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Citizenship Education in Azerbaijan

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Citizenship Education in Azerbaijan

Nailya Ismailova, Nurana Mamedova, Narmin Radzhabova, Rauf Radzhabov

/ 19 Minuten zu lesen

According to the authors, the government in Azerbaijan should decide on how to ensure the existence of educational standards which need to be upheld. Civil society should deal with the remaining issues with the help of NGOs. You can learn here more about different aspects of Citizenship Education in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijan (© bpb)

1. General Situation regarding Citizenship Education in Azerbaijan

Regardless of the fact that there are different approaches and opinions when it comes to citizenship education (CE), it has deep roots in Azerbaijan and, over the course of history, we can see some unique initiatives which have been excellent at facilitating the country’s development.

At the end of the 19th century, Nariman Narimanov built the first public library in Baku with the permission of the city mayors, where readers were given resources and had space for discussion . In a short space of time, the Narimanov reading room became popular in Transcaucasia and throughout the entire Russian Empire. The library existed for four years. In October 1898, the tsar’s government closed the library for being a "suspect political institution", which was believed to be endangering the impressionable young people who visited the reading room.

In 1906, an educational society called "Nidzhat" (meaning "salvation") was established in Baku. The society’s membership demonstrated that its main tasks were the enlightenment of the population, the provision of financial support to university students, students at secondary schools and primary schools and the development of the country’s native language and literature. The primary purpose of this society was to provide books and textbooks. The organisation had its own library and branches in the provinces of Bakinskaya, Yelisavetpolskaya (now Ganja) and the Irevanskaya guberniya (now Yerevan).

A year later, the Baku Muslim Spiritual Society "Saadyet" (meaning "joy") was established to support the educational process by opening new schools, libraries and reading rooms for the local population. The head of the society, Akhund Aga Alizadye noted "... our people need enlightenment. Only through education can we help society to flourish on our path to the future. If you are interested in the future, support schools" .

Particular attention was paid to supporting enlightenment and education for the population in the period of the existence of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic (1918-1920) and 70 years later, from 1991, when the country gained independence again.

During the course of the last 30 years in the Republic of Azerbaijan, a number of formats and methods which are innovative for Azerbaijani traditional education have been implemented in a specific manner; in the course of these efforts to transform the traditional educational systems into civic education, facts have been monitored, systematised and described. On the basis of the clarification and comprehension of these facts, hypotheses and theoretical concepts were proposed.

However, this important stage (2013-2017, when the Minister of Education was Mikhail Dzhabbarov) subsequently was not developed sufficiently. This is evidenced by the fact that the concept of civic education is not laid down in regulatory documents nowadays by the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Nowadays, Azerbaijan has an educational system which has changed very little since Soviet times. There are difficulties associated with adapting to contemporary educational models in the Republic.

The educational system in the Republic turned out to be one of the most deeply embedded social/economic constructs. In the Republic of Azerbaijan there are few schools and universities where the teachers’ skills are combined with educational innovation. From the start of the 1990s, the situation changed somewhat in connection with the realisation of projects by western international donors within the framework of civic education.

The vision of civil servants at the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan regarding prospects for the development of education in the Republic bears the following characteristic markers: there is practically no definition when it comes to exactly what changes they wish to make and how in the educational system with the aim of transitioning to civic education; there is a clear interconnection with the efforts made by the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan; the logical credibility of the reforms which have been proposed for the entire system of education and civil society is replaced by the civil servants with a poorly-based categorical approach to the assertion of position of the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

In other words, the educational system in Azerbaijan has the following characteristics: it is ineffective in its use of government funds to finance educational organisations; there is discontinuity between paid and free secondary schools; there is a lack of authority on the part of schools and teachers; there is a "brain drain" abroad.

The worsening situation can be explained by the fact that, nowadays, civic education in the Republic of Azerbaijan has formal certainty, predictability, standards and a declarative nature. Unfortunately, there is a lack of academic substantiation of a scientific/applied and practical nature.

The problem can also be identified as being associated with the lack of sufficient methodological bases for civic education as part of a comprehensive range of studies, taking into consideration the system of understanding and its relationships: the system of fundamental principles, methods, methodology, means and funds for its realisation in the organisation and makeup of the scientific/practical activities for which there are no reciprocal links.

