In recent years, media stories in Kyrgyzstan have been dominated by scandals and tales of political gain, with policy discussion rarely capturing the public’s attention. It was, therefore, remarkable that in October, the video of a parliamentary hearing on a proposed bill on public education went viral on social media, garnering 357,000 views and over 2,600 comments on Instagram and catapulting local teachers into the national spotlight. The bill, which evolved based on NDI programming on citizen engagement in policy making, elicited impassioned recommendations at the hearing and touched many Kyrgyz citizens throughout the country with the promise of educational solutions.
Despite a number of reforms undertaken in recent years, Kyrgyzstan’s public education has remained a top issue of public concern. The average student testing scores continue falling from year to year, according to the data of the national testing authority. As reflected by Gapyr Madaminov, a teacher from the Batken province who participated in the bill hearing, “About 60-70% of children in Kyrgyzstan do not have access to preschool education. There are generations of children who are not ready for elementary school. This is the reason why we all must support the bill.”.
As part of its programming on the policy development process, NDI has been helping factions and other parliamentary bodies to develop feedback channels with the public and civil society. In a system where decisions are routinely made behind closed doors, NDI has helped its partners to open up the process, soliciting opinions from citizens through a variety of platforms, including in person public hearings and town halls, expert round tables, online discussions in social media and local TV programs.
Last year, the parliamentary faction of the Alliance party decided it was time to act. The faction wanted to ensure that the new reform would truly serve the needs of those it was meant to help and turned to NDI for assistance in engaging the public. The Alliance faction also realized that it might not be able to pass legislation on its own. It needed to demonstrate public demand and build allies. With NDI guidance on outreach and consultation, over the course of nearly a year, the faction undertook an intensive awareness raising and consultative process. They held discussions with leading education experts and activists, conducted town hall meetings with citizens, led information awareness campaigns, and held consultations with representatives of marginalized groups to ensure their ultimate solution would be inclusive of their needs. Participatory dialogue with civil society experts, teachers and parents’ communities, local councilors and administrations helped the faction to better understand root problems and identify feasible solutions. As a result of those discussions, the bill included measures for independent assessment of education quality; replacing the corrupted and outdated system of accreditation of educational institutions; reducing paperwork for teachers and proposing a program for their professional development and expanding access to preschool and childcare education, especially in the rural areas.
On October 7th, the process culminated with a public hearing on national education policy in the country’s parliament. Following NDI’s recommendations to bring stakeholders into the process, the faction invited several distinguished figures in Kyrgyz education, including headmasters from leading high schools and prominent professors from major universities as well as representatives from other sectors to provide final feedback on the legislation, before it was submitted to parliamentary review. The policy group engaged local media partners and harnessed social media communications, learned from NDI’s consultations on strategic messaging, to communicate joint, persistent and complimentary messages underscoring key aspects of the legislation. These efforts helped to grow public awareness and support for the proposed policy as well as ensured multi-partisan backing with endorsements from the parliamentary speaker, vice-speaker, members of the Forum of women parliamentarians, and heads of other political factions.
While the passage of this legislation is still in process, the broad public awareness and striking support of this bill demonstrated the impact that undertaking inclusive and consultative processes could generate.
NDI's engagement in Kyrgyzstan is implemented with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS).
Authors: Olivia Leiwant, Program officer; Nurlan Abdaliev, Program officer
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.