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Part I Descriptive Section

 Introduction

The situation in Azerbaijan concerning EFA and the follow up actions that were agreed to at the Jomtien conference in 1990 is significantly different from many other countries and requires explanation. In 1990 Azerbaijan was part of the former Soviet Union and was not directly represented at the Jomtien conference, but indirectly represented by the participation of Russian educators. Indeed, senior educational managers and policy makers from Azerbaijan had no inputs to the Jomtien conference and were not aware that the conference had taken place. Following independence in 1991, Azerbaijan was preoccupied with two major crises: the impacts of the war with Armenia and the transition to the market economy. These preoccupations were also evident in the Ministry of Education. Given this situation in Azerbaijan during the 1990’s, it is not surprising that the plans of action ratified by others at the Jomtien conference were not a priority.

As a result, the current cohort of senior educational managers and policy makers in Azerbaijan first became aware of the Jomtien EFA goals and plans of action during a UNESCO meeting in Tashkent in 1998. It was at this meeting that the requirements for EFA reporting and assessment procedures for EFA – 2000 were being discussed. Further follow-up took place during 1999 when UNICEF initiated a task force meeting with the involvement of the five organisers: WB, UNDP, UNFPA, UNESCO and UNICEF together with the Ministry of Education. Several regular meetings took place between the Cabinet of Ministers and the Ministry of Education and UNICEF at senior levels, including technical meetings. Despite being uninvolved in earlier activities of EFA, Azerbaijan readily agreed to become involved and to take part in the EFA 2000 Assessment process. At the end of May 1999, the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Azerbaijan issued an instruction to establish a formal working group for the EFA National Assessment. This working group comprised representatives from the following organisations:

This working group was under the organizational guidance of the Ministry of Education and its first task was to appoint a National Assessment Coordinator; the Deputy Minister of Education - Mr. Iskander Iskanderov. The complete list of members of this working group is provided in Annex 1. This working group began to collect information and received technical assistance from UNESCO and UNICEF in July 1999 during a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan. UNICEF, UNFPA and UNESCO provided further technical assistance through the services of a specialist to support the National Assessment Working Group in the preparation of its report. Thus, the entire national assessment process has had to occur within the very short time period, May to September 1999.

As a result of the above situation, this report provides information on educational development in Azerbaijan during the time period 1990 to 1998 with a focus on early childhood development programs, primary education and literacy, rather than on specific EFA activities. However, the philosophy of education in Azerbaijan and its constitutional protection are consistent with the goals and aims of EFA and therefore this project report will be relevant to the global EFA 2000 assessment process. To ensure the maximum relevancy and for consistency with other country reports, the analytical section is based upon the 18 core indicators specified in the technical guidelines provided by UNESCO.

Changes in Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan during the period 1990 to 1998

Up to the early 1990's, Azerbaijan was one of several countries under the control of the Soviet Union. At this time, education was controlled by 3 structures, each having a local minister but under the subordination of an equivalent Minister in Moscow. These three structures included the:

These three structures have been consolidated into a single Ministry of Education since 1988. The National Assembly passed an Education Law in 1992 and further clarification concerning the roles and responsibilities of the Ministry of Education was provided through the promulgation in 1995 of the rules and regulations for the Ministry of Education. A decree issued by the President in March 1998 initiated the process of a Program of Reform for Education through the establishment of a State Reform Commission and the President approved the final details concerning both the content and processes of this reform in June 1999. With the assistance of a loan from the World Bank of some US$5 million, the implementation of this reform process is planned in three phases. Also, the National Assembly has elaborated the new Education Law and proposed it for public discussion, it is ready for the second reading.

The Education Law of 1992 proposed several major areas of change including:

Article 42 of the Constitution of 1995 stipulates that "the state provides every citizen with the right to a free and compulsory general secondary education". As a result, the private sector is active only in post-secondary education. Early childhood education is almost exclusively provided through the public sector although there are some private sector activities.

