The country has continued to construct kindergartens, even when funds have been scarce, with around 15 new buildings unveiled annually. All are modern, boasting large playgrounds, swimming pools and gyms.
Of course, new residential districts suffer from poor social-educational structure initially, with parents sometimes obliged to take their children to neighbouring kindergartens. “Last educational year, kindergartens were 122 percent overburdened, as construction in large cities didn’t quite keep pace with need,” explains Yelena Mararevich, from the Educational Committee’s Department for Pre-school, General Secondary and Special Education at Minsk City Executive Committee.
Belarus’ Deputy Prime Minister, Natalia Kochanova, is convinced that the statistics indicate a favourable demographic situation. “Our country has registered increasing birth rates for over a decade,” she underlines.
The situation is not so good in villages. Where kindergartens and schools are under attended, they often merge, obliging families to travel to the more populated location.
Guarantees for toddlers
The scheme of allocation to kindergartens is transparent and equal, with applications via a ‘one-stop-shop’ principle, on the day after a child’s birth. The state guarantees each child a kindergarten place, although it cannot promise that the place will be close to home. A ‘Malyshok’ (Baby) bus now operates in Minsk, taking children and their parents to their kindergarten if it’s situated in a different residential district. Brothers and sisters always attend one establishment so, where a senior child already attends, their siblings are guaranteed a place. Even a few years ago, this wasn’t the case.
There are around half a million pre-school children in the country and 75 percent attend kindergartens: 30 percent are under 2 years old and almost all 5 year olds attend, to ensure they are ready for school entry.
Since 2014, parents have been asked only to pay for meals, with the state covering other expenses. Disabled children attend kindergartens totally free of charge, while foster families and families with three or more children pay half the meal fees. Families with two children at kindergarten pay 30 percent less than the full amount.
Minsk is now implementing new forms of pre-school education and, as an experiment, several groups have been formed at secondary schools in the capital’s Pervomaisky District, equipped with play rooms and bedrooms. Children can play, study and become familiar with school routines.
According to parents and specialists, the novelty is a success. Something of the kind was applied in Belarusian schools in the mid-1980s, with an educational curriculum launched for 6 year olds. At that time, the daytime schedule for first grade pupils (aged 6 years) differed little from their kindergarten life. Where schools were overcrowded, first grades operated at pre-school establishments. Truly, history is cyclical.
The most quickly developing Minsk districts — Moskovsky and Frunzensky — have launched ‘family groups’ to solve the problem of overcrowding. Mothers with three or more children receive part-time employment as kindergarten managers, working at home, looking after up to seven children. As well as offering music classes and physical activities, they organize kindergarten parties, and each has access to an open-air playground.
In Minsk, there are eight private kindergartens and more are needed. They tend to run in the better-developed districts and mostly differ from state establishments in asking higher prices, and in having smaller groups of children. All classes follow the unified state programme: Praleska [translated from Belarusian as ‘snowdrop’].
By German Moskalenko