Zafar (the photo above), a six-year-old boy, says he will become a doctor when he grows up. Just recently, he joined a half-day group at preschool #7 in Mallaboy village, which is located 180 km from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Zafar enjoys attending the preschool because he can study, play and have fun there with the other 23 boys and girls of his age. The activities Zafar participates in will equip him with the knowledge and skills required for primary school, which he will attend later this year.
Zafar is one of 56,000 children who are enrolled – for the first time – in a half-day program, thanks to the Improving Pre-Primary and General Secondary Education Project, which is being implemented by the Ministry of Public Education of Uzbekistan. The Project is financed through a US$49.9 million grant from the Global Partnership for Education, and is administered by the World Bank.
The Project focuses on improving educational opportunities in underserved areas across Uzbekistan, and includes a half-day year-round school readiness program for children aged 5 to 6 years. By July 2019, around 100,000 children will have benefitted from the half-day program in 2,420 rural kindergartens, comprising around 49% of all preschool educational institutions, or over 90% of rural kindergartens in the country.
International evidence demonstrates that high-quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) has significant and long-lasting social and economic benefits for children, their families, and society at large.
Early childhood (0-6 years) is a critical period in a child’s physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socioemotional development: what children experience in these early years shapes and defines their futures.
Out of a total of 2,450,000 children in Uzbekistan, only 818,000 have access to preschool education. In 2013, just 5% of the poorest households in the country had children enrolled in preschools.
What does it mean for children who are left behind? A study shows that preschool attendance correlates with employment outcomes in Uzbekistan and with having a better formal sector job later in life. For instance, 73% of adults aged 25-64 years who attended preschool were employed, compared with just 58% of adults who did not.
ECCE can mean broader benefits for families. In Uzbekistan, mothers and female siblings are responsible for the care of young children. However, with the availability of affordable preschools, women would have more time to seek employment, while girls could devote more time to studies.
In 2012, Uzbekistan’s preschool enrollment rate, at 23.3%, was among the lowest in the world. In 2017, however, the enrollment rate has increased and reached 29 percent of children aged 3-7, following measures taken by the Government.
The Government recognizes the importance of investing in early childhood education, and it has announced an ambitious plan to expand ECCE services provision with the aim of achieving 100 percent enrollment for children ages 6-7 by 2021. With this goal, it established the Ministry of Preschool Education in September 2017 to play the lead role in the expansion of ECCE in Uzbekistan.
In addition, the authorities increased public funding to improve ECCE infrastructure. For instance, under the 2018 state budget, over US$100 million (three times more than in 2017) was allocated to equip preschools across the country. In February 2018, the Government took the decision to increase salaries of preschool teachers by 30% in order to make these jobs more attractive to qualified education professionals.
Around 115 rural children from local rural areas attend preschool #7 in Mallaboy village. In February 2017, the first half-day group was opened here, joining several hundred preschools across Tashkent Region that benefit from the Project.
“Our pupils in the half-day group demonstrate various talents. Some of them are good at dancing, singing and reciting poems, others at drawing, mathematics and foreign languages, such as Russian and English. We even have children who can read and write easily. We are proud of their achievements, and put our hearts and souls into their development,” says Kholida Amonova, Director of preschool #7 in Mallaboy village.
In September 2017, a new cohort of 24 girls and boys aged 5-6 years, including Zafar, started attending the half-day group (the photo above), which operates five days per week from 8am to 12pm.
“Many parents, especially from low-income families, choose half-day groups in kindergartens because of their affordability,’ says Mavluda Nishanova, a Project Consultant at the Ministry of Public Education (the photo above). “A monthly fee per child in rural area is around UZS15,000 (less than US$2). In fact, it just covers the cost of daily breakfasts, while children receive all services and educational supplies free of charge. The four-hour schedule is also convenient for parents working part-time and women dealing with housekeeping.”
The half-day program requires fewer public resources per child than the standard full-day program. At the same time, children who spend four hours at half-day groups receive the same care and training as their peers in full-day groups.
In April 2017, the Mallaboy preschool received new furniture, blackboards, developmental toy sets, visual aids and storybooks in Uzbek and Russian (the photo above), which were produced by experts in early childhood education, as well as outdoor and indoor recreation equipment granted under the Project.
The Project also invests significantly in human resources development. Teachers from the Mallaboy preschool (the photo above) recently joined a group of 2,000 educational professionals across Uzbekistan to undergo a 10-day training – which covered various teaching methodologies including child-centered approaches and holistic early childhood development.
The half-day group in preschool #7 has become very popular in Mallaboy village. The preschool administration receives numerous applications from parents to enroll their preschool-aged children in this program. Preschool Director Kholida Amonova says they are planning to open the second half-day group to meet growing demand. This means that more rural children like Zafar will be able to fulfill their dream to become doctors, pilots, scientists, architects and other professionals Uzbekistan needs.