Saturday, May 24, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Corruption Destroying Kyrgyztan’s Schools and Country’s Future

Paul Goble

Baku, May 25 – Corruption is now so widespread in Kyrgyzstan’s schools and universities that students are able to purchase grades and even diplomas, a system that is not only undermining the morality and skill sets of the rising generation but putting the entire future of that Central Asian country at risk.
Not only does this system debase the value of degrees, but it means there is now a generation which expects the pay and perquisites of those who have earned such status but who lack the knowledge and skills these degrees are supposed to measure. And the situation is so dire that experts say it can’t be corrected even in the medium term.
In an article in the current issue of NG-Diplomaticheskiy kur’yer, Grigory Mikhailov describes the enormous variety of problems that Kyrgyzstan’s educational system faces, problems that have driven down the level of knowledge there at every level and every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union (
First of all, Mikhailov says, there is a “severe” shortage of cadres. In the mid-grades alone, the schools need 3,000 more teachers than they have been able to hire. Many teachers left in the early 1990s, and “about 90 percent of the instructors have been working for 15 to 20 years;” young people are not interested in teaching.
Over all, in Kyrgyzstan, the Moscow journalist reports, the number of teachers has dropped by 50 percent since 1990.
One reason that has happened, he continues, is that the government “is not in a position to pay” the teachers a living wage. Most do not receive even 100 U.S. dollars a month, and “frequently, they receive much less.” And the system of “voluntary-forced contributions” of various kinds pushes incomes down further.
At the same time, teachers are expected to do more than teach. They are responsible for preparing meals for their students, and they have to look after all aspects of the operation of the schools. In many rural schools, there are no teachers for many subjects, including the Russian language, and so those subjects are not taught at all or are taught by those ignorant of the subject.
Second, the government simply does not fund education in the way that it needs to. In the U.S., governments spend 3700 U.S. dollars per pupil per year. In the Russian Federation, they spend 700; but in Kyrgyzstan at the present time, the government allots all of 110 dollars, far too little to buy textbooks or other basic supplies.
And third – and it is clear from Mikhailov’s article that he sees this as the most serious problem, one that casts an enormous shadow not only within the educational system but over the entire country and its future – there is enormous corruption. Teachers at the university level routinely sell grades, deans and rectors sell degrees, and no one does anything about it.
Indeed, in recent years, those who are sent to check either fail to report anything because they think there is nothing to be done or they themselves take part in the “supplemental income” program, Mikhailov says.
All this taken together, he suggests, is creating a school system and even a nation when “pupils and students do not study for the sake of knowledge but for grades and a diploma.” They want the latter even if it does not have any content behind it because it is “prestigious.” But neither they nor anyone else knows to do with these uneducated graduates.
And because it is the degree rather than the knowledge behind it that they want, students flock into “popular” faculties like law and economics, whose graduates are not needed by the Kyrgyz economy and not studying for those jobs which really exist, something that puts yet another drag on the country’s development.
Mikhail notes that “the powers that be of the country, international organizations and the embassies of various countries including Russia are trying to influence what is going on. … But after 17 years under conditions of insufficient financing and a remarkable level of corruption … [Kyrgyzstan] has lost the chance to markedly improve the situation.”
And as a result, “in the opinion of independent specialists, the educational system of Kyrgyzstan is not capable of restoring the quality that it once had even in the medium term,” a prediction that if true puts the entire future of that country and its society at risk of serious degradation.

No comments: