A collaboration between the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and the government of Kyrgyzstan has the potential of becoming a game changer for future generations of young children in the central Asian country. For the first time, the government is offering access to education for 5- and 6-year olds in a country where children traditionally don’t start school before the age of 7. Backed by the World Bank, the partnership aims to understand how this change in policy gets implemented and ultimate affects the future of Kyrgyz children.
The Kyrgyzstan government recently reached out to educational researchers at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning (CASTL) at the University of Virginia (UVA). The country’s leaders acknowledge that student performance in their country is among the poorest in the world. In order to change this, Kyrgyzstan implemented a new school experience the year before traditional schooling began aimed at 5- and 6-year olds. The goal of this initiative is to have children better prepared and close the existing education gap. Over 2000 schools are participating in the project and is intended to improve future academic outcomes.
CASTL will help guide the evaluation efforts and consult on how to interpret the findings to guide the next level of decisions around how to enhance the program efforts to better impact children’s development. ‘’This change will not happen overnight,’’ says lead researcher Jennifer LoCasale-Crouch from CASTL, ‘’But it has the potential to change lives and really make a difference in the long run.’’
To get the ball rolling, LoCasale-Crouch and her team are trying to get a sense of how the new initiative is going. ‘’We will start by making classroom observations and studying the current quality of children’s experiences in these new classrooms. That will help us establish what seems to be working in the Kyrgyzstan setting and where more support is needed. That in turn will help the country set up a plan for offering the right support for teachers to ensure every child is getting the best early experience possible.’’
Before the year is over, LoCasale-Crouch and her team will travel back to Kyrgyzstan to train local data collectors on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), an observational tool developed by CASTL, to observe classrooms. ‘’That will provide us with a first glimpse of what children are experiencing in these new classrooms.’’
LoCasale-Crouch believes the collaboration between UVA and the Kyrgyzstan government is innovative. ‘’The Kyrgyzstan government takes this effort very seriously. They want to make a difference and that’s why they are paying close attention to the quality of classroom experiences for children. Together we are not just improving early childhood education, we are building human potential.’’