According to official sources, about 60 percent of Uzbekistan's population is covered under the system of education. The earlier educational system required 11 years of compulsory schooling for both men and women. In 1992 the policy decision was made to change from 11 to 9 years of compulsory education. After nine years of compulsory schooling, students can prepare for higher education in tenth or eleventh grade or turn to vocational training. After graduating from any type of secondary education, an individual can enter a higher education institution to obtain a bachelor's degree and continue study toward a master's or doctoral degree.
Budget constraints and other transition problems following the collapse of the Soviet Union, have made it difficult to maintain and update educational buildings, equipment, texts, supplies, teaching methods, and curricula. Foreign aid for education is desperately needed, but has not been sufficient to compensate for the loss of central funding.
When viewed in general, the Uzbekistan educational system includes:
- Preschool training (preprimary-from three to six years old)
- General secondary education (from 6 to 15 years old)
- Secondary vocational education (from 15 to 18 years old)
- Higher education (undergraduate and graduate-from 18 years old).
Girls and boys are legally considered equal and study in the same classes and schools. Schools are open to all ethnic groups, and minorities in schools are rarely an issue.
The academic year begins on 2 September (the first of September is the Independence Day) or the first working day of September. The academic year ends in June for secondary schools and in July for higher education. Russian was a common language for over 100 nationalities living in the Soviet Union and played the same role as English for the United States. It was also the Lingua Franca of the socialist world that included Bulgaria, Poland, Mongolia, and other European and Asian countries. Without Russian as a common language, Uzbeks (and other ethnic groups) would have to learn Ukrainian, Belorussian, Moldovian, Armenian, and many other languages to communicate with the multinational population of the Soviet Union. Therefore, until 1991, Uzbeks preferred schools with instruction in Russian for their children. To not do so would have put them at a great disadvantage socially. After Uzbekistan gained its independence, Uzbek (not Russian) became the official language of instruction. In 1998-1999, some 76.8 percent of pupils at day schools were educated in Uzbek.
Examinations in the educational system of Uzbekistan are primarily oral. Universities, institutes, and some colleges still have entrance exams. Course exams occur only at the end of the course (semester). State exams are taken at higher education institutions at the completion of all coursework. The grading system of Uzbekistan is numerical. The highest grade is 5 (excellent = A), then follows 4 (good = B), 3 (satisfactory = C), and 2 (unsatisfactory = F). One is never used. Final grades are determined by test scores, papers, attendance, and class participation.
Because compulsory education is freely provided to all children of Uzbekistan, private schools have a difficult time justifying their existence. In fact, they were banned in 1993. Also, since Uzbekistan Law declares the separation of education from religion, there are no religious schools. However, in 1999, the establishment of the Tashkent Islamic University was allowed. Computer technology, thanks to international assistance, is being introduced to educational institutions and training centers. In 1994, the Central Asian Telecommunications Training Center (CATTC) was established in Uzbekistan under the Tacis Program of the European Commission. Training at the CATTC is provided using modern teaching aids, active methods, and individual and group methods by specialists and experts in different fields. The Computer Center at the University of Samarkand provides computer service to departments and research units and collaborates with other institutions and the private sector to run short training courses. At the secondary school level, computers are still rare.
As a result of decline in funding, the printing of books, textbooks, and other publications face numerous difficulties. This problem is common for all NIS countries. Nevertheless, despite obvious difficulties, according to UNESCO, Uzbekistan schools supplied about 60 percent of textbooks as a whole and for some selected subjects up to 100 percent. Publishing houses produced about 149 million copies of over 1700 various titles. From 1992 to 1997, some 174 textbooks with over 53,000 copies were published, including 138 original, 19 translated, 8 parallel in 2 languages, and 9 experimental textbooks. About 170 various tutorials and educational literature in 7 languages are published. Audiovisual materials are usually manually prepared by teachers. With the high price of copying and low salaries, teachers and professors must be creative.
In the Soviet-type higher education institution, most students studied for a full working week (five to six days a week, six to eight hours of classes a day). Evening and correspondence courses were also popular. The first and the second year of the curriculum usually included the study of social science with similar course requirements for all students. Specialization began in the third year and continued in the fourth year. Within this period a student had between 4,500 and 5,000 face-to-face hours of instruction in 20 to 30 subjects, depending on the field of concentration. Curriculum included general subjects like philosophy and economy, specialized subjects determined by the chosen profession, and very specific courses depending on the deeper specialization. Curriculum was very rigid and equal for all students. There were no choices. In the modern system higher education institutions, curriculum is certainly less rigid. However, the authorization of the curriculum is still the responsibility of a ministry, not a particular institution.
The expansion of curricula, including the addition of courses in French, Arabic, and English, has placed new stress on a limited supply of teachers and materials. In the mid-1990s, a major curriculum reform was begun. Western experts advised:
- a more commercial approach to the mathematics curriculum
- more emphasis in economics courses on the relationship of capital to labor
- more emphasis in social science courses on individual responsibility for the environment
- the addition of entirely new subjects, such as business management.
Because such changes involve new materials and a new pedagogical approach by staff, the reform period is estimated at 10 to 15 years. The current transformation of the educational system is performed along educational models in developed countries. According to Gulyamov, "During the process of developing the National Program the experience of reforming education in more than 30 leading countries in the world has been studied" (Gulyamov 1999).
In 1997, President Karimov founded "Umid," a program providing students with educational fellowships for obtaining education abroad. By the year 2000, over 700 students have been awarded the "Umid" Presidential Scholarship to pursue graduate and undergraduate degrees in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Japan. Certainly, returning graduates are expected to bring back "the influence," and those who have finished their studies are employed by the State. The Uzbekistan educators established contacts with the United Nations Organization and separate countries like France, Germany, the Republic of Korea, Turkey, and the United States. Many organizations like Peace Corp (USA), ACCELS (USA), British Council, Merci Project (Great Britain), Goethe Institute (Germany), NAFE (USA), and Save the Children Fund (Great Britain) participate in the educational efforts undertaken by Uzbekistan. For example, the Ministry of Education of Turkey assisted in forming 22 Lycea for over 4.8 thousand students. Another example is the American Council on Cooperation in Education (ANCALS) which within 4 years helped over 222 Uzbekistan students get education in the United States. Finally, within only 2 years, 25 Uzbekistan schools got the certificates of UNESCO Associated Schools Project (ASP).
An American Educational Advising Center (EAC) funded by the United States Information Agency (USIA) and administered by the American Council for Collaboration in Education and Language Study (ACCELS) was established in Tashkent to assist individuals interested in studying, training, and/or pursuing research in the United States. Tashkent EAC also monitors three similar regional educational advising centers located in the other cities. EAC provides ongoing training for the advisors.
Finally, the European Training Foundation (ETF) established an observatory to monitor the vocational education and training in Uzbekistan. It also disseminates the language training programs and helps the European Commission with the implementation of the Tempus program. Since 1994 the latter has financed over 12 projects, including the restructuring of the Geography Faculty at Samarkand State University and the development of a new history curriculum at Tashkent State University.
Education has and will continue to play a significant role in development. First, it increases an individual's internal potential, self-respect, and self-esteem. Second, it makes an individual a better prospect for employment. Third and most importantly, an educated individual gives more back to the society. Unfortunately, the results of education and training are less directly connected to revenue for immediate business growth, which is why the government tends to cut educational budgets.
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