, increase access to services and ensure the quality of those services.

The team is developing a quality assurance system based on self-evaluations and external inspections, complemented by modern and easy to use research instruments. A pilot program has proved successful, independent external expertise should follow.

After a year of work, the World Bank team is ready to hand a blueprint for the future of improved early childhood development and education to Yakutia’s leaders.

To put this advice in action, the World Bank is coming into play with support for an investment project to help introduce innovation in early childhood development and education. That will include spending wisely through teacher training, new materials and renovated or brand new buildings. It will also include more involvement from parents and the community, as well as broader public sector involvement. The project will fund construction of weatherproof kindergartens and renovate salvageable existing buildings, or reconstruct ones that are too damaged.

As different states around the Russian Federation focus on improving preschool education, the World Bank is becoming a source for strategic knowledge, analysis, and advice that is tailored to each academic, economic, and geographic situation.

Before Yakutia, the World Bank provided fee for service work and worked with regional policymakers to diagnose ways of reforming preschool education in economically-booming Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous Okrug-Yugra.

Bank experts successfully helped authorities, kindergarten principals, teachers and parents to design a plan to improve preschool education, and as a result, to expand it.

Since then, following the roadmap laid out in the collaboration between the World Bank and the region, preschool teachers have been trained to focus on interacting with children to stimulate their development. Kindergartens have been rearranged to be friendly, open spaces conducive to exploration and learning.

And enrollment is expanding. Khanty-Mansiysk recently announced construction of nine new kindergartens in the next three years, and plans to have universal preschool enrollment by 2015.