In particular, if the Ministry of Education in the Republic of Azerbaijan concerns itself with increasing public/social responsibility of schools for the final result of its work, the topics for discussion, action and implementation should be specific strategies and mechanisms for approving civic education systems.

Regardless of the formal high indicators (100% literacy, comparably high levels of academic achievement, full quota of children receiving school education), the main educational goal of widening people’s opportunities to define their place in the economy and society is not yet being achieved fully.

The educational system in the Republic of Azerbaijan is still isolated from the demands of the global market and is not capable of providing everyone who is interested with the necessary skills, knowledge and qualifications. Teachers are often not capable of teaching children in accordance with modern syllabuses and, as such, lots of teachers have left the Soviet education system and have adapted to the administrative/team style of leadership.

However, the up-to-dateness of approval in Azerbaijan for civic education systems has been complicated by the factors set out below:

  1. the reforms initiated by the President of the Republic, Ilham Aliyev, on social/political and social/economic sectors in the country;

  2. change of the essence of the Azerbaijani nationhood after the restoration of the territorial integrity of the Republic;

  3. awareness of citizens’ values and the intention of creating a civil society in the Republic;

  4. end of the creation of a national idea held together by shared national ideology.

It is worth noting that projects by the Heydar Aliyev Foundation are aimed at changing the worsening situation in the citizenship education system. In particular, programmes regarding "Bring Azerbaijan up to date - New school", "Educational support", "Development of children’s homes and boarding schools" and other projects by the Foundation may play an important role in the development of this sector . One of the main factors which is thwarting the success of these programmes and projects is the fact that these questions are constantly in the focus of the attention of the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan, Mehriban Aliyeva.

2. Definition of Citizenship Education

In the law of the Republic of Azerbaijan entitled "On education" dated 19 June 2009, there is no official definition of citizenship education education. The following text appears in Article 4 of the Law: "The main goal of education in the Republic of Azerbaijan is: raising awareness of citizens’ responsibility to the Azerbaijani government, respecting national traditions of the people and democratic principles, human rights and the freedom of individuals, true ideals of patriotism and Azerbaijanism, preparing independent and artistic-minded citizens and individuals, preparing defensive and developmental national spiritual and human values, encouraging a broad world view, creating the ability to value initiatives and innovation, absorbing theoretical and practical knowledge, promoting contemporary thinking and competitive expert departments; the ability to assimilate systematised knowledge, abilities and skills and continuously improve qualifications, preparing learners for life in society and effective work" .

We see civic education as being a process, in the first place, of acquiring skills, knowledge and values with the ability to take an active and responsible part in the social/political and social/economic life of the country and, secondly, to educate the person/citizen as an individual who has a concept of citizenship (i.e. feels part of a whole, respects obligations and the law).

In comparison with other aspects of education, civic education has significant potential to define motives for social behaviour, actions, value orientations and the world view of an individual.

The content of civic education, unlike general social studies and even legal and political studies, cannot be neutral when it comes to the process of the comprehension and absorption for its learners, i.e. there is a trend to actively and purposefully influence the minds of learners and students and their ability to think critically, create and evaluate defined ideological positions of surrounding activities. In this regard, civic education is education aimed at individuals which seeks to develop social characteristics of school pupils and students, for example to be a citizen of Azerbaijan in a legal, moral and social sense.

3. Ecosystem of Non-formal Citizenship Education

Non-formal education in the Republic of Azerbaijan is increasing the level of qualifications and the acquisition of experience, as well as education according to interests (including a wide range of courses for preparing school leavers for university entrance) and for school entrance. Non-formal education cannot be used for admission to higher education programmes and does not provide any academic qualifications.

Non-formal education in the Republic of Azerbaijan seeks to ensure a specific level of law for all citizens of the country: equal opportunities regarding receiving education throughout your life; individualised knowledge and skills; access to knowledge and skills which are useful for productive participation in various spheres of activity in society.

