Constitutional & Legal Foundations
Azerbaijan is a parliamentary republic with a strong-presidential form of government. The governing structures were established by the Constitution of 1995, which was adopted by referendum. All Azerbaijanis, men and women alike, are allowed to vote beginning at age 18. Azerbaijan's elected chief executive and head of state, the president, serves a five-year term of office. Since 1993 Heydar Aliyev has been the President of Azerbaijan, having overthrown the previous democratically elected president in 1993. The executive branch of the national government also includes a prime minister as well as a Council of Ministers appointed by the president and confirmed by the National Assembly (the Milli Mejlis), Azerbaijan's national unicameral legislature of 125 members who are elected for five-year terms by popular vote. As of the November 2000 parliamentary elections, the legislature continued to be dominated by the New Azerbaijani Party whose chairman was incumbent President Aliyev. (In that election, substantial vote fraud was protested, and the competition of opposition parties initially was somewhat limited by the government, who eventually relented closer to the time of elections and sought to correct some of its previous measures taken to discourage political competition). The Constitution accords the national legislature the power to approve the national budget and to impeach the President of the Republic. The third branch of Azerbaijan's national government is the judicial branch, consisting of a Supreme Court. While the judiciary supposedly is independent of the other two branches of the national government, in the year 2000 the judiciary continued to be influenced by the executive branch and was rife with corruption and inefficiency. Subnational governance is effected through a system of 59 rayons (rayonlar), 11 cities, and 1 autonomous republic (Naxçivan Muxtar Respublikasi) attached to Azerbaijan.
The police, together with the Ministries of International Affairs and of National Security, are responsible for the internal security of the country. However, in the year 2000 the police allegedly were committing numerous human-rights abuses against Azerbaijanis, such as conducting searches and seizures without warrants, arbitrarily arresting and detaining people, and torturing and beating persons in custody. In general, the government reportedly failed to intervene; though in a few cases, police accused of abusing the rights of others were prosecuted. Harsh prison conditions led to the deaths of some prisoners in 2000, pre-trial detention was sometimes illegally extended, and freedom of expression and of the press was actively limited by the government, despite the participation of opposition parties in the November elections.
Laws Affecting Education: Education in Azerbaijan has long been valued by many of the people, and before the economic and political problems of the late 1980s and early 1990s arose, the general level of education in the country and literacy rates among many segments of the population were relatively high. In 1992, shortly after independence was declared, legislation establishing a new educational system for Azerbaijan was passed: "The Law of the Republic of Azerbaijan on Education." Educational reforms were also proposed in the late 1990s by the World Bank in consultation with Azerbaijani educational authorities, researchers, and other experts. The World Bank's Education Reform Project was approved by the President of Azerbaijan in June 1999 and was being implemented in three phases: 1999, 2000-2003, and 2004. The decision was made to concentrate on improving the first several grades of general, compulsory education, although it was also clear that higher education institutions needed attention, too. However, because a number of private efforts already were being made by the late 1990s to increase quality educational offerings at higher levels in Azerbaijan, the Bank and the Azerbaijani government chose to focus the initial Education Reform Project on measures that would strengthen basic education.
To transform Azerbaijan's educational system from the inefficient, heavily burdened system of the Soviet era, the Education Reform Project had the following goals: 1) upgrading curricular content and developing improved processes for creating new curricula; 2) improving teacher education as well as teaching and learning methods by making teachers knowledgeable of modern teaching methods and making learning a more-active, engaging, and individualized experience for each student; 3) increasing financial resources for educational materials and programming and encouraging the state to dedicate more resources for education; 4) improving methods of education budgeting, creating a better balance between expenditures for educational staff salaries and other educationrelated expenditures, and allowing greater flexibility across line items within the same fiscal year; 5) providing support to build and repair educational facilities and to equip school programs with freshly developed textbooks that correlate well with current curricular needs; and 6) decreasing inequities in education—e.g. between rural and urban students and between impoverished students and those coming from better circumstances. To meet the goals of the Project, the Bank outlined several main areas of activity: 1) creating in-service teacher-education institutes (TEIs) in five pilot districts (Baku, Sumgayit, Lenkoran, Genje, and Nakhichevan) which would pilot the training of more-modern teaching methods involving active learning and projects, support new in-service teacher-education courses, increase linkages between schools and TEIs, train trainers who could replicate the training of other teachers in new teaching methods, and develop small teacher resource centers as part of the pilot TEIs; 2) establish pilot schools (4 in each of the 5 pilot districts, for a total of 20 pilot schools) and involve local community members more actively in the schools; and 3) monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the project interventions by answering specific questions related to the effectiveness of the measures taken in the Education Reform Project. In conjunction with working toward accomplishing the above-outlined goals, the Project was designed to bring about reforms in educational policy-making and in the performance of educational institutions.
Vocational education schools and programs already had received special attention from the Azerbaijani government in 1996, when the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Presidential Decision #16, "On the Measures for Improvement of the Vocational Education System in the Republic of Azerbaijan," on 23 August 1996. This Decision gave vocational education institutions newly recognized status as vocational schools and vocational lycées, and a list of specific professions for which vocational training would be provided was approved. According to the Ministry of Education, new vocational-education initiatives were being promoted by the President in the late 1990s that included developing vocational education according to strategic guidelines, creating new opportunities for the continuing education of workers (especially to manage new technology), and democratizing education.
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