The development of education, and in particular the achievement of the goals of universal education at pre-school and primary levels in Azerbaijan during the decade covered by the Jomtien declaration have been hindered by a number of events. It should be noted that prior to the 1990 Jomtien declaration, education in Azerbaijan was already highly developed. In fact adult literacy levels had reached 83% in 1939 and in 1989 were at 99.6%. However, the decade of the 1990s has proved to be one of the most difficult in Azerbaijan’s history since education, together with all sectors, has had to face a number of challenges brought about by:

Thus, the major challenge to education during the decade of the 1990’s has been to minimise the decline in educational development given these difficulties. While the period of the 1990’s has been difficult for education, it is not without hope since in recent times a number of international oil contracts have been signed for utilisation of the oil reserves that have been discovered in the Caspian Sea. Thus, the economic future of Azerbaijan appears to be moving to a better future and this should allow educational reform to be implemented and participation in education to be expanded, thus achieving the goals of EFA.

Current Status of Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan

In 1999 the population of Azerbaijan was approximately 8 million persons living in 5 major cities and 65 districts, including the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan. There are 4,610 schools and 1.6 million students covering 11 years of free and compulsory education. Of these 11 years, grades 1 to 4 constitute primary education (the focus of this report), grades 5 to 9 are lower secondary education and grades 10 and 11 are upper secondary education. Basic education is grades 1 to 9. In addition to general education, in 1999 there are 48 higher education institutions of which 17 are private, 74 technical professional schools and colleges and 118 vocational schools and Lyceums. There are also special schools for those with learning difficulties and boarding schools for those students in need. Since 1989, gifted children are able to attend special classes and/or special schools. School for gifted students have a duration of 11 years and it is possible for gifted students to skip years and complete general education in less than 11 calendar years. There are special boarding schools for handicapped children, such as children with visual, hearing or speaking disabilities. In remote areas where the density of handicap is low, special classes are provided in regular schools.

The Education Reform Project commenced at the beginning of the 1999/2000 school year (September) and involves all grade 1 teachers (9,400) and students (170,000). This reform project is being introduced in a phased approach and more detail concerning this project is provided in Part III of this report.

The administrative structure of education in Azerbaijan involves a number of different stakeholders. At the national level, the following are involved:

Ministry of Education

During the Soviet era, the Ministry of Education had primary responsibility for all aspects of education. Since independence, the District Education Offices have taken over the role of implementing education programs, monitoring and inspecting the system. The Ministry of Education has responsibility for development and publication of curricula and syllabuses, textbooks, methodological manuals, for the quality of education, initial and in-service training of teaching personnel, for attestation, accreditation and licensing of educational institutions and realization of some other issues. Since the Presidential order of 1998 to instigate an education sector reform project, the Ministry of Education has been focussing on the processes required to support such a reform. More detail concerning the nature of this reform is provided in Part III of this report.

Ministry of Finance

The Ministry of Finance is responsible for allocating funding to schools, early childhood education institutions and other educational institutions. For early childhood education institutions and general schools, this allocation takes place through the District Finance Offices.

At other levels, the following bodies are involved:

District Education Offices

The Chief of each District Education Office is appointed by the Ministry of Education upon the recommendation of the local executive body, although the complete budget for the office is provided from the Executive Committee of the District whose Chief is appointed by the President of Azerbaijan. The formal mechanism for communication and information flow between the District Education Offices and the Ministry of Education occurs through both annual reports concerning early childhood development programs and general education and dissemination of appropriate norms by the Ministry of Education.

District Education Offices are responsible for managing all early childhood development programs and general educational institutions in the district. This office is also responsible for school guidance and supervision.

Schools

The Education Law of 1992 has promoted a model of decentralisation that allows schools to have considerable control. Schools are responsible for hiring and firing of teaching staff and are also able to propose changes to improve the curriculum and educational programs. Although schools have been given more responsibility and autonomy, many school directors need to upgrade their skills in administration, finance and management since many come from teaching backgrounds. Thus, there is a need to provide appropriate training courses for school directors.

