Wolves, Jackals and Snowfalls - The Long Road to the Village School
Obstacles on the road to education
The village of Gazbabali in Shabran District is located approximately 130 kilometers from Azerbaijan's capital city, Baku. This mountain village is 379 kilometers above sea level and boasts a total population of 351 residents, of which 76 are school-age children. The only school in Gazbabali only provides elementary education; those who want to study further must visit the school in the neighboring village of Amirkhan. This means that the pupils must traverse several kilometers on foot because there are no buses running between the villages.
Wolves, jackals and snow
Gazbabali’s inhabitants say that another reason they are scared of allowing their children to walk all that distance is that the long and unpaved road to the neighboring village runs along a forest in which there are wild animals, in particular wolves and jackals. For this reason, many parents simply refuse to send their children to the neighboring village.
As a result, says Gazbabali resident Nabat Mardanova, many children there remain uneducated and "do not know even how to read or calculate properly".
Two girls in the Jafarov family - Sevinj and Chinara - go to the neighboring school in the village of Amirkhan. The father of the family, Afgan Jafarov, says that it is already dark outside when they return home from school in winter, so he goes outside to meet them every day. The girls say that it is a big challenge for them to go to school every day. "It is very far and tiring but we tolerate it," says the elder sister, Chinara, who is a sixth-grader.
Unlike the Jafarov sisters, most girls in the village of Gazbabali only receive elementary education. Many parents in the village explain that the reason for this is that they are especially scared of having their daughters walk the long distance.
"Previously, all girls only went to our village school. For example, my wife went to school for four years, too. I want my daughters to receive a proper education. However, they often have to skip school, too. In winter, when it snows or rains, we have to make them skip classes because roads become impassable," says the girls' father, Afgan Jafarov.
Another villager, Elnur Aliyev, has also abandoned the idea of sending his two daughters to the neighboring school.
"The girls are interested in studying. But I fear for them. A car hit a child on that road last year. I can't send my kids to the neighboring village after that, can I?"
Impassable road leads to lack of transportation
Hokuma Jafarova, who lives in the village, believes that the state could provide them with school buses that would take their children to schools in neighboring villages or in the district center:
"I went to school until fifth grade. I have three grandchildren now and I would very much like them to get complete high-school education. However, we are constantly worried about our kids because we have them walk to the neighboring village."
Malahat Murshudlu, the chairwoman of the Independent Teachers Association, also told Meydan TV that she thinks that the solution to the problem lies in organizing a transport service for the students.
"District education departments and other relevant state agencies simply need to address this issue to get the Ministry of Education to pay more attention to this problem," she says.
However, the problem is that because of the bad roads, not only do buses not run between the villages, but they do not even come here from the district center. Local residents say that they can only travel to Shabran District in cars fit for off the roads.
Frequent rains and landslides
Back in August 2018, the Azerbaijani State Road Agency announced the completion of the Shabran-Gazbabali-Amirkhanli road, for which 8.6 million AZN (5 million USD) had been allocated. However, a few months after the construction work, frequent rains made the road sink. Local people say that the roads here "survive a year at best" after repairs. The reason is that constant landslides destroy the asphalt road surface, creating the biggest headache for local people in the village located in-between mountains.
Some of the village children go to the Shabran District school. A taxi takes them to the school and brings them back home every day. This service costs their parents about 100 AZN (60 USD), depending on the rate they agree on. However, not all villagers can afford it.
Serious shortage of staff
It is not only in these villages that people face the lack of access to high-school. In Shabran District, of which the village of Gazbabali is a part, 10 out of 47 schools only provide elementary education. A total of 1,121 out of 4,438 general-education schools across the country provide incomplete education. Those are mainly schools in the country's remote mountain villages with small populations.
Teachers are not particularly keen on working in those schools either. For example, there are only two teachers and a principal working in the village of Gazbabali. This is despite the fact that the state promises great benefits to teachers willing to work in remote villages of the country. Teachers under 35 who start working in schools located within a radius of up to 20 kilometers from the district center receive a reimbursement to the tune of 60 AZN (35 USD) to pay their utility expenses and rent. Those who work in villages located within more than 20 kilometers receive not only a reimbursement but also a 100 AZN (60 USD) salary supplement. Furthermore, local executive authorities together with municipal authorities are obligated to allocate land to teachers willing to live far away from urban areas.
Nevertheless, education expert Nadir Israfilov confirms that there is a problem of a serious shortage of teachers. He believes the problem is due to the challenging socioeconomic situation in the country's regions that results in young specialists simply not wanting to work in those schools.
History teacher Habib Alizade, 28, who has spent several years working in remote villages in the country, believes that these measures to attract teachers to village schools are insufficient. "Those should be long-term benefits, and the amount of those benefits ought to be increased," he says.
In the meantime, Chinara Jafarova, an 11-year-old resident of the mountain village of Gazbabali who dreams of becoming a doctor, walks this long, challenging and dangerous road to the school every day in hopes for a better future.
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