By Asker Sultanov
BISHKEK -- Authorities are taking steps to improve the educational environment of schools in Kyrgyzstan through a project focused on security.
The "Financing Safety Mechanisms of the Educational Environment in Kyrgyzstan" project was launched in February 2017 by the Bishkek-based environmental NGO BIOM, the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung NGO of Bonn, Germany, and the European Union (EU).
It is funded in part by the EU's aid earmarked for the Kyrgyz education sector for 2014-2020 totaling €70 million (5.9 billion KGS).
The project seeks to improve school safety by tackling three priorities: physical security, environmental security and psychological security, Anna Kirilenko, project co-ordinator, told Caravanserai.
Physical security refers to fixing vulnerabilities of the buildings, she said.
Environmental security is related to a school's micro-climate, air and water quality, furniture quality, the products used to repair or renovate the building and the items inside and the landscaping.
Psychological security refers to protecting schools from hacking, online threats and extremist propaganda, improving student-teacher relationships and encouraging non-violent behaviour, Kirilenko said.
Last year the project improved 21 schools throughout Kyrgyzstan, while this year the goal is to improve 11 schools total, according to Kirilenko.
"We are working with three pilot schools in Bishkek -- schools no. 21, 65 and 77," she said. "Not one of these schools meets the requirements for these three components."
Project employees and co-ordinators are meeting with students, parents and teachers to find out what they consider "safe". The respondents evaluate air quality and potential repairs and offer suggestions.
"The teachers, students and parents assess their own school," she said. "After we develop the plan, it comes up at a school conference, where [participants] determine what the school can do on its own -- such as integrating the schoolchildren into the learning process."
Involving schoolchildren in decisions leads to fewer conflicts and less aggression inside schools, Kirilenko said.
Facilitating improved student-teacher interactions falls under the psychological security priority and has been "an area of conflict" in the past, Kirilenko said.
"We're [also]... trying to help teachers and parents interact by creating a psychological and pedagogical service," she said.
Only Bishkek schools have psychologists, so in the rest of the country, school counsellors will work with at-risk students and their families, she said.
"We intend for social workers or the teachers most trusted by the children to take on the role of psychologists," she said.
Another way to boost children's sense of psychological security is to give them a stake in governance with school parliaments and student councils, she said.
Giving students room for creativity matters too. "In School No. 21, we set apart some walls for the kids where they can draw anything they want," she said.
The changes that the project brought about were badly needed at School No. 21, said Erkingul Satybaldiyeva, principal of the school.
"We have hearing-impaired children who live here," she said of the boarding school. "This project has improved their lives significantly."
"Everything was old in our classroom," School No. 21 ninth-grader Ruslan Ismanaliyev told Caravanserai. "It was uncomfortable sitting at [a shared] table. There were no flowers."
"Now everyone has his [or her] own desk and books. The school has been renewed," he said.
Physical improvements included landscaping around the school and better lighting, said Kirilenko, adding that authorities deliberately chose plants that purify the air.
The building now has features like video cameras, renovated classrooms and "heat blowers at the entrance", she said, adding that workers are renovating the sewage system.
"Everything has changed. It is now much more enjoyable for us to learn here," ninth-grader Anastasia Ilyasova told Caravanserai.