There is a critical need to invest in early learning opportunities in Tajikistan, where only 14% of young children are enrolled in pre-primary and disparities are more pronounced in rural communities, according to the World Bank. Most children enter primary school without the foundational skills needing to succeed, representing a missed opportunity to ensure children reach their full development potential. Moreover, unremunerated childcare typically falls on women and young girls, according to Oxfam, contributing to women’s time poverty and reduced opportunity for participation in social life and decision-making activities. This is compounded by preventable illnesses contributing to child and maternal mortality and malnutrition.
The Aga Khan Lycée (AKL) is dedicated to the development of pre-primary education for all children. The Early Childhood Development programme (ECD) at AKL currently enrols over 80 children of ages 3 to 5 years, in a half-day programme. It focuses on best (researched) practices to nurture a caring and stimulating environment for children of pre-primary age, including supporting the use of mother tongue, as well as, Tajik and English languages.
In 2009, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) designed and piloted a community-centered early childhood development (ECD) model to respond to the dearth of opportunities for children, especially in remote communities without access to dedicated government kindergartens. The model quickly gained national recognition with endorsements for the Ministry of Education and Science and UNICEF for nationwide replication. To date, AKF has improved access to critical learning opportunities for over 13,800 children aged three to six years old in three regions, in close cooperation with governmental and non-governmental partners. Complementary activities focussed on maternal, new-born and child health help to ensure that children reach their full physical, cognitive, social and emotional potential.
The Aga Khan Lycée
The Aga Khan Lycée and the Aga Khan Education Services (AKES) work closely with their sister AKDN agencies, such as the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Aga Khan Health Services (AKHS), and partners with the regional government of Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), to support pre-primary quality education access from birth to six years, through various direct and indirect provision models.
These include AKES pre-primary to Grade 11 schools, AKES standalone Pre-primary units, as well as government-based ECD centres within Government Schools, government kindergartens, remote rural Government ECD programmes, and Care for Child Development Programme. Indirect support includes, ECD teacher training, working with pre-natal and post-natal maternal health programmes, providing learning resources, and renovating classrooms.
Nurturing care and education services
AKF has scaled and improved its community, health facility, and school-based ECD learning centre model, by rehabilitating or equipping 300 ECD centres. It also strengthens the capacity of primary healthcare facilities to provide nurturing care to best support holistic child development.
Engaging with parents and caregivers
AKF ensures parents and caregivers develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to support their children’s development by capacitating volunteer community health promoters and health professionals to offer counselling services, while ensuring optimal pre- and post-natal care for mothers and adolescent girls.
AKF engages community volunteers to improve teaching and learning environments and support operations through ECD support groups.
Transforming ECD professionals
AKF professionalises the ECD workforce through capacity development of ECD teachers, mentorship to reinforce practical application of best practices, and a new ECD professional training programme. This includes specific focus on unlocking barriers for interested young women to advance professionally. Best practices, through the establishment of five strategically-placed ECD centres around Dushanbe and a study visit for senior Tajik government officials to the United Kingdom, have demonstrated the institutionalisation of quality standards, alternative and low-cost ECD models, and national mechanisms and tools for measuring ECD results.
“Despite my long teaching experience, I have never thought to identify and develop a child’s personal, social or emotional competencies. I would instead develop and rate students’ competencies, through their knowledge, avoiding other skills they might have, like singing and playing musical instruments, drawing, drama, and career-oriented aptitudes. Going through the Early Learning Programme, I understood that we had only assessed academic knowledge, avoiding intellectual, physical, and social-emotional development that are crucial in the early years of a child’s life. Through the programme, students take part in a transformative learning experience which significantly impacts their future life.” ECD teacher in Rudaki district, Districts of Republican Subordination.