School Councils

The Law on Education in 1992 provided for the creation of School Councils to support a decentralised model. School councils are comprised of teachers, parents, students and representatives of social organisations. The roles of school councils include strengthening the material basis of schools, providing proposals for the solution of pedagogical and economic problems, and to facilitate the introduction of a democratic system of management.

Financing of Education

Education is funded through two sources: the Republican budget and local city or district-level budgets. General schools and early childhood education institutions are funded primarily through local budgets although in cases where a deficit is created, financial subsidies can be made from the Republican budget. Technical and vocational schools together with higher education institutions are funded solely by the Republican budget.

The salary component is the major part of general school funding. The number of classes determines the number of teachers in individual schools with class size in urban areas being 25 to 30 students while class size in rural and remote areas is more flexible. Alongside with the number of classes, the teaching load also determines the number of teachers required in a school. Teachers are normally required to teach a minimum of 12 hours per week and can teach in more than one shift. Typically, most schools work in two shifts per day. There are also schools working in three shifts.

Schools provide their budget requests each year to the District Education Office who then pass these to the District Finance Office. The District Finance Office is responsible for defining individual school budgets within the context of determining the complete District budget, although the District Education Office also has some input to this process. The District Education Office is then responsible for payment of teacher salaries through school directors and for school running-costs such as electricity, water, heating, etc. Annual budget reports are provided to the District Finance Office. Since 1997, schools have been permitted to have individual school bank accounts although these are special accounts rather than budget accounts. These accounts can be used for funding provided by sponsors, parents, companies, etc. Funding is used to improve the material basis of schools. Not all schools have established these special accounts and among those schools that do have these accounts, the amount varies considerably.

Although each District Education Office is responsible for payment of non-salary items for all schools in the district, the reality is that this budget is in deficit. As a result of this deficit, there is no funding for maintenance of school facilities and little funding for school supplies and learning materials. Thus, the quality of school facilities has deteriorated during the decade.

Under the constitution of 1995, general education continues to be free and therefore there are no school fees. In primary education (grades 1 to 4) textbooks are provided free of charge to all students while in secondary education (grades 5 to 11) families must purchase textbooks. There are also no "hidden" school-level fees such as maintenance fees, administration fees, etc.

The Economic Context of Education and other Stakeholders in Educational Development

The difficult situation that Azerbaijan has faced during the decade of the 1990’s has attracted the attention of the international community. In particular, about 1 million of the population are considered as refugees or internally displaced with no permanent peace agreement yet concluded. The size of this refugee problem can be better understood by considering that at the beginning of 1999 some 85,000 children attended 700 temporary schools situated within refugee camps. These schools operate in very difficult conditions. The need for urgent accommodation has also meant that 53,000 people now live in what were formally school buildings. In addition, a World Bank 1997 study classified some 60% of the population as being poor with one third of this number being "very poor". The economic crisis brought about by the collapse of the former Soviet Union has caused political and social instability and introduced a new phenomenon for the country, that of child labour. GDP growth contracted by about 20% annually during the period 1992 through 1994 with annual rates of inflation reaching more than 1000% in 1993 and 1994. Beginning from 1994, the economic situation has stabilised. At the same time, the future for Azerbaijan is optimistic with net financial benefits from the Azerbaijan State Oil Company’s joint venture expected to flow into the economy during the second half of the next decade, 2005 -2010. Thus, there is concern among various stakeholders for ensuring that the deterioration in education is minimised during this interim period and that the benefits of a renewed economy will be able to be absorbed by the education system quickly and efficiently.

