Education in Central Asia EurasiaNet

by Nathan Hamm on 9/8/2003

Education in Central Asia
EurasiaNet looks at the state of education in Central Asia.

“Although primary school continues to be free, some
parents, especially in rural areas, cannot afford the new secondary
costs associated with sending their children to study.
Komron Aliev, an independent Tashkent-based analyst, explains: ‘The
problem is that there is not enough money to buy notebooks, there is
not enough money to buy textbooks, there is not enough money for
children’s clothes. There are many poor families where the men have
left to be migrant workers in other countries or they travel around
this country in search of work. Their families are left in very
difficult circumstances.”

There is also no money for bribes, a necessity for high marks. My
students were screwed when they couldn’t bribe me. My school was very
good and the dumb kids there were there because of their parents’ money
or power. I gave a lot of them a “2” (very low) their first semester
(as an aside, a very nervous counterpart told me that 2 isn’t a real
grade, no one is supposed to get it–I said I could care less and made
them write it in the big book while I watched–I’m sure they changed it
later) and they dropped out of my class. I knew teachers who were
fabulous people, but they took bribes to make ends meet. Why?

Aliev says funding shortages also mean that in Uzbekistan
and other Central Asian countries, the teaching profession no longer
attracts the best and the brightest.
“The teaching profession has completely lost its prestige. Men no
longer go into the profession. This year, it seems, there has even been
a shortage of applicants to the pedagogical institutes of higher
learning,” Aliev says.
Although teachers in Soviet times never received more than average
salaries, they did enjoy many subsidies that made life easier. That is
no longer the case.

I think it’s important for these analysts to not be namby-pamby about
this and call it like it is. Bribery is an enormous problem in the
education system and it’s something that absolutely must be dealt with
along with any other reforms. Its existence creates this attitude among
students that studying is not important to their success. Also, I
remember texts and pedagogical methods to be enormous problems. As far
as language instruction goes, it’s all about the grammar-translation
method; no one is taught to communicate. My fellow English teachers by
and large spoke atrocious English and the only students who excelled
got private lessons and had ambition. Also, most of the texts that were
of any value were from the Soviet days. The Uzbek government handily
started to destroy these and replace them with sub-par Uzbek-produced
ones. This creates huge disruptions. At Tashkent State University,
professors of Russian Literature actually had no texts to teach from! Students had to find copies on their own and share them because the government refused to replace or produce them.

There are some positive developments though, but… I wouldnt’ put too much faith in their effectiveness.

Uzbekistan has begun to fund school supplies for
first-graders whose parents cannot afford them, to ensure as many
children as possible enroll in primary school.
Alisher Rakhmonberdeyev, head of the Manizha Information and Education
Center, a Dushanbe-based NGO, tells RFE/RL that decentralizing the
education system, as Tajikistan has started doing, can ensure limited
funds are spent where they are needed by local communities.
Rakhmonberdeyev says private schools, even in smaller towns and some
rural areas, have opened in recent years. He says experience shows that
these schools can provide quality primary education at affordable
prices, relieving some of the pressure on overcrowded state
“When we conducted our research last year in seven regions, we asked
local people whether they would send their children to private schools,
if it were possible, even if fees were higher [than in state schools] .
You know, a third of parents said they would like to send their
children to such schools. Private-school fees in rural areas cost the
equivalent of 2 to 2.5 dollars per month and many parents can afford
this,” Rakhmonberdeyev says.
Tajikistan has also begun to address the issue of girls leaving school
prematurely — a phenomenon that has grown in post-Soviet years. The
government has launched an awareness campaign for parents, to encourage
them to let their daughters finish their education.
“Certain steps are being taken to attract more girls to education.
Whereas at the beginning, in primary school, the ratio of girls to boys
is about one to one, meaning all girls are enrolled, after 9th grade,
the ratio diminishes as some girls quit school,” Rakhmonberdeyev says.

There is also the taboo topic of culture that should be mentioned.
Uzbekistan especially has not been too friendly to its Russian
minority, causing the best and the brightest to leave the country in
droves. Those who had been teaching for years said that this really
hurt education as a whole because Russians tended to by and large be
the best educated group in the USSR. They told me that Russian parents
were more likely to value education in their children than were Uzbeks
or Tajiks. I personally think that this is more of an urban/rural
thing. Rural Russians weren’t really the ones coming off the kholkoz to
manage factories in the southern marches, it was the well-educated
cosmopolitans. Urban Uzbeks and Tajiks have nearly identical attitudes
towards education, and it showed in their kids. As the Russians left,
rural Uzbeks have moved into the cities in droves looking for work.
Just like anywhere, these kids exhibit the attitudes towards school
that their parents have – it’s not that important. The whole myth of
“the great Soviet education system” is a load of crap. These rural
residents, especially in the minority republics, were ignored and
missed out on the good parts of the Soviet system. They were denied the
good education received in the cities, and as a result, a large section
of society missed out on education in Central Asia.
Take for example, “cotton.” This is the time of year that Uzbek and
Tajik students are out of school to pick cotton. Students at elite
schools don’t have to do this “service to society” that lasts from
about mid-September to mid to late-November. Nothing says “Your life is
in the fields” like throwing you out into them for work without pay
when you should be behind a desk. I doubt anyone would call an
education system that does this a good one, and I think it’s
disingenuine to say that what the Soviets gave their Turkic serfs was
anything like what Russians got. This system continues to this day, and
is another reason that the education systems of Central Asia are in
dire straits. Only six months in school per year is no good.
So, what Soviet Central Asia had was better than, say, someplace like
Mauritania, but it wasn’t as good as Russia or Eastern Europe. There
are a number of problems beyond what the authors of this overview hit
on, and they are probably just as, if not more, important than what
they mention.
[Note: to those who might accuse me of having said that Uzbeks aren’t
as smart as Russians – not true. The USSR didn’t give most of them a
fair shake, and I met countless Uzbeks as intelligent as anyone.]

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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