Join me live: Thurs Aug 13 on SCOLAR Talk

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This coming Thursday August 13 at 9.30am EST / 9.30pm CST, I will make my live streaming/podcast debut on SCOLAR Talk talking about all things higher education in Central Asia. Catch the chat live on Facebook or watch/listen later on YouTube and SCOLAR Podcast.

SCOLAR Network’s poster for our talk on Thursday August 13 – click/tap the image to go to their Facebook page and watch/listen live

SCOLAR Talk is organized by the SCOLAR Network, a dynamic group based in Beijing whose aim is to connect young people in Russia, Central Asia, China, India and Pakistan (and beyond). You can read more about the network below, written in the team’s own words.

I’m really looking forward to talking with Olesya Dovgalyuk from SCOLAR on Thursday and to supporting their excellent initiative. Please join us live or subscribe to their YouTube channel/podcast to hear this and many other interesting episodes.

SCOLAR Network: we are a Beijing-based non-profit youth network, affiliated with but independent from the Secretariat of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. We have several projects under our umbrella, through which we aim to:

  • connect young people from the SCO region, including (primarily) Russia, Central Asia, China, India and Pakistan, with each other; 
  • bridge the gap between university graduates and professionals for career development; and, broadly, 
  • foster innovative collaborations for regional development and popularization of local cultural and historic heritage

Our projects include including Model SCO educational simulation game; Discussion Club, where we meet with experts and diplomats in Beijing; Ladies Circle, where we host talks with the female role figures from the region; Deep Dive, where we visit companies and institutions (including in different cities and countries) to learn about their cultures; and some others.  SCOLAR on Facebook / LinkedIn / WeChat

Kazakhstan publishes its back-to-school plan

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While many countries are still pondering what to do with students come the new school year in September 2020, Kazakhstan – currently under a state imposed quarantine for a second time – has announced its back-to-school plan.

If you’re ready, open your laptop… most students
in Kazakhstan aren’t yet leaving their house
to go back to school in September

The academic year will start in distance learning format for almost all students. Exceptions will be made for the 4% of students who live in remote rural areas and go to small schools with composite (multi-age) classes.

It may also be possible to have some of the younger primary age children back in school if strict sanitary measures can be maintained. These include limits on movement within the school building, better ventilation and cleaning, limited class sizes, and attending school in shifts.

The government recognizes that the learning needs of these children may make it harder and/or less accessible to attempt remote learning – not only does online learning assume a level of technological capacity that these kids may not yet have mastered, but as any parent who’s been through the last months will tell you, it requires much greater input from an adult to help with the learning process.

However, even if younger children do get back to school, it will not be full-time; some subjects will be offered by distance.

This also informs the medium-term strategy, which is for a hybrid of face-to-face and distance learning as the health situation improves.

For primary aged vulnerable students with additional learning needs or from low-income families, measures will be taken to ensure inclusive and accessible learning. These measures are not specified.

Over the summer, the Ministry of Education has been taking on board feedback from teachers and students to improve the national online learning management system (LMS) and preparing materials for teachers to use in the next academic year. For example, online courses have been prepared to support teachers in IT, cyber pedagogy and teaching methods.

Colleges and universities will also start the new academic year in distance format. At colleges, there will be limited face-to-face provision for students on industry-related courses, those who need to do internships, and students in smaller remote colleges. At universities, there may be some face-to-face provision for lab work and courses requiring internships.

Celebrity calling: Supporting Indian students stuck in Kyrgyzstan

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Around 4,000 Indian international students are still stuck in Kyrgyzstan after COVID-19 measures have led to closed borders and calls to return home. This represents almost half of the total number of Indian students in the country – India is the top sending country of international students to Kyrgyzstan (see my 2019 post on this).

Where some governments have provided financial support and chartered flights to help their citizens get home, this has by no means been universal. Individual circumstances and the place where you are stranded may further complicate the options for getting home in the midst of a global pandemic.

