BAKU, Azerbaijan — Prior to the Soviet period of Azerbaijan’s history (1945-1991) the nation’s education system featured a strong emphasis on Islamic training. The religious component of schooling was considered extremely important, with students usually beginning their formal religious training around age five in institutions with close links to mosques. Secular elementary schools for Azerbaijanis did not begin appearing until the late nineteenth century. Most Azerbaijani children did not have access to education throughout this early period, and, as a result, the country’s literacy rate was low—particularly among women, few of whom were permitted to attend classes.
During the subsequent Soviet era, the education system in Azerbaijan underwent dramatic improvements. The system became modeled after that of Moscow’s, imposing state control of every educational institution. Literacy rates and education levels skyrocketed, even with complete changes in the script from Arabic to Latin to Cyrillic.
Since gaining independence, Azerbaijan has implemented few structural changes to its education system other than changing the script to a modified-Latin alphabet in lieu of Cyrillic. According to UNICEF, the total adult literacy rate between 2008 and 2012 was 99.8 percent, and the primary school enrollment ratio was 87.3 percent. The Azerbaijani education system is divided into three main levels: primary school, general secondary school and full secondary school, followed by higher education or vocational training. Students generally begin their schooling at the age of six, and each institution must follow a specific educational curriculum. Classes generally start in September of each year and continue until May. Azerbaijani is emphasized as the primary language of instruction, with Russian and English often taught as second languages. The Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan oversees the nation’s education system and regulates any new developments.
Primary education in Azerbaijan generally begins for students at the age of six and spans the first four years of their schooling. The primary school curriculum emphasizes the importance of reading, writing and computing. It also aims to help students develop basic understandings about society and the ability to use logical reasoning. The net enrollment ratio for primary school participation between 2008 and 2012 was 88.4 percent for boys and 86 percent for girls, while the respective net attendance ratios for that same time period were 73.8 percent and 72.4 percent.
General secondary education is compulsory and covers the fifth through ninth years of schooling and ages 10 to 14. The main objectives of general secondary school include developing proficient writing skills, using oral speech to present ideas and exchange information, strengthening logical thinking abilities and using modern technologies and communication tools to facilitate learning. All students are formally evaluated at the end of their general secondary schooling, and those who successfully pass receive a certificate that indicates their candidacy to proceed to the next level of education. The net enrollment ratio for secondary school participation between 2008 and 2012 was 87.1 percent for boys and 84.9 percent for girls, and the respective attendance ratios were 82.8 percent and 82 percent.
Full secondary education comprises the 10th through 11th years of classes and ages 15 to 16. It is during full secondary schooling that students may begin the specialization of their individual educational track. Broad areas of specialization include technical, humanitarian and natural subjects. Students are also expected to gain proficient communication skills in one or more foreign languages. As with general secondary schooling, a final assessment is given at the end of each student’s full secondary education to determine his or her eligibility to continue on to higher education. Successful students receive a state certificate of education upon graduation.
Institutions of higher education in Azerbaijan include both private and state institutions such as universities, academies, colleges, institutes and conservatoires. Institutions can decide which approach they will take to educating their students, choose the precise contents of their curricula and create academic plans for each area of study. An important reform of the higher education system began in 2009, when Azerbaijan began implementing the State Programme on Reforms in the Higher Education System of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Aims of this reform are aligning the country’s higher education with the European Education area and changing its content to fit with the Bologna Process, which it joined in 2005. Resulting developments have included creating a program to improve teachers’ skills and provide retraining in particular fields abroad as well as expanding an existing program that motivates young specialists to find employment in rural areas.
– Shenel Ozisik
Photo: Didier Ruef