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Issues Concerning the Primary Education in Uzbekistan

An overview of primary education at present

Enrollment into elementary schools in Uzbekistan is not the same nowadays as it was a decade ago. Children of six or seven years of age come to elementary schools fully prepared, already possessing the basics that the schools provided to students in the late 1980's - early 1990's.

For about a little more than ten years now, in Uzbekistan. children are being asked to attend an entrance examination prior to their acceptance to elementary school. It is an examination used by the school to determine whether the child possesses enough capabilities to keep up with the academic workload lying ahead.

To shift the burden of preparing children for entrance examination from kindergartens and parents solely, elementary schools set up "training lessons" on weekends for their future students. These weekend classes picked up a title of "Sunday schools" among their attendants. Any child, whose residence address presupposes for him or her to attend a particular elementary school, can subscribe for these weekend classes. Once a week, kindergarten children spend a day at an elementary school studying three lessons, lasting thirty minutes each. Basically, these are the lessons that are taught at school: alphabet, mathematics, art, etc.

These training classes help children to adjust themselves to the school life awaiting them. It is also a new experience for them: to be present in the classroom, to meet new friends, to master new skills following the teacher's instructions. They learn to use the break time between the classes effectively. They comprehend the importance of being on time for each lesson. Also for the first time children learn to use independently their pocket money for buying snacks or stationery they need in the class.

Sunday schools have positive and negative consequences for children at the same time. Those children who like attending Sunday schools automatically become better prepared for school life. They feel more confident about their ability to master school subjects, in comparison to those who do not like coming to these training lessons. For the children, who refuse to attend Sunday school, the responsibility for their preparation for the entrance examination falls mostly on parents and kindergartens.

This requires a lot of focus on developing reading, writing, counting, drawing skills in a child. At the same time it is necessary to monitor that the child has a clear understanding of such topics as nature, home, family, and be able to answer such questions as: which are domestic animals, and which are wild, and the like. In addition, they should memorize and be able to tell by heart a few small poems. All this is a base for elementary school entrance examination.

The entrance examination is held by three persons: a psychologist, an elementary school teacher and a third teacher (of any subject, as school decides). It lasts only 10-15 minutes, in quite a friendly atmosphere to let the child truly represent his knowledge without any stress. Some children refuse to answer questions or want to leave. In this case the psychologist intercepts with a game type questions. The examinees are asked questions on the topics covered by kindergartens and Sunday schools. Sometimes this can also include questions about the country, such as state symbols or National anthem.

The aim of such an examination can be summarized to the following:
  1. To test the level of child's overall development.
  2. To make sure the child is mentally and emotionally fit to attend the school.
  3. To identify certain children who need to attend special education institutions (due to some kind of disorder).
  4. To reveal the sides of the child's development which should be given a special attention from the teacher (is he or she shy, or quiet, or does not like to sit still for long, etc. Anything that will help the teacher to work better with this particular student).
  5. A formal event to make the elementary school an important issue both for parents and children, to give them a sense of responsibility.
  6. And finally, to ensure that an appropriate contingent of students is selected for enrollment, according to the prestige, or image of a certain school*.

* Lately, the number of specialized schools is increasing. Schools that offer foreign languages in the second year of elementary school. Schools with more focus on mathematics, etc.


The analysis of impact of primary education requirements on children and parents

Although schools still prefer seven year-olds to start attending classes, parents have a choice to send their children to school from the age of six. As the system of secondary education changed from 10 years to 12, parents are interested in sending their children to school as early as possible. That's why many want their children to be elementary school students at the age of six, six and a half. However, not every child is mature enough to change from the kindergarten playgrounds to school desks at such a young age. It should be noted, that once the primary education starts, children will be required to spend a considerable amount of time in the classroom, studying three-four subjects a day. This can be more stressful for six year olds due to the fact that mentally and emotionally, they are not quite ready for the discipline and instruction of the elementary school.

Of course Sunday schools play quite an important role in helping both six and seven year olds to prepare for elementary schools, particularly for the entrance examination. And 70% out of 100% of children, eligible to become elementary school students, do attend Sunday schools. However, roughly, one-third of the attendants express a desire not to study, not to go to school. They complain that the lessons are difficult, that school is not fun. Clearly, this is not a good contribution to developing a positive attitude in elementary school students-to be. An attitude they will use in future towards school, towards study, towards hard work.

Now if we were to compare this situation with that of the old primary education system, we would discover that 95% of children had positive feelings about attending elementary school. A decade ago, children coming out of kindergartens were not required to study mathematics and alphabet prior to attending the school. These subjects were covered in elementary school's first year. The daily school activities were mastered by the students with the help of the teacher, together with fellow classmates. Most of the children would come back home with positive feelings about their first day/week/month spend at the elementary school. The students in the class were of about the same level of knowledge, provided by kindergartens, nothing more than that. Surely there were exceptional children with talents, who could read and write, but those were single cases, besides, those were children who wanted to learn, not forced to learn before school started.

Voice of a working mother in Tashkent city, who has a five-year-old daughter:

"We are looking for a good school for my girl*. I think she can start attending elementary school after one year, when she turns six. This means that we have to decide where she can attend Sunday lessons before her first academic year begins.

I work, so I cannot spend as much time monitoring my daughter's preparation for the entrance examination, as I would like to. That's why I am counting on Sunday school to do that for me. I understand my girl is quite young yet, but I know she can do it. It's all in setting the right attitude, to take the lessons more as an interesting game, less as an obligation.

I agree not every child can take a school workload before reaching the age of seven. My elder son, for example, did not want to attend special preparation classes. He refused to go to school until he turned seven years old. And I observed that generally, this is the best time when children are ready to take some responsibility, when they can switch from play to study. Even half a year younger, a child may refuse to study simple because "he doesn't want to". So I did not force my son to do anything against his will, because I wanted him to enjoy what he does in life"
Some parents may not be happy with all the pressure that falls on them for enrolling the child to elementary school. However, as in the case of this woman, many parents have changed their attitude towards primary education requirements of the present. They understand that the time, the situation, and the requirements of the modern world are different than it was before. The only concern they have is that if their child is not well prepared, he will not be able to keep up with the pace of other students.

Passive performance in class will affect the child's grades, which in turn might have some serious impacts on the overall development of his character. And since every parent wants his child to succeed, be one of the best in the class, many parents force their children to study hard for entrance examination even if the children are reluctant to do so.

All this said, an assumption can be made that children learn the idea of hard work and competitiveness from a quite young age, which is a good thing. Something that will lead them to become better professionals, better citizens, or simply better human beings in future. But I, personally, wonder if there is really such a need to influence children to do something they are clearly not prepared for due to their specific age characteristics. Is it that dramatic, if a child "loses" one year by not going to school prior to the age of seven, as a means parents invented to make up for the prolonged years of overall secondary education.

In my opinion, going to school for the first time should be a happy occurrence, an event that embarks a step into a totally new life for each child. Therefore, it should not be something scary, but an event that is welcome by children happily.

A possible way to fix the time of intensive preparation for elementary school entrance examination, which occurs in the last two years of kindergarten, is to treat them as a part of elementary school. This would reduce, if not eliminate stress both from parents and children. The topics covered by Sunday schools should be covered fully by the kindergarten program. It is the case in some developed countries, such as United States. Given the course of development Uzbekistan chose by studying and implementing the successful education models of developed countries, this might be the ultimate goal for the future.

I would like to conclude by saying that, the current situation of primary education within the whole education system of Uzbekistan represents quite positive and promising picture. The content of primary education is much more richer. The textbooks used in classes have been updated in accordance with the current world trends, to ensure the students embrace the idea of globalization and internationalism from an early age. In addition, children's emotional health is being given a very important attention - every school is provided with a child psychologist to monitor a healthy development of their personalities. Perhaps the idea of entrance examination was undertaken to raise the quality of education as a whole. Because a well planned primary education system, eventually paves the way to better standards of education on every level, resulting in the development of individual abilities in each child.

* Not an ordinary school, perhaps the one with a deeper focus on certain subjects. A school that has a prestigious name either due to an exceptionally well equipped facilities or trained abroad teachers.
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