A delegation of educators from Azerbaijan is staying in Stansbury Park with host families this week while learning more about how their nation can better mainstream disabled students in school.
On Monday night they took a break after touring school districts in Salt Lake Valley and stopped by Tooele City Hall to share about their homeland with Mayor Debbie Winn, City Councilmember Melodi Gochis, City Council Chairman Steve Pruden, and Michelle Pruden, a deputy clerk/auditor in the Tooele County Clerk’s office.
But the delegates — Vusala Hasanova, Yelena Israfilova, Ayshan Najafova, Rada Gafarova and Tural Hatamkhanov — also came to learn about Tooele City government and Tuesday’s General Election.
The group also included a facilitator, Sabina Abdullayeva, from the U.S. Embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan’s capitol city, and Cameron Jacobs, an interpreter from Azerbaijan but who now lives and works in Maryland.
The delegation was sent to the Tooele/Salt Lake area by the Open World Leadership Center in Washington, D.C. to observe educational inclusion for children of all ages and degrees of disability, according to a news release from Open World.
Founded in 1999 and based in Washington, D.C., Open World supports legislative diplomacy efforts for the U.S. Congress by conducting exchanges that establish lasting professional relationships between emerging leaders and their U.S. counterparts, according to the release.
After showing two promotional videos on Azerbaijan’s country and culture, Abdullayeva, who works for the U.S. Embassy’s education and cultural affairs office, offered a comparison to explain the size of Azerbaijan.
“We have a little over 9 million people in our country, and the capitol is Baku,” Abdullayeva said in English. “… It’s a big country. Let’s say it’s like the size of Maine.”
Azerbaijan is located west of the Caspian Sea and shares borders with Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Iran and Turkey. It was an independent nation from 1918 to 1920 but then was incorporated into the Soviet Union and became a republic in 1936, according to Britannica.com.
Azerbaijan declared sovereignty in 1989 and independence in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Speaking through interpreter Jacobs, Hatamkhanov, who is a strategic analyst for Azerbaijan’s Division of Education, said his country, despite being forced under Soviet rule for decades, was able to restore its independence and culture after the USSR collapsed.
“… The independence that was taken from Azerbaijan by the Bolsheviks back in 1920, our cultural identity, our history that was taken away by the Russians, we were able to go back to our cultural origins, our cultural roots,” Hatamkhanov said. “This revival affected all Azerbaijani society and government.”
He said 90 percent of Azerbaijan citizens are Muslim, but the country’s democratic government is secular. Oil production is the nation’s largest industry, followed by agriculture, he said. The oil is exported to European countries.
Hatamkhanov said that public education in Azerbaijan is compulsory kindergarten through high school and is provided for free by the government. There are also private schools and vocational schools, plus colleges and universities.
When asked how teachers are viewed and valued in Azerbaijan, Hatamkhanov said teacher pay is based on diagnostic performance evaluations. But regardless of those evaluations, he said teachers should be paid more. Current average teacher pay is about $270 per month.
Abdullayeva said her mother-in-law, who has been a violin teacher for more than 40 years, earns less than $100 per month.
Hasanova, who is an Inclusive Education Specialist, said public education in her country is divided into four categories: general, special, integrational and inclusive. Regardless of severity, each disabled student is entitled to up to nine years of public education.
“All of the children are qualified,” she said. “Unlike other countries, we came to the United States to learn more about your best practices. To avoid separating or segregating children with disabilities from regular public school system.”
During the meeting, Council Chairman Pruden explained to the delegates Tooele City’s executive and legislative form of government, while Michelle Pruden explained the election process. She also explained the voter information pamphlet and ballot.
The Tooele Sister City Committee hosted the delegation’s visit and stay with host families in Stansbury Park. The delegation is scheduled to return to Azerbaijan this weekend.