Within this context, the programs of UNICEF have focussed on providing advice and guidance for design models of social policy reform and efficient, effective implementation of these reform activities. Across all programs, UNICEF has also endeavoured to promote the Convention of the Rights of the Child. UNICEF has supported the Ministry of Education to develop and implement a series of television programs specifically designed for pre-school development in order to offset the decline in the number of children attending formal early childhood development programs. To arrest the deterioration of the system and to improve the quality of education, UNICEF has assisted the Ministry of Education to establish goals for the decentralisation of management and improvement in school level management. A pilot project in five schools has been used to exemplify these new techniques. In redesigning the system, the following principles were applied:

Other international organisations have also been active in educational development in Azerbaijan over the decade. The UNHCR was involved in provision of education in refugee camps and continues to do so until the present time given that almost 1 million of the total population are still considered as refugees or internally displaced persons. UNESCO has assisted the Ministry of Education through a program for retraining of teachers. The Soros Foundation has been active in Azerbaijan providing support for improving methodological issues, curriculum design and training of teachers through foreign placements. The Council of Europe has provided programs for educational managers at all levels and foreign language training in Azerbaijan has been supported through the activities of the British Council, The German Program for Exchange and the French Embassy. "Freedom Support", a USA – based NGO also provides exchange programs for approximately 50 students from Azerbaijan each year.

NGOs are active in Azerbaijan but their involvement tends to be directly with schools or specific districts and no consolidated data is easily obtainable. However, several NGO’s have collaborated with UNICEF and these include World Vision International, BUTA, Women and Development and KAINAT. A number of international oil companies have also provided support to individual schools.

Major Issues and Problems in Education

A number of issues can be identified as having had an impact on educational development during the decade of the 1990’s, including the following.

Early Childhood Development Programs

Total enrolments and the gross enrolment ratio in early childhood education programs have both declined significantly over the decade. The number of institutions offering these programs has also declined with 10% of all urban institutions and 20% of all rural institutions closing since 1993. Participation in early childhood development programs in rural areas is particularly low compared to urban areas. In all areas of the Republic, fewer girls than boys attend early childhood education programs and this disparity is particularly significant in urban areas.

The constitution allows private sector involvement at this level of education, however, private sector involvement in early childhood development programs in Azerbaijan is virtually unknown, a result of the philosophy inherited during the Soviet era.

Primary Education

The number of enrolments in primary education has been gradually increasing across the 1990’s, except for two periods of time. There was an abnormal increase in new entrants to grade 1 in 1993 and 1994 due to the effects of the Armenian aggression that resulted in an inflow of refugees and internally displaced persons. The number of new entrants to primary school also decreased in 1998 compared to earlier years, partly a result of declining population growth rates but also due to a reduction in the proportion of 6-year old children entering formal school. The difficult economic situation and changing social circumstances make it difficult to know if children are entering school at an older age or whether it suggests a problem of some children not attending school. However, the ambiguity of these data suggests a need for a specialised sampling survey to quantify the size and demographic distribution of children not attending school.

Teachers

Teacher salaries are very low and insufficient to support family requirements, although the Government has tried to increase salaries to reduce attrition. In rural areas, teachers are able to supplement their income through agricultural activities but among urban teachers, cultural expectations (that the male is the head of the family and is expected to provide an income for the family) have meant that low salaries have resulted in high attrition. The proportion of male primary teachers in urban areas has been low throughout the decade; however, the resignation of almost half of these male teachers during 1997 is a cause for concern and needs to be addressed. This decline in the number of male teachers has been more than offset by an increase in the number of female teachers.

Educational Financing

Since 1994, the proportion of all educational funding that is directed to general secondary education has been about 58.6%. The economic crisis and the continuing tension concerning the territory of Nagorny-Karabakh due to the Armenian aggression have made it difficult for the government to allocate more than 2% of GDP to secondary and high education.

Literacy

Azerbaijan has a long history as a literate and cultured society. The 1989 national census indicated an overall literacy rate of 99.6% with even rural women as a group having a literacy rate of 94%. More than 40% of the adult population have completed at least secondary education. However, the recent economic crisis and inflow of refugees and internally displaced persons following the Armenian aggression have created a situation where these high levels of literacy may be challenged. Since adult literacy rates and school participation rates have been high in recent times, Azerbaijan has not had to implement adult education programs for basic literacy. At the same time, economic constraints have hindered the development and implementation of a monitoring mechanism. For example, the most recent data for adult literacy comes from the 1989 National Census. There is a need for technical assistance from international organisations such as UNICEF and UNESCO to develop an appropriate monitoring mechanism for literacy levels.


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