Roza Otunbayeva: We Want To Focus Parents and Educators on Early Childhood Development

February 18, 2013, 06:00

Kyrgyzstani Ex-President Roza Otunbayeva tells about new trends in education, the problems of publishing in the country and the initiatives of her foundation.

- Roza Isakovna, you have initiated a competition of poets and writers for creating children’s literature. The organization of various events for young school children and preschoolers are also within the framework of your initiatives. But, as you have noticed, realizing these projects has been delayed. What is behind this?

- You are correct, our foundation decided to announce on a national level a competition of poets and composers for creating children’s poetry and songs. We started work in November and met together. Promotion of the contest in the media has only recently begun. We have designed a logo, created videos, and sent all of these to all publications and posted them on social networks. Now you will hear about it often. The need for new poems, rhymes, dances and songs in the country is huge! My grandson now falls asleep in his bed listening to audio lullabies. But do we have that many in Kyrgyz? I traveled around 6 oblasts, and everywhere the only form of quality song that is sung is the anthem. This is all well and good, but there needs to be other songs – choral, dancing and playful songs. The results will be concluded in May 2013, and overall the national contest will be concluded with a large gala concert on TV on the eve of Child Protection Day. The works of the competition winners will be published and released as a book. Kyrgyzstanis, working in Ohio (USA), wanted to become sponsors. Our partners and compatriots in America, Turkey and Austria are ready to invite the contest laureates over as guests.

- In Kyrgyzstan there has long been a problem with children’s literature. In our country for many years no one has created or printed it. Constantly referring to economic weakness, do we not risk a lost of national identity in the current generation?

- Economic reasons do not justify everything. In reality, it is necessary to form public opinion towards solving these objectives. In Russia parents and educators publish many books for children. Works, that long ago became international classics on child psychology and education, are being translated. At Arabaev University, we opened a lecture series on early childhood development and began teaching mothers and educators the basics of Montessori pedagogy. This course will last for 2.5 years. Waldorf pedagogy is already being adopted not only in the capital but in Batken Oblast as well. Adequate training and high levels of professionalism are necessary for the high levels of those tasked with this work. They must see the bottlenecks and undertake all efforts to mobilize society. We recently saw detailed examples of educational reforms in Kazakhstan at the meeting of the “Discovery Asia” club, which is led by our foundation.

- What do we need to promote the idea of public education? Is all of this possibly connected a lack of specialists?

- In the area of education, there are many problems. One of the fundamental problems is a lack of resources. When they say that the US and Kyrgyzstan spend equal portions of their respective budgets on education or say that we even spend too much on it, they are lying or do not know the real numbers. There is no comparing the size of the economies of the two countries, let alone the size of their budgets! Their 6% is far from our 6%! Additionally, outside of government financing in the US, huge sums of money are given to educational institutions by companies, private foundations and individuals. There is no comparison. There, education is truly a priority. 

The staffing issue in education is also acute and it is well known that our state only maintains its position in the hierarchy of nations thanks to educational levels. Private-public initiatives in education do not work, even though there is already a law adopted regarding this. We truly need strong educational initiatives and support from the authorities. I am increasingly more convinced that competition is an effective lever in improving education. In every city, region and village, we must strive to meet the highest of international standards. 

- You have been to many far-flung regions of the country and seen with your own eyes all the issues in the education sector. What conclusions have you come to? Where should we begin? 

- Work in all areas! One of our initiatives is the strengthening of the natural sciences in schools. First of all, we want to create 10s of accessible science museums in the city. Everyone complains that there is nowhere to take their children on the weekend, and there is nowhere to learn something or studying something. The young technicians circles and DOSAAF (Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Fleet) all closed, everywhere that children and teenagers could receive technical experience and skills. In our plans are the creation of a network of scientific and technical points of growth and contacts for the support of the natural sciences and technical education of school students. Austrian partners are helping us with this. In the middle of March 2013 there will be a large joint seminar on organizing this work. 

I already said that we want to we want to focus parents and educators on early childhood development. This is a worldwide trend and we need to turn around and follow it. It has already calculated and proven by science that each dollar spent on a child at an early age later saves 7-8 dollars in preparing an adolescent for life. The Japanese, in general, in the past few decades have begun to believe that investing in a child after the age of 3 is already too late. In Kyrgyzstan, we have set the task of mandatory education before 1st grade, preparation of all 6 and 7 years old for school. And their number reaches 100,000! This is a huge, multiphase project that must first begin with the preparation of teachers. The Ministry of Education is undertaking this large task in cooperation with UNICEF and the World Bank. In December 2012 in New York, I met with the director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake, and the chairman of the board of directors of the International Education Foundation, Carol Belamy, to discuss this project. We will be the first in Central Asia to undertake such a project. 

I am using this interview as an opportunity to tell all of the readers about the Education Festival, which we are preparing to conduct in the first half of May 2013. This will be a two-day, in fact, a citywide holiday in the center of Bishkek that will include an exhibition of educational services. We are providing everyone, who teaches children for free or not, an opportunity to learn what is possible to teach a school aged child. We will give everyone who teaches children free or otherwise the opportunity to get together and offer their services. This is a promotion of their business, and for children it is an opportunity to discover what is possible to learn at school. There will be many contests, dances, games, acts, discussions, and reading conferences. We think that this will be an annual event. 

- As president, you have complained that in Bishkek there is only one bookstore with books in Kyrgyz. But then it was said that the office of the store should be given to your foundation… But this is not even the issue, for many years bookstores have been absent in the regions of Kyrgyzstan and cultural institutions are disappearing. Currently in the country there are more mosques than schools and kindergartens. Is this not dangerous? In the history of the republic there has never been such blind adherence to religion… 

- With regards to the “Nuska” store, I would to speak separately. In that building, other than the bookstore, there is the Committee for the Development of the Kyrgyz Language, the Masaliev Foundation. Nobody touched “Nuska” and to this day it is still located there. The scandal built up by the newspapers about me was unfounded. In fact, I helped the Commission on the State Language greatly improve their working conditions, they have moved in a well-renovated building financial police. And the location on Erkindik Boulevard has not been renovated since the 60s! Such was the “care” for the people slaving away on the promotion of the native language. I, like other NGOs, rent an office, pay rent and pay for utilities. The state does not provide my Foundation with a free office, as in the case of many already defunct or inactive foundations, NGOs of whom there is no trace nor idea of what they were doing with those offices. I am trying with all my might to build up the institute of the Ex-President, the first in Central Asia. I began a Foundation with clearly defined aims, over the course of one year I have succeeded in expressing myself and conducted many events that received considerable attention in the city and throughout the country. I’m not ashamed to represent it internationally 

IA «», Shakir Oljobai