In the centre of Murghab District in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), children under five years did not have many learning options. The local kindergarten did not offer age-appropriate lessons or interesting activities, and the early childhood development (ECD) centre was run down and in urgent need of repairs.
Tajikistan has the lowest access to early childhood education in the region. Across Tajikistan, there are less than 2,000 ECD centres, serving only 16 percent of the country’s children. This leaves most children without the educational foundation needed to succeed in school.
According to the World Health Organization, the most critical period of a child’s development takes place between birth and eight years. The early years of a child’s life are crucial for developing life-long skills and sets the foundation for all subsequent learning.
Meeting the need in Murghab
The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) is working to meet the critical need for more ECD centres to educate pre-school age children in Tajikistan.
In coordination with the Branch Republican Institute for Professional Development in Education (IPD), AKF piloted and scaled an ECD model in several regions of Tajikistan. The model is low-resource and needs-based, reflecting the socio-economic context of each community, and transforms empty rooms into holistic learning environments for pre-school children. Teachers, parents and other volunteers are selected to deliver developmentally appropriate learning activities and operate the centres. IPD provides trainings on ECD policies, relevant national laws and regulations, and financial sustainability, as well as mentoring support.
In Murghab District, AKF is working with the ECD centre at School #14. The centre’s poor condition was affecting the community’s ability to provide quality learning opportunities for children.
Under the Thrive Tajikistan: Partnership for Socio-Economic Development programme, AKF formed an ECD support group, which serves as a bridge between the centre and the community. Funded by AKF and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Thrive Tajikistan helps to improve the quality of life for people in GBAO and Khatlon Oblast. The ECD support group created by Thrive Tajikistan engages caregivers and parents to provide a safe and clean learning environment for children and mobilises community funds to support its operation. With Thrive Tajikistan’s support, the ECD centres also now have teaching resources to offer age-appropriate learning opportunities, and many centres often provide access to nutritious food and snacks.
Pursuing local solutions for early childhood development
Once the support group was formed, it quickly worked with the community to develop an action plan for mobilising financial and material resources. The support group connected with Qalam, a local non-governmental organisation that offers trainings to the local community on grant writing, business plan development and monitoring. Through these community connections, the centre collected toys, stationery, carpets and furniture, and made necessary repairs, including fixing walls, laying flooring and painting the centre.
Jonbegim Azizkhonova used to work as a primary school teacher at School #14. In 2013, after she retired, she joined the ECD centre as a teacher.
“Children, and especially their parents, like the centre a lot,” said Jonbegim. “We teach three groups, but there are many children who still want to join. Unfortunately, we cannot accept all of them because we just don’t have the space. Parents seem to prefer the centre over the local kindergarten.”
The centre now serves 70 children. Although most spots are paid for by parents, the centre also teaches children from vulnerable families who are unable to pay. Jonbegim shared an example of a girl who studied at the centre for two years, despite the fact that her parents could not afford the fees.
“Now this girl is a very active student at the school and participates in various events, sometimes getting first place,” Jonbegim said. “Her parents always say that her potential and skills developed in the centre, and this is what has been beneficial for her school life now.”
In the future, the centre hopes to expand to meet the community’s demand for its services. The ECD support group formed by AKF continues to help the centre meet emerging needs.
Since 2009, AKF has established more than 270 new ECD centres in Tajikistan and is supporting 320 ECD centres across the country. As a result, some 18,000 Tajik children aged 3-6 years have gained access to ECD services, while over 600 pre-primary educators and 550 ECD-related health workers have received support and training from AKF. Most of these centres are in Gorno-Badakhshan, which in 2020 reported significantly increased access to ECD services: up from 9 percent to 65 percent.
This text was adapted from an article published on the AKF USA website.