Post-Soviet education, part 2: Uzbekistan

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Here are a couple of stories about cotton-rich Uzbekistan.

The first, from a blog called Why Nations Fail, looks at the phenomenon of children being forced to pick cotton when they should be in school. Below is an extract from the blog post specific to Uzbekistan:

… For starters, take Uzbekistan. Why does it have 1/15 of the US income per capita? Perhaps it is because of “human capital” — Uzbekis having less education and education and skills? Well there’s a surprise, Uzbekistan has close to complete primary and secondary school enrollment, and close to 100% literacy. But look a bit deeper, and you’ll see something a little unusual going on in Uzbeki schools.

The basis of Uzbekistan’s economy is cotton, which makes up 45% of exports. The cotton bolls start to ripen and are ready to be picked in early September, at about the same time that children return to school. But as soon as the children arrive the schools are emptied of 2.7 million children (2006 figures) who are sent by the government to pick the cotton. Teachers, instead of being instructors, became labor recruiters. In the words of Gulnaz, a mother of two of these children:

“At the beginning of each school year, approximately at the beginning of September, the classes in school are suspended, and instead of classes children are sent to the cotton harvest. Nobody asks for the consent of parents. They don’t have weekend holidays [during the harvesting season]. If a child is for any reason left at home, his teacher or class curator comes over and denounces the parents. They assign a plan to each child, from 20 to 60 kg per day depending on the child’s age. If a child fails to fulfill this plan then next morning he is lambasted in front of the whole class.”

Children in Uzbekistan bringing in their cotton quota (from WHY NATIONS FAIL, original from EJ Foundation).

The harvest lasts for two months. Rural children lucky enough to be assigned to farms close to home can walk or are bused to work. Children farther away or from urban areas have to sleep in the sheds or storehouses with the machinery and animals. There are no toilets or kitchens. Children have to bring their own food for lunch. In the spring, school is closed for compulsory hoeing, weeding, and transplanting.

So school or no school, children aren’t learning all that much in Uzbeki schools. They are instead being coerced to work. This type of coercion is actually all too common, and is indicative of the sorts of institutions that not only fail to impart human capital to children, but are at the root of much more widespread economic and social failure. “

(c) Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

A more unusual perspective for those of us based in Europe/North America comes from South Korea. The Korea Times reports on Uzbekistan’s efforts to emulate South Korea’s experience in expanding educational opportunities and improving quality. This arose following an educational conference in Uzbekistan this February attended by a number of Korean universities. Here is an excerpt from the article, entitled Uzbekistan all out to reform education:

In an ambitious effort to upgrade and reform its educational system, the Uzbek government, under the initiative of President Islam Karimov, hosted an international educational conference last month: “Fostering a Well Educated and Intellectually Advanced Generation – A Critical Prerequisite for Sustainable Development and Modernization of a Country.” …

Addressing the global forum, President Karimov emphasized that the “National Program for Training of Specialists” his government adopted 15 years ago “stands as an inseparable and integral part of our own Uzbek model of economic and political reforms based on a step-by-step and evolutionary principle of building a new society in the country.”

“The program is aimed at completely rejecting stereotypes and dogmas of the communist ideology imposed in the past, consolidating democratic values in the minds of the people, and firstly, among the young generation,” he said.

The program features 12-year universal compulsory and free education via a “9+3” plan, namely nine years of study in a secondary school and the next three years in specialized professional colleges and academic lyceums where students obtain vocational training in the two to three specialties demanded by the labor market, he explained.

Intellectual treasure

Noting that more than 1,500 new professional colleges and academic lyceums have been built, Karimov said, “We attach great importance to giving pupils not only a broad-scale knowledge and vocational skills, but also to compulsory learning foreign languages.”

“This is the most important condition for active communication of our young people with their counterparts from foreign countries, and allows them to get an extensive knowledge of everything that is going on in the modern world and enjoy a huge world of intellectual treasure.”

The higher institutions play an important role in reforming the educational process and training highly qualified personnel required in the labor market, he said. During the last years their number has increased twice and now there are more than 230,000 students studying at 59 universities and other higher educational institutions, he added.

“The annual expenditure for reforming and developing education in Uzbekistan makes up 10-12 percent of GDP and their share of the spending side of the government’s budget exceeds 35 percent, and this by itself serves as confirmation of the huge attention being paid to this sphere,” he said.

Article is (c) The Korea Times.

Karimov concluded that “The new generation, the educated youth who are free of any vestiges of the past are today turning into a vital driving force for democratization, liberalization and renewal, and the confident growth of the country.”

I will leave you to make your own conclusion, particularly contrasted to the cotton picking story, about whether Karimov’s words sound genuine or not.

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