Compulsory Education: In the 2000-2001 school year, 1,591,000 Azerbaijani students were enrolled in a total of 4,486 general education schools operated by the Ministry of Education covering grades 1 through 11, the years of compulsory education where most fees are covered by the government. Gross enrollment in the primary classes (grades 1 through 4) and the main classes (grades 5 through 9) averaged 97 percent for boys and 96 percent for girls that year (with net enrollment rates of 89 percent for boys and 90 percent for girls). At the secondary level gross enrollment rates were 73 percent for boys and 81 percent for girls. General education in Azerbaijan is divided into three stages: 1) four years of primary education, where students in each class are taught by a teacher who progresses with them each year up through the four primary grades, 2) main education, consisting of five years of schooling, and 3) secondary education, where students receive their final two years of state-provided schooling.
The violent conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s exacted a heavy toll on Azerbaijani students and the education system in Azerbaijan. 616 general education schools reportedly were captured and destroyed by Armenian forces. This led to the displacement of over 100,000 pupils and 10,000 educational staff members, according to the government of Azerbaijan, with 85,000 displaced children served by 707 schools established in the densest areas of refugee and IDP concentrations.
Although schooling at the secondary level is free in Azerbaijan, by the late 1990s parents of primary students were increasingly asked to pay a certain proportion of the school fees and to purchase textbooks for their children. This is attributable apparently to the economic problems the country was experiencing at that time. With the educational support provided by the World Bank Education Reform Project begun in 1999 and other international donors to the education sector, as well as the gradually improving economic conditions in the country at the turn of the millennium, this trend toward parents' paying increasingly for their children's basic education hopefully would be turned around. It should be noted, however, that improvements began to be seen by the year 2000 in the national economy due to proceeds from a major oil-pipeline project in the country and the development of the petroleum industry through foreign investment. These are not anticipated to immediately change the bleak economic picture prevailing in the country in the 1990s. It is expected that an additional five to eight years of continuing economic improvements would be needed before oil revenues would have a positive impact on government funding in the education sector.
Private Schools: While government-supported schools were the norm for students in basic education at the turn of the millennium, increasing efforts were being made by international organizations and other private funders to create private educational opportunities in the country, especially at upper levels. Statistics on the number of private schools operating in Azerbaijan in 2001, however, are not readily available.
In the 2000-2001 school year, 17,000 pupils attended boarding schools and 10,000 very-talented students attended 39 new kinds of educational institutions—lycées and gymnasiums—some of which may have been privately funded. Special education was provided for about 6,000 mentally and physically handicapped students through 21 boarding schools, 3 "subsidiary schools," and 2 "home-schools," although again it is unknown to what extent these schools were publicly or privately funded.
Textbooks—Curriculum Development: With the World Bank's Education Reform Project begun in 1999, special attention was directed toward revising and improving Azerbaijani textbooks and the curricula used in Azerbaijani schools. As already indicated, significant problems existed with the textbook situation in the 1990s. Textbooks were neither sufficiently plentiful nor of adequate quality to provide students with the necessary instruction in subjects that would have direct applicability in their lives, nor were students given the type of instruction that would enable them to transfer school learning to everyday situations or to competently solve problems in the real world. For this reason, the World Bank education project concentrated heavily on developing new norms for the production and improvement of texts and curricula in the country. A leftover from the Soviet era, two state-sponsored publishing houses essentially had complete control over the production of texts, a situation that demanded reform so that teaching materials could be made more responsive to the needs of contemporary Azerbaijani students preparing for jobs in a globalizing labor market no longer dominated by the Soviet-style centralized economy of the past.
Curriculum—Development: The teaching style in Azerbaijan emphasizes passive learning and generally speaking is not adequately individualized to the needs of each student. Although in some schools, administrators and teachers were ready to implement a more student-focused and active-learning style of teaching by the late 1990s, a lack of appropriate resources on contemporary teaching methods hindered progress in updating teaching methodology in the country. Emphasis during the Soviet era had been placed on learning facts rather than the skills needed to solve problems and apply school-based learning to real-life situations. Consequently, one of the major reforms attempted by the Azerbaijani government in tandem with the World Bank starting in 1999 centered on training and retraining teachers in more child-focused, active styles of teaching involving student projects and activities.
Foreign Influences on Educational System: While Azeri, the main language spoken in Azerbaijan, is the country's official language, only 89 percent of the population spoke Azeri in 1995. Three percent of the population spoke Russian, 2 percent spoke Armenian, and 6 percent spoke other languages at that time. The Azerbaijani language, part of the south-Turkic group of languages, originally was written using the Arabic script, but the Latin alphabet was introduced in 1929. Cyrillic script became compulsory in 1939 when Azerbaijan was well enmeshed in the Soviet system. After independence in 1991, the Russian language was phased out by the Azerbaijani government, and Latin was reintroduced in 1992. Nonetheless, Russian is still commonly used in urban areas such as Baku and Sumgayit and understood in most parts of the country.
By the year 2000 Azerbaijan was cooperating on a regular basis with over 30 countries in the area of higher education and had been admitted to both the Asian and Pacific Basin Regional Committee of UNESCO on higher education and UNESCO's European Regional Committee on higher education. Azerbaijan also acceded to the Conventions on Mutual Recognition of Higher Education Institution Diplomas, Scientific Titles and Degrees and Educational Programs pertaining to the countries of those two regions. Azerbaijani educators were becoming increasingly involved with a growing number of international organizations such as the European Union, UNESCO, and the Soros Foundation, whose programs and projects provided necessary financial supports and technical assistance to Azerbaijani educators and the country's educational institutions.
About 5,000 Azerbaijani students were studying outside of Azerbaijan in about 40 countries in the second half of the 1990s. Key areas of specialization for these students were economics, international relations, business, tourism and the hotel industry, finance, the customs business, and banking. In the late 1990s students from about 50 countries were studying in Azerbaijani schools and universities, focusing in particular on law, medicine, construction, and the oil industry.
Role of Education in Development: Aware of the key role education plays in a country's socioeconomic development, Azerbaijan's government was actively collaborating with many international organizations and donors by the late 1990s to improve the country's education system and training institutions in order to develop the human resources necessary for the country's economic and social development. Unfortunately, problems of poverty and population displacements during the 1990s further exacerbated existing disparities in school attendance across the country. For 6- to 16-year-olds from very poor households in 1999, for example, 97 percent of those living in Baku and Apsheron were attending school but only 75 percent of children from very poor families in the near southwest were enrolled in school.
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