30 April 2020
During the online conference on response of the education sector to COVID-19 in Central Asia, organized by UNESCO Almaty Cluster Office on 29 April 2020, the Vice Ministers of Education of Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan agreed on the common challenges in distance learning - quality content, OER, digital skills and access to Internet.UNESCO Almaty facilitated the exchange of the 4 countriesís experiences in education response to COVID-19. This is in line with UNESCOís efforts in ensuring continued learning for all children and youth at global level.
The meeting took stock of the ongoing national COVID-19 responses in the education sector in each country and identified the challenges and needs in the area of distance learning so as to better target the future interventions, including UNESCOís support. It gathered together deputy ministers and representatives of the ministries of education in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as UNICEF and UNESCO representatives working in the Central Asian countries and beyond.
Mr. Rustem Bigari, Vice Minister of Education and Science of Kazakhstan, gave a presentation about Kazakhstanís measures taken towards ensuring a smooth transition to online learning. Guided by the capitalís specially formed ĎOperational Headquartersí, distance learning in Kazakhstan is facilitated by 4 forms of major mass communication - Internet (information technologies, used by about 2,400,000 students), television (used by about 800, 000 students), radio (used by about 800, 000 students) and postal delivery (about 3, 800 students get homework through national post service). There are still around 20, 000 students from multi-graded schools that continue their face-to-face learning. It is noteworthy that telecom operators in the country provide unlimited access to 380 educational resources to all the residents of the country. As for the main challenge to remote leaning, according to the Vice Minister, is teachersí computer literacy.
Mr. Nurlan Omurov, Deputy Minister of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic, introduced the implications of COVID-19 for the education system in Kyrgyzstan. The Government declared a state of emergency from 22 March 2020 and introduced nationwide distance learning from 8 April 2020. An early spring break has been announced for all educational institutions in the country. The Deputy Minister, while detailing the distance learning model that suits Kyrgyzstan most, referred to data issued by the World Bank: Only 12.5 % of households in Kyrgyzstan have a personal computer, but 94 % of households have a mobile phone and 98 % have a television. Developing mobile phone-based and TV-based distance learning is therefore a rational decision.
Mr. Laziz Khujakulov, Head of ICT Implementation Coordination Department of the Ministry of Public Education of Uzbekistan (MOPE), presented an overview of the countryís educational response to this crisis with a focus on the Governmentís Strategy for continuing learning at three levels: general secondary education; education sector in general/cross sectoral; preschool education. At present, MOPE has already telecasted 1836 video lessons in Russian, Uzbek and Karakalpak languages, totaling up to more than 900 hours of duration.
Mr. Mohammaddovud Salomien, First deputy Minister of Education and Science of Tajikistan, headed the Tajik delegation. To date, Tajikistan has no confirmed cases of COVID-19, but it has also put in place a set of precaution measures to prevent educational disruption such as setting up a working group to develop regulations on mainstreaming distance learning into the education system at various levels, extending school spring breaks, etc. (Please note that Government of Tajikistan announced first 15 cases of laboratory confirmed cases of COVID-19 on 30 April 30, 2020. All secondary schools, kindergartens are closed until 10 May 2020. University students, except for graduates have been released for summer vacations as of 4 May 2020 and graduating students will be released on 15 May 2020.).
All the participants expressed their appreciation for this meeting and suggested to continue this exchange and discussion of synergies at sub-regional level. Quality content of educational resources; learners and teachersí competencies in ICT; prevention of domestic violence; social and emotional well-being of learners were some of the relevant areas identified for further exchanges.
UNESCO Almaty expressed its commitment to continue this dialogue and facilitate this sub-regional cooperation with proposed list of topics and meetings dates soon.