Extracurricular civic education has received support from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), student organisations, social organisations and youth centres. Problems associated with the performance of the law include the bureaucratism of civil servants and the existence of a legal basis complicated the proceeds of registering new NGOs and, for this reason, they have significantly decreased in number in recent years . The "Law on Government Registration and the Government Registration of Legal Entities" of 12 December 2003 did not change the situation significantly. Nevertheless, the accelerated development of youth centres by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and, later, centres for young people, development and careers by the Youth Foundation was the subject of a new discussion with regard to extracurricular development and offset the weak participation of NGOs, especially in the regions . In this way, these institutions created the conditions for working with international organisations and also for supporting active participation of young people in civil society.

It is worth noting that the UN supports the development of professional education in Azerbaijan . From the perspective of human potential, support for informal and non-formal education is a priority for the UN.

In the words of the Minister of Education for the Republic, Emin Amrullayev, in the Republic there are plans to increase the number of professional educational centres to 50. "In the past two years, as a result of the work that has been done, the number of professional study centres has increased to 35. Including for the purpose of realising the European Commission project, the number of such centres is being increased to 50 and in the coming years we are planning to open even more centres," noted E. Amrullayev at the official opening ceremony for the project: "Professional education and training for the future: support for the creation of centres for advanced professional education in Azerbaijan".

The Minister also noted that work has now commenced to create professional education centres in the Bardinskiy and Dzhalilabadskiy regions and, in Baku and Lankaran, the foundations for new centres have been prepared and project work is underway in Sumgait and Mingachevir . The director of the UN development programmes in the Republic of Azerbaijan, Eltekin Omarov, also underlined that, within the framework of the four-year project by the European Commission to create professional centres in Azerbaijan, there are plans to involve young people and also people with limited opportunities.

According to E. Omarov, the project covers seven professional education centres, four of which are located in Baku and three in Ganja, Sheki and Dzhalilabad. The direction of the training covers the areas of tourism, services and the agricultural sectors.

The project, which has a budget of 5.6 million euros, will run until August 2024. The funds will be directed at the implementation of innovative technologies, the updating of infrastructure, equipment for centres and also the provision of networks for centres.

The main goal of the UN project in the Republic of Azerbaijan is the creation of professional training schools for unemployed citizens. This affects people who were in a profession but did not receive the corresponding specialised education. The creation of special courses and professional training schools in the Republic of Azerbaijan provides jobseekers with a legal method to obtain employment. The UN’s aim is to ensure that young people and those who want to enter the employment market in the country have an alternative choice when it comes to formal education. This project is being realised in the Republic of Azerbaijan for the first time and its aims are, in part, to create jobs and increase the employment rate among the population with the main goal of providing the Republic with resilient development.

In connection with this, it is worth mentioning that, over the past 20 years, western foundations have created dozens of programmes of this kind in the Republic of Azerbaijan, as well as translations of literature and international documents. Programmes by western donors provided various layers of civil society in the Republic of Azerbaijan with the opportunity to acquire a minimum level of knowledge in the field of law and basic human rights and democratic freedoms. In line with this, up to 2014, American foundations demonstrated the most active involvement: the NDI, NED, Republican Institute, Soros Fund, IFES, Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation, Friedrich Ebert Foundation and also the embassies of the USA, Great Britain, Norway and Germany.

For example, with support from the Norwegian Refugee Council, in 2001, the first human rights study centre was set up at school no. 18 in the city of Baku. In 2002, such centres were established in a range of towns and rural areas. Another nine such centres popped up in the following years. As part of the joint project which was prepared for teachers and students, seven textbooks on human rights were prepared: "Human rights education for young year groups" (teaching aid for teachers), "Teaching human rights" (a programme of optional exercises for studying human rights for participants in years 9-11 at general education schools); "Teaching human rights " (teaching aid for teachers); "Path to human rights" (methodological teaching aid for teachers); "Path to human rights" (study aid for learners); "Path to human rights" (supporting materials for parents); "That’s me" (study aid for learners in the younger year groups). All in all, within the framework of the "Teaching human rights" project, more than 100 seminars were carried out with the involvement of 2950 teachers; 42,000 copies of support materials were printed and provided to schools as part of general circulation.

The "School democracy" project was carried out in the 2007-2008 period. From 2009 to the present day, the Baku School of Political Studies has been active and entered the European Council’s network of political schools.

