According to Soviet government statistics, literacy in Turkmenistan was nearly universal in 1991. Experts considered the overall level of education to be comparable to the average for the Soviet republics. According to the 1989 census, 65.1 percent of the population aged fifteen or older had completed secondary school, compared with 45.6 percent in 1979. In the same period, the percentage of citizens who had completed a higher education rose from 6.4 percent to 8.3 percent. In 1993, approximately 92 percent of the school age population was enrolled in the school system, spending an average of 5 years in school.
Education is free of charge; although, introduction of fees is being considered by selected institutions. Formal schooling begins with kindergarten (bagcha) and primary school (mekdep). School attendance is compulsory through the eighth grade. At this point, students are tested and directed into technical, continuing, and discontinuing tracks. Some students graduate to the workforce after completing the tenth grade, while others leave in the ninth grade to enter a trade or technical school.
The education sector has also been undergoing major reforms as it tries to adapt to the needs of a market economy and of the next century. It is the largest branch of the social sector, employing 47 percent of workers in the social sector, and receiving 61.5 percent of state budget expenditures allocated for social and cultural measures in 1994. Turkmenistan has achieved great success in education. By 1989 the level of literacy had reached 99.6 percent, and the number of workers with higher and secondary education is growing at an increasing rate. However, a new education policy was introduced in 1993 with a view to adapting the education and training system to the future needs of the country. A similar process is under way with respect to science and technology, in order to reorient the areas of priority from away those required by the former Soviet Union toward the priorities of the new state.
The Collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 not only brought independence to the countries of the region, it also accelerated the development of new attitudes toward education. Free education and an extremely high (99 percent) literacy level were major achievements of the Central Asian countries as a part of the former Soviet Union in terms of human development. The next challenge was to maintain these achievement levels within relatively less centralized administrative structures. As soon as public education in Central Asia lost its compulsory and universal nature after 1991, internal efficiency plunged under the budgetary constraints of the transition period. It took three to four painful years for public opinion in Central Asian countries to accept that their decentralized education systems were faced with imminent collapse. The regional and local authorities that had taken over the running of the schools simply did not have the necessary human or financial resources to ensure state backing at the previous levels. This structural adjustment effectively blocked the quantitative expansion of the systems; double and triple shift systems were brought in to compensate. In order to stop the decline of internal efficiency, strong central authority was reestablished.
In Turkmenistan an education sector review process was conducted from February through July 1997. The purpose of the review was to analyze strengths and weaknesses of the system of education and training, to recommend solutions to priority problems, and to outline possible priority areas for investment. Reforms of the education system in Turkmenistan are being implemented in accordance with the National Program of New Education Policy Implementation of the President of Turkmenistan, 1993 to 1997. The report has been prepared in two parts on the education and training systems, including a detailed description of the system, explanation of recent reforms, identification of problems, and recommendations for solutions. The review covers such education sections as Basic Education, Vocational Training, and Higher Education. This report is subject to caveats that the findings and recommendations can only be tentative, subject to further elaboration, study, and change.
Although the education system in Turkmenistan retains the centralized structural framework of the Soviet system, significant modifications are underway, partly as a response to national redefinition, but mainly as a result of the government's attempts to produce a highly skilled workforce to promote Turkmenistan's participation in international commercial activities. Reforms also include cultural goals such as the writing of a new history of Turkmenistan; the training of multilingual cadres able to function in Turkmen, English, and Russian; and the implementation of alphabet reform in schools.
Turkmenistan's educational establishment is funded and administered by the state. The Ministry of Education is responsible for secondary education and oversees about 1,800 schools offering some or all of the secondary grades. Of that number, 43.5 percent are operated on one shift and 56.5 percent on two shifts (primarily in cities). Secondary schools have 66,192 teachers who serve 831,000 students. Thirty-six secondary schools specialize in topics relevant to their ministerial affiliation. The primary and secondary systems are being restructured according to Western models, including shorter curricula, more vocational training, and human resource development.
Instruction in 77 percent of primary and general schools is in Turkmen; although, the 16 percent of schools that use Russian as their primary language generally are regarded as providing a better education. Some schools also instruct in the languages of the nation's Uzbek and Kazak minorities. Especially since the adoption of Turkmen as the "state language" and English as the "second state language," the study of these two languages has gained importance in the curriculum, and adults feel pressure to learn Turkmen in special courses offered at schools or at their workplaces.
The percentage of women within the total workforce of Turkmenistan was 41.7 in 1989, reflecting a near constant since 1970 (39.5). The percentage of women within the total number of specialists in the work force who have completed middle and upper special education rose from 44.0 in 1970 to 49.4 in 1989. Workers under thirty years of age who have completed a secondary general education accounted for 66.4 percent of Turkmenistan's work force in 1989; those with middle specialized education, 16.0 percent; those with an incomplete higher education, 1.6 percent; and those with a complete higher education, 8.7 percent. Plans call for the Ministry of Labor to be replaced by a State Corporation for Specialist Training, with the bulk of the ministry's non-training functions to shift to the Ministry of Economy, Finance, and Banking.
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