In 2013, we produced this short video about the Reading for Children Programme in Kyrgyzstan, whose aim is to help pre-school age children grow into more confident and accomplished learners. Recently we caught up with Medina Makenova and her family from Achakaiyndy Village, Naryn Oblast (the least accessible part of Kyrgyzstan separated from the rest of the country by high mountain ranges), whose story was featured in this video. A young kindergartener then, Medina is now a high-achieving 12-year old student whose favorite activities include reading to her baby brother, Nurdan; running the “book hospital” at school that ensures that classmates repair and treat their books with respect; studying foreign languages; and thinking of becoming a doctor one day in order to provide care for others. When asked about his daughter’s evolution these last six years, Medina’s father made a clear connection between the early reading programme and her learning achievements to date. He added: “There are benefits of parents reading to their children beyond the child's performance, too. It's one of the most pleasurable activities that you do with your child – there's physical closeness... and it's probably the most unhurried time that children have with their parents and it is focused on them.”
Below are the interviews with Medina and her father to see how things have progressed over the last six years.
Hello Medina, can you tell me about yourself?
My name is Medina Makenova, I’m 12 years old and in Grade 6. At school I have only one “good” mark in Russian language and “excellent” marks in all other subjects. I have a big interest in learning foreign languages. This school year I started English language courses organised by the Peace Corps language club. I really enjoy learning English and like the style as the teacher combines learning with games. In the future, I plan to study several foreign languages, starting with Turkish.
What are you involved in at school?
I’m the class monitor responsible for book repair. I check my classmates’ books every week and give instructions on how to repair them if they are damaged. No matter how careful children are, books will tear and need a repair. In class we have a special place for damaged books. I like to utilise a book ambulance and send them to the “book hospital” for repair. And it’s important to let children repair their own books and build their skills in taking care of them. That way, they will learn how to treat the books with respect.
I’m also active in attending school clubs on dancing, singing and sports.
How is family life?
I have a big family. I’m the third child and I have 3 siblings: elder brother, elder sister and younger brother of 5-years old. I’m a favourite for my younger brother, Nurdan. I help take care of him, tell him fairytales and read books, teach him new poems. Usually I teach him the poems I have learnt since kindergarten, I remember them well. Nurdan is fond of me because I play with him and always answer his questions. Also, I read books with my grandmother and then we discuss together the content of the stories. I love my family.
Do you have friends?
I have a lot of friends and good relationships with the neighbours’ children. But my closest friends are Sozul, Aruuke, Altynai, Ainazik. We often play outside the national games, sometimes football and volleyball... I think I’m a leader because I’m confident, flexible and eager to learn something new and share it with others.
What plans do you have for the future?
In the future I want to be a doctor and treat people. One of my biggest dreams is to visit the USA and explore its history and culture. To realise this dream I have to study and work hard in learning English. When I grow up I want to be a kind and honest person, and do something that benefits my community and my country’s development.
With Medina’s father, Makenov Ulan
How do you feel the programme has made an impact on Medina’s current status?
I can say the Reading for Children programme impacted Medina’s overall development. She liked reading books since pre-school age. Even if she didn’t know the letters, she could make a story using the illustrations. Reading books since an early age has had a positive effect on her literacy and study achievements. It has also shaped her social and emotional development, and helped in learning a foreign language.
I want to highlight that the programme develops a habit in children to read books regularly, strengthens family bonds by promoting family reading and instills love of books from the early years. There are benefits of parents reading to their children beyond the child's performance, too. It's one of the most pleasurable activities that you do with your child – there's physical closeness... and it's probably the most unhurried time that children have with their parents and it is focused on them.
How can you describe Medina’s learning progress and participation in school life?
I never limit her. She finds time to attend clubs on dancing, singing and sport. She studies English language and takes mental arithmetic classes. Traditionally once a week she visits our village library and brings books for reading. She attends events organised by the village library. I don’t buy her a telephone, as I think the phone interferes in every sense; it is better to spend time for reading and enjoying books.
I would like to thank the Aga Khan Foundation initiative for the opportunity to have new and illustrated books in three languages. In our village library we felt the lack of quality books for children before. I wish the project success and expansion, so that more children's books will be published and accessible to children and parents.
The Aga Khan Development Network has developed over 150 age-appropriate and contextually relevant children’s books and resources in eight countries. Its Reading for Children Programme helps parents and caregivers to play a more important role in helping their children become confident, life-long learners.