The activities of the Public Organisation of Historians in Azerbaijan, the analytical centre called 3-rd View and a range of other NGOs in the Republic demonstrate the existence of experience in implementing projects in the field of civic education. The published books entitled "Essays on the history of Southern Caucasian countries", "Additional examples from the history of the coexistence of peoples and countries in Southern Caucasia" (in Russian and English), "History and identity: Southern Caucasia and other regions in the transitional period" (in Russian and English) and "A cross-analysis of school books in Southern Caucasian countries" are addressed to a wide group of readers and primarily to representatives of organisations in civil society, universities and academic circles, government structures, young people in Southern Caucasian countries and international organisations working on the problems of establishing peace and coordination between people. In a range of state universities in Southern Caucasia, the books published by the abovementioned NGOs are deliberately used as methodological aids.

Moreover, the Public Organisation of Historians in Azerbaijan developed six study models and six methodological study aids on the history of Azerbaijan as part of the three-year project "Cultural dialogue and innovation in the research of the shared history of the Black Sea area" whilst coordinating EuroClio (association of teachers of European history).

After the introduction of additions and changes to the legislation in February 2015 which regulate the activities of NGOs and their receipt of grants from foreign donors, the realisation of grant programmes ceased. The new legislation made the process of registering foreign donors and the receipt of grants from them significantly harder.

The presence of local grants for a certain measure provides support for local initiatives but the scope of the work of lots of NGOs has narrowed significantly. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning the existence of the Youth Foundation, which is unique in the Caucasian region, and which, for the past eight years, has supported more than 4500 projects (both individual and collective ones), provided financial support for educating more than 660 students abroad and also supported active youth participation in 330 international events . In this way, young people have had the opportunity to directly participate in shaping new trends in the field of civic education.

4. Legal Framework of Formal Citizenship Education

In accordance with the law "On education" of 19 June 2009, the modern educational system provides for formal (culminating in the receipt of a state educational qualification), informal (acquisition of knowledge for the purpose of self-education) and non-formal (knowledge acquired on various courses, in groups and private activities and not accompanied by the receipt of government qualifications) education.

In October 2013, the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan approved the "Government strategy for the development of education in the Republic of Azerbaijan". In particular, this document notes the interconnection between educational curriculums and requirements and also the priorities associated with the social/economic development of the country.

In 2016, on the order of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the State Agency on Vocational Education was created as part of the country’s Ministry of Education and a strategic road map emerged for the development of professional education and training .

5. Stakeholders and Challenges

Schools, universities, NGOs, youth organisations, centres for young people, development and careers, hubs, student associations and public societies are the most active stakeholders which shape civic education in Azerbaijan. In recent years, these stakeholders have been able to demonstrate a few successful examples of coordination: by means of combining knowledge and exchanging experience it has been possible to create a sufficient collection of successful practices for implementing the methodology of non-formal education into formal education. With regard to international actors in the field of civic education actively working at a local level, we can list UNICEF, UNDP, Erasmus+ and SALTO EECA Resource Center, Bosch Foundation, programmes like EU4Youth, Policy Labs, Young European Ambassadors etc. It is worth mentioning that all of the stakeholders that have been mentioned work closely with governmental structures, especially with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and they also consult with local NGOs and other organisations working in the regions, whilst creating an educational programme or project for young people. In actual fact, young people are key stakeholders in the development and expansion of civic education among all age groups. And secondary education plays a vital role in the development of young people as key stakeholders in civic education.

One problem of civic education in recent years in Azerbaijan has been the current reforms of the system of higher and secondary education in the country. The situation regarding legislative recognition is becoming more difficult, as is the certification of non-formal education and the fact that there is not a culture of trust in the activities of NGOs in the Republic and from the powers that be, with a delegation of powers in particular in the field of education.

The government should make a decision on how to ensure the existence of educational standards which need to be upheld. Civil society should deal with the remaining issues with the help of NGOs.

Secondary school, which is an element of the journey from "school to university", does not fulfill the function required of it. The experience of some exemplary schools which has already been systematised and generalised cannot be extrapolated anywhere: the status of most secondary schools regarding people and infrastructure does not allow this experience to be used. Ultimately, in general, Azerbaijani schools are closed off to the world and do not participate in learning/research processes. They are also closed off to the immediate social environment and, apart from rare exceptions, they have practically no close links nowadays to NGOs and business structures. In other words, a characteristic feature of the absolute majority of the Azerbaijani schools is a lack of development when it comes to students, teachers and the whole school.

