The education system is one of the UK’s most valuable exports
Javanshir Feyziyev, Member of the National Assembly of Azerbaijan, writes about his desire for the UK and Azerbaijan to work closely together to understand the benefits that the UK education system can offer his country.
Anyone who has set out to change an established system of education knows that there can be a long wait to see the effects. It can take a generation for the benefits to become evident.
When I decided to open a school in my hometown of Sheki, Azerbaijan, I was keenly aware of this. However, as the City’s MP too, I also knew something needed to be done to change the way local children were taught. The current syllabus in Azeri schools is best described as a hybrid between the old Soviet system and the Bologna system, which was introduced after the USSR fell. In some cases this led to children not being taught basic concepts until they were in their late teens. It is not surprising that this system was widely perceived as faltering.
I was clear from the start: this school would not be another, like many in Azerbaijan, which effectively provide a child-minding service, but little real education. There was a simple way to achieve this, and that was to take the curriculum entirely from that taught in UK schools. When the pre-school opened in 2017 for children aged 2-6, it was the only one of its kind in Azerbaijan.
Though I was confident in this idea’s potential, I embarked on this plan with tentative expectations. I was astounded by the feedback I received from parents. Some have told me “we don’t recognize our child anymore” – and they assure me they mean this positively!
There is something about the way the UK system teaches children to learn – what it teaches them and at which age - that sets them apart. The parents of our first pupils saw that, and felt their children were significantly better prepared for life.
However, I would advocate more study so we can determine the most effective elements of a UK curriculum and adapt it to Azerbaijan. I would support Azeri pedagogists observing teaching practices in UK schools for around a year, so that they can create a similarly effective curriculum for Azerbaijan. Many young Azeris have already recognized just how valuable the UK system can be and are voting with their feet; of the Azeri students pursuing higher education abroad, two thirds come to the UK.
As a young country, we need to nurture our collective consciousness as we develop our understanding of what it means to live in free society, not only in the first days of liberation but thirty years down the line. There is no more fundamentally important part of this freedom struggle than what we are allowed to teach our children. I am glad that many young Azeris are looking to the UK, and whole-heartedly encourage their efforts to inform themselves.
I firmly believe that the UK’s education system is one of its most valuable exports and hope that the UK and Azerbaijan can work closely together to understand the benefits that the UK system has to offer, and the Azeri people’s willingness to learn from the UK.