For the past six years, IFES has been active in Kyrgyzstan in the election process as well as civil society and civic education. During both the February 2000 elections to the Jogorku Kenesh and the October 2000 presidential election, IFES conducted voter education programming, election observer training, media monitoring, and pollworker training which involved the production of training manuals for all polling station officials and conducting nationwide training sessions. IFES mobilized its own observer delegations for both elections, and added to its reach by recruiting and training a large number of college students (from its previous Summer Camp and university-election projects) as domestic observers.
In addition, IFES worked actively in the sphere of civic education by sponsoring a Democracy Camp for university students during the summer of 2000 at Lake Issyk-Kul. IFES continued its work with students by training a group of student observers to monitor election-day polling in October 2000. IFES then organized new student council elections based on democratic practices and a more open electoral process.
In the post-presidential election period, IFES has been active in the sphere of civic education by undertaking a textbook and course initiative at the secondary school level. Following a series of Focus Groups with teachers and students conducted in May 2000, IFES began work creating a civics textbook and course for secondary school students. The textbook emphasizes hands-on learning for students, and includes several interactive exercises designed to stimulate student participation and interest in civil society and politics. Following a period of development and discussion with local academics and the Ministry of Education, IFES piloted the textbook in 22 schools in March 2001. At the conclusion of the piloting process in May, a national seminar for participating teachers and administrators was conducted. Following these meetings, the textbook underwent adaptations and revisions using suggestions and recommendations made by local teachers, with plans formed to pilot a revised edition of the book as part of a civics course in time for the 2001 – 2002 school year. The textbook will be published in both Kyrgyz and Russian.
In the spring of 2001, IFES successfully conducted its first Student Local Government Day (SLGD) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan as part of its Civic Education program. The SLGD program presented students with the opportunity to meet and work with officials at various levels of local government. IFES conducted a poll among students prior to this event to determine their most common questions and concerns. Students presented these issues, which ranged from the quality of the water supply to the lack of a functional heating system, and other concerns of the community to members of the local Kenesh. Participating students prepared essays about their experiences with this program that will be used for evaluation purposes. Both students and local officials hailed the SLGD as a productive interaction and an “eye-opening” experience.
During the summer of 2001, IFES/Kyrgyzstan continued its civic education programming by holding two Democracy Summer Camps (DSC) jointly with local NGO and education partners. The first DSC took place at Issyk-Kyl, for students from the northern regions, of the country, with the second in Osh geared to students from the southern regions. During both Camps students gained practical experience in the virtues of representative democracy, and developed newfound appreciation of the importance of tolerance and understanding of diversity. The program also included training in the organization of political parties, with students forming their own political parties based on ideologies assigned to them. Students also received instruction on gender equality and other issue areas of important. The Camps provided an opportunity for students to develop new leadership skills while they gained a new, hands-on perspective on the importance of democracy, human rights, electoral freedoms, and equality and justice for all. It is IFES’ hope that such Camps can be made sustainable for future years, with local NGO partners developing the capacity to conduct these events regularly.Currently, IFES/Kyrgyzstan is introducing its high school Civic Education course to students in pilot schools around the country. The course features an interactive textbook, with a similar, CD-rom based initiative planned for select universities. Other ongoing activities include the student-oriented Student Action Committee (SACs) and Student Local Government Day (SLGD) projects. In October 2001, IFES/Kyrgyzstan’s civic education program achieved a milestone as IFES signed a comprehensive Protocol of Understanding (PoU) with the Kyrgyzstan Minister of Education and Culture, Ms. Kamila Sharshekeeva, agreeing formally to introduce the IFES-developed course and related into the Kyrgyzstani school curriculum. US ambassador John O’Keefe was IFES’ special guest and representative at the signing ceremony. With such support from the Ministry of Education and the U.S. government organizations, IFES aims not merely to introduce a new civic education course into the educational system of Kyrgyzstan, but to present a new teaching approach. The conclusion of the comprehensive PoU with the Ministry of Education and Culture is providing the necessary mandate and backing needed to assure that the course and related projects will continue well into the future.