Openness, modern technical equipment and preparedness for personal development are systematic characteristics of modern models of secondary schools but these trends practically do not relate to secondary schools in the republic, except for some isolated elite organisations. The directors of a range of progressive schools already understand that restricting themselves with boundaries does not offer their educational organisation any prospects. These kinds of schools work with various western international organisations and foundations on pilot projects, provide various network structures, including virtual ones, and participate in lots of international competitions.

Each student across the entire country should identify as a citizen of the Republic of Azerbaijan. Therefore, the mission of the system of civic education in the Republic is to provide people with the opportunity to discover their cultural allegiance. Nowadays, people are not just expected to acquire knowledge and be able to apply it but also be able to understand the development of the subject and process and truly respond to their changing environment. The people of the future are individuals who are always engaging in development and creative activities.

As shown by research in sociology, over the course of a lifetime, a contemporary individual changes their speciality and profession a number of times . Therefore, it is important that secondary schools provide students with knowledge and skills that enable them to fulfil these ideas. The system of civic education is education that enables citizens to realise their will.

Moreover, it is critical to create some main criteria and values for the country’s national ideology. In particular, an educated person is able to distinguish good from evil and has an informed system of shared human values. And shared human values should be imparted to students in secondary schools.

The only reasonable approach to the system of civic education is recognising the fact that it is an industry of the national economy of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The system of education provides services based on demand from the Azerbaijani people. For this reason, the system of civic education requires investment and professional direction to significantly increase the competitiveness of this field.

Skills in interpersonal communication, self-organisation and problem-solving skills in conflicts are some of the prioritised skills in today’s society. In order to obtain these skills, it is not only necessary to implement corresponding programmes in educational courses but the preparedness of teachers and employees in the educational system is also important.

The development of citizens’ skills requires methodological skills from teachers and also voluntary school organisations.

In addition, it is necessary to update government educational standards and study programmes for secondary schools to orientate these to the acquisition of citizenship skills for school leavers. The fact that school subjects connected to knowledge about society are not seen as priorities as they are not linked to the school qualification system or to university entrance examinations gives students and learners the impression that civic education is not a serious subject. However, subjects like "Society and I" can play a key role in shaping thought processes considering values and bases of civic education from as early as teenage years.

If we correlate this situation to that of civic education in the field of formal and non-formal education, it becomes clear that citizens do not have enough scope to express original individual thoughts, support for developing diverging and converging thoughts and opportunities to refute paradigms or express doubt in them. This all demonstrates that education is still experiencing the effects of the post-Soviet period.

Unfortunately, in secondary schools and universities in the Republic of Azerbaijan, the key questions which have been mentioned have not yet been resolved; moreover, the ideological function of civic education in the Republic is an important feature. With regard to ideology in this situation, we have a system of values based on the foundation of political behaviour as a motivation and justification for actions. The updating of problems relating to civic education in the present day is primarily connected to its ideological components. Azerbaijani society is gradually going through a logical stage of de-ideologization and is endeavouring to search for systems of ideological values which correspond to the contemporary development of the Republic of Azerbaijan. This leads to an understanding that the spirituality of society and young people in particular is primarily connected to their world view, which is shaped under the influence of government ideology. Liberal Azerbaijan should have a unified, shared national ideology.

6. References

  1. Citizenship Education in Eastern Europe: Status and Future Trends; From Focus Group to the Network: Story of EENCE / bpb. [https://www.bpb.de/veranstaltungen/netzwerke/nece/265273/citizenship-education-in-eastern-europe-status-and-future-trends-from-focus-group-to-the-network-story-of-eence"] Accessed July 9, 2021.

  2. Biesta G. Learning Democracy in School and Society. Education, Lifelong Learning and the Politics of Citizenship. Sense Publishers. 2011.

  3. Civic Freedom Monitor. [Externer Link: http://www.icnl.org/research/monitor/azerbaijan.html]. Accessed July 9, .2021.

  4. Silova I., Steiner-Khamsi G. How NGOs React: education reforms in post-socialist block. Columbia University. 2007.

  5. Ismayil Z., Remuzalte R. Shrinking Space for Civil Society in Azerbaijan. Caucasus Civic Initiative Center. 2016.

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