Step in Indian film actor/producer and former engineer Sonu Sood, who since COVID-19 began to spread its tentacles has been stepping up and helping out where governments and other organizations have not. From giving out 25,000 face shields to police to distributing food, Sood has become a very modern-day kind of superhero.

He has since turned his attention to helping migrants, arranging buses to get people home to other parts of India. It looks like Sood’s next campaign may be international, trying to bring home Indian students from Kyrgyzstan. In a tweet on July 13, Sood said it was his “next mission” to get them home.

As the COVID-19 situation in Kyrgyzstan intensifies, and with the university summer break now in full swing, let’s hope Sood can do what others have not been able to and help his compatriots return home and stay safe.

On what may lie ahead for Tajik higher education

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A recent radio interview with Umed Mansurov, Vice-Rector (President) for International Affairs of Russian-Tajik Slavonic University in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, shed interesting light on what the future may hold for the country’s higher education sector.

Couldn’t resist this one, even if the link to the topic is tangential…

Mansurov points to a number of reforms that have been introduced over the past 20 years. For Tajikistan, the most significant has been the decision to introduce ‘European standards’ (this means implementing the Bologna Process programme of reforms), which in turn requires the introduction of quality assurance measures such as having degree programs accredited by international bodies.

Mansurov praises the country’s inherited Soviet system of education as having provided a ‘more fundamental and deeper’ level of training, but also critiques both the old system and the Soviet-trained teachers still embracing that era’s pedagogical and scientific norms as outdated and no longer fit for the country’s economy.

The Bologna system is deemed to be more suitable, for example by providing greater opportunities to specialize later by studying for a Master’s degree. The big shift for ex-Soviet countries has been from a typically five year Specialist undergraduate degree – which in the West is often seen as comparable to a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s – to the European model of a three year Bachelor’s followed by a two year Master’s degree. The introduction of a new Master’s degree has been slow to embed in Tajikistan, and many employers, parents, faculty members and students themselves are sceptical about the value of a Bachelor’s degree.

Although Mansurov thinks the opportunities for greater academic mobility offered by the Bologna system are positive for Tajikistan, he realistically notes that “academic mobility is an expensive pleasure”. Mansurov mentions costs such as transport and living expenses, but his analogy could be extended to access to mobility – it remains the case that the small number of Tajik students who get to study abroad tend to be from wealthier families.

In response, Mansurov believes that there should be more inter-regional cooperation among Central Asian universities. However, “coordination [between them] is very weak”. As a result, his university tends to send students to Russia and Belarus for exchange and he says there aren’t many international students studying in Central Asia at all.

As Mansurov, says “much still needs to be done”. For the time being, that’s a comment that could easily apply to almost all efforts to make substantive changes to Tajikistan’s higher education.

You can study abroad, except where you can’t: Uzbekistan restricts students from some Kyrgyz and Tajik universities

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After a minor uproar over Uzbekistan’s February 2020 announcement that its students abroad should return home, the country’s latest announcement about where its citizens may (and may not) study abroad was unlikely to go unnoticed – even as regional travel remains restricted as a result of Covid-19.

A total of 16 universities – 8 each in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – have been identified by the Uzbek government as not providing a sufficient quality education for the ‘level of demand in the Uzbek labour market’.

This recommendation was made on the basis of reseaarch commissioned by the Uzbek State Inspectorate for Education Quality Control of the government as well as on the universities’ test results.

The universities that Uzbek students are no longer to study at are:

Is it time for the Uzbek study abroad cats to head home?

Kyrgyzstan

  • International University of Central Asia
  • Kyrgyz-Uzbek University
  • International Medical Higher School
  • Kyzyl-Kia Pedagogical Institute at Batken State University
  • Osh Humanities and Pedagogical Institute
  • Jalalabad State University
  • Osh State Law University
  • Maylu-Suu Institute of Law and Government

Tajikistan

  • Tajik Open University
  • Khujand State University
  • Tajik State Pedagogical University
  • Tajik Institute of Enterprise and Service
  • Tajik Tax and Law Institute
  • Tajik State University of Languages
  • Kurgan Tyube State University
  • Tajik State University of Law, Business and Politics

Some of the inferior institutions listed above are not a surprise (although this is the first I’ve heard of an Open University in Tajikistan, and I thought I had a pretty decent grasp of the country’s higher education sector) but others do raise eyebrows – Tajikistan’s teacher training (pedagogical) university certainly used to be among the best in the country. Perhaps – let’s hope – it is more a case of Uzbek teachers planning to teach the Uzbek curriculum in Uzbekistan needing to be trained in Uzbek universitires rather than their Tajik counterparts.

There weren’t any universities in Kazakhstan in the list, although some dissatisfaction was raised with the institutions that allow students to enrol without admissions exams and which are fully distance learning (i.e. beyond the current Covid-19 shift to remote higher education).

Overall, this is a rather dismal end of year report for Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan’s higher education institutions, despite the diplomatic language the recommendations are couched in.

It also highlights again the pivot Uzbekistan has been making away from its common Soviet past with its neighbours and towards a more global position in a seemingly relentlessly competitive world. As the report pointedly recommends, ‘it would be better for Uzbekistanis to study at universities in countries that are ranked higher in important university rankings’…

Fighting fake news in Kazakhstan: The case of the university rankings

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FactCheck.kz is on a mission to prove it

In an age of rumours, fake news, and downright lies, the actions of organizations like Kazakhstan’s FactCheck.kz (on Twitter) are a welcome addition to our daily struggle for the truth. With a mission for ‘the right to the truth’ (which works beautifully in Russian as pravo na pravdu – право на правду), they are the first Central Asian based fact-checking resource.

Run by professional and experienced journalists, FactCheck.kz aims to provide the public with reliable independent information from trustworthy sources and, as they say oh so politely, ‘provide an incentive to those who make big claims to be more attentive to the information they provide’.

I came across their work after they ran a fact check on a claim made by the country’s leading university, Al-Farabi Kazakh National University (KNU), that they had been listed as ‘one of Europe’s leading universities’ after receiving a high ‘AA+’ score on a ranking exercise by the Academic Ranking of World Universities – European Standard (ARES).

FactCheck.kz’s verdict?

Manipulation

Firstly, FactCheck.kz points out that this particular university ranking does not compare Kazakh universities with their European counterparts. The ranking uses a ‘European system of assessment’, although as FactCheck.kz notes, their methodology isn’t entirely transparent to begin with, and is geographically incomplete.

Secondly, FactCheck.kz records that the ranking lists each country’s results separately – it covers Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia. While KNU comes out top in the Kazakhstan ranking, there is no comparison either with the other countries, or with leading European universities.

There you have it: clear, simple and to the point. It’s exactly this kind of evidence informed reporting that can help inform and engage a sceptical public to find truth among the headlines.

However, the misleading text is still on the KNU website as of June 10, some two weeks after the FactCheck.kz story was published.

KNU is unarguably an excellent university – indeed, a news release on their site published on June 10 loudly proclaims that they are now among the 200 top universities in the world. Let us see what FactCheck.kz has to say about that.

Adapting to online learning in Uzbekistan (Gazeta.uz)

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Around the world, stories are emerging sharing the experiences of students, teachers and families as they adjust to the ‘new normal’ of distance learning while schools are shut and universities have switched to online delivery. Below is a recent article from Gazeta.uz reporting from Uzbekistan on university students’ adaptation – it’s in Russian but you can run it through DeepL for a decent translation into English.

It’s worth pointing out before reproducing the article that the views are of students at three of capital city Tashkent’s top universities: the University of World Economy and Diplomacy, Webster University, and the Uzbek State University of World Languages. The facilities and resources available to students studying here are quite a bit superior to what’s offered to other students. And the situation outside the capital city often paints quite a different picture with unreliable electricity supply