Azerbaijan's Educational System
Mardanov, Minister of Education
facing many problems in Azerbaijan's education system. Of course,
it's impossible to solve all those problems right away.One of
the problems that concerns us a lot is the education of refugee
children. As you know, refugees are living in Sabirabad, Saatli,
Bilasuvar, Imishli, Barda, Sumgayit, Baku, Ganja and other parts
of the country. I would be lying if I told you that normal conditions
exist for those kids to get an education. At the same time I
would like to point out that just recently I've visited some
of those refugee camps and have seen a very big difference, especially
compared to last year.
Due to the Karabakh problem, we've lost more than 700 educational
institutions, including kindergartens, schools, colleges and
institutes. Among the 1 million refugees in our country, there
are more than 100,000 refugee students and 10,000 teachers living
in the refugee camps.
We have made some progress. Instead of tents, many refugee students
now attend school in limestone-block buildings that were built
by various international humanitarian organizations. But in order
to solve the problem completely, we need to get back our land
so that the refugees can return to their homes and continue their
children's education there-not in tent camps.
Another problem is the dropout rate in our high schools. According
to Azerbaijan's constitution, every child must complete 11 years
of education, no matter what kind of family he or she comes from.
It's significant that our country pays attention to its children
by making high school compulsory. Since the economic conditions
in Azerbaijan are so difficult, many kids drop out of school
and turn to the streets, earning money by washing windows at
traffic lights or selling things.
Also, in some regions of Azerbaijan, especially in the south
around Lerik, Astara and Masalli, parents hesitate to let their
daughters go to school after 9th grade. They think that a 15-year-old
girl is old enough to get married. They don't want to let their
daughters out of the house. We're fighting against this at the
moment but are not achieving the results that we want.
I wish we had private high schools in Azerbaijan to compete with
the public high schools. If Azerbaijan wants to move ahead with
its market economy and integrate itself into the world economy,
it needs more private schools. When the government sees that
talented students choose to attend private schools, it will increase
the quality of its public schools.
For example, there are many Turkish schools in Azerbaijan, and
the level of education in those schools is very high. Graduates
from Turkish schools are accepted in many different universities.
Help From the Outside
Our schools, including special schools for the blind, deaf or
orphaned, receive support from various companies and international
humanitarian organizations. For instance, in Masalli, UNICEF
bought some land near one of the schools. With the help of the
students and teachers, the school is planting various vegetables.
The money from the sale of those vegetables helps the school
pay for repairs and meet necessary expenses. UNICEF also put
in some Xerox machines at a school in Baku. The school sells
photocopies made with the copiers, giving the teachers a share
of the profits.
EXXON helped us publish a book for kindergartners called "ABC
with Poetry." Over the past two years, 100,000 copies have
been distributed to various kindergarten classrooms. EXXON also
published an Azerbaijani-English dictionary, both in Cyrillic
and Latin, as well as a five-volume encyclopedia about nature,
history and literature.
Likewise, BP Amoco has published 20,000 copies of an Azeri ABC
book, distributing copies to the refugees. The company has helped
us organize various contests among teachers and students, such
as Best Teacher of the Year and Best Class of the Year.
President Aliyev himself has set up an incentive program for
Azerbaijan's young people. So far, 50 children exceptionally
talented in the areas of art, music or athletics receive a monthly
$250 stipend when their names are placed in the "Golden
Book of Talented Youth". This is paid by the Ministry of
Education. We hope to help them develop their talents at an early
age. I've also made a proposal to open a special department within
the Ministry of Education that would help encourage gifted children.
We have three main objectives for educating Azerbaijani youth.
First, they need to learn the Azeri language and their own country's
history and culture. Second, they should learn at least one foreign
language. Third, they need to be able to use modern technology,
In the old educational system, students began learning foreign
languages in first grade but never became fluent in those languages
as grammar was emphasized, not actual conversation and usage.
Our overall educational reform program will follow three stages.
We've already finished the first stage, which was preparing the
reform plan. We sent our specialists to the U.S., UK, France,
Japan, Turkey and central European countries to study the educational
systems in those places. The World Bank provided us with $295,000
for this segment of the program.
The second stage of our reform will be carried out from 2000
to 2003. We've chosen 20 schools throughout the country to be
completely repaired and re-equipped. Their school programs will
be completely changed, and their teachers will attend special
training seminars. The World Bank has offered us a $5 million
line of credit to get this program underway. All of Azerbaijan's
first-grade teachers have already attended two-week training
seminars to learn about the new programs. Now they are implementing
what they've learned in their classrooms.
One major problem with the schools' existing textbooks is that
they are written in very difficult language. Most were written
by academics and college professors who had never set foot inside
an elementary classroom. When I visited schools throughout the
country, many students and teachers complained that the language
in the textbooks was too complicated. So we're trying to simplify
the textbooks, to make the content easier to understand.
We've given a certain amount of autonomy to every school. For
example, the Ministry of Education used to decide which courses
would be taught throughout the entire 36-hour school week. We've
decreased that number to 22 hours; each school's administration
decides what kinds of classes to offer for the remaining 14 hours.
For instance, a school can choose to offer even more math or
science classes to their students.
We've also decided to integrate similar courses and teach them
as a single course. For example, when I examined the educational
system of the West, I found out that many schools offered only
one history course. Our schools had history classes under various
names such as: history of the Middle Ages, history of Early Man,
history of the USSR and history of Azerbaijan.
The third stage of reform will be our analysis of the results
of this trial period. After that, we can start implementing these
ideas and programs throughout all levels of Azerbaijan's educational
Right now we have more universities than we need. There are close
to 50 institutes and universities in Azerbaijan for only 8 million
people. In other developed countries, there's only one university
for every 600,000-700,000 people. We have three times as many
For example, we have the Institute of Foreign Languages as well
as the Institute for Russian Language and Literature. There's
no need for us to have two separate foreign-language institutes.
In a few years, the market will narrow and the lower-quality
universities will close on their own. For that to happen, we
first need to educate people to help them understand which universities
are providing quality education.
Since the salaries of university teachers are so low right now,
some of them are behaving in unethical ways, taking bribes. We
recently started a program to combat this. All first-year university
students were switched to a 100-point credit system. The student
earns 50 out of 100 points just by attending class, taking notes
and answering the teacher's questions. The other 50 points are
earned during the final written exam. The teacher is not present
during the exam. If this program works, we will apply it to all
We have nearly 4,000 students studying abroad in various countries,
such as the U.S., UK, Japan, France, Turkey and China. We work
closely with both the American and French embassies in Baku to
set up short- and long-term study programs. In turn, there are
nearly 4,000 international students studying in Azerbaijan.
Limits on U.S.
Section 907* affects us across the board. Armenia has received
$60 million from the U.S. just for its educational system, but
Azerbaijan has only received $5 million. This is the result of
907. No American universities have serious relations with our
state universities. This is also the result of 907. It's very
unfair. I'm sure that the American people don't know anything
about this. If they did, they would have influenced Congress.
I think every single Azerbaijani is guilty. We could do 100 times
more in Azerbaijan, but people, including officials, put obstacles
in our way and are always trying to block us. All of the problems
we face today, including Karabakh, are really of our own making.
* Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, passed by the U.S.
Congress in 1992, denies all U.S. aid to the Azerbaijan government.
(7.4) Winter 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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