When the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) learned that many rural Kyrgyz children were missing out on kindergarten during the annual migration to the “jailoo”, or high pastures, for four to five months a year, it started a programme to bring early childhood education to the mountains.
The summer migration to the jailoo follows a tradition that dates back over 2,500 years – a tradition that was only interrupted during the Soviet era. To bring structured, active and enjoyable learning opportunities to the jailoo, the AKDN supports a system of linked central and satellite kindergartens. Many of the satellite kindergartens operate in village homes during the winter and in yurts (nomadic tents) during the summer pasturage.
The yurt kindergartens have been exceptionally popular. In response to demand, the teachers have started organising activities for older children and have also set up small libraries in yurts that cater to children from two- to 14-years old. The concept has since expanded to other villages and summer pastures. Surveys indicate that when children from the jailoo kindergarten programme enter primary school, they outperform others in both reading and maths.
In 2008, the programme even caught the notice of the World Challenge, a global competition sponsored by BBC World, Newsweek and Shell "aimed at finding projects or small businesses from around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at a grass roots level". Watch the 20-minute BBC documentary film.
Over the last decade these jailoo kindergartens have increasingly taken root on a national level. Their ability to improve children’s learning achievements, strengthen family bonds across generations and perpetuate ancient Kyrgyz traditions such as the annual migration have been documented by independent external evaluations. As a result local government and international development agencies alike have become increasingly engaged in supporting the approach. For example, since 2014 the international public foundation Roza Otunbayeva Initiative (ROI) has supported the establishment of jailoo kindergartens in more than 100 communities. The programme has also figured into efforts to improve cross-border relations. In 2015, the British Embassy in Bishkek helped AKF and ROI establish 11 jailoo kindergartens in Batken Oblast, with the aim of reducing conflicts over pasture and water resources between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.