Feruza opened the green door of an unmarked two-story house on the outskirts of Bishkek and began a quiet tour of a building praised in an online forum as an “Islamic kindergarten.”
“The director and deputy director are at prayers,” whispered Feruza, a caregiver at the kindergarten. “Every Muslim here older than three prays.”
The unlicensed kindergarten, Butuz, is one of an unknown number of institutions that are covering a shortage of state-run pre-schools in Kyrgyzstan, while catering to growing demand for a religious education. According to one online forum in the capital, Bishkek, there are at least five such kindergartens in the city. They appear to operate in an unregulated grey area. Officials from the Education Ministry are unable to answer questions about the kindergartens, and do not seem to know how many exist. At the same time, they insist they violate the country’s secular education standards.
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Chris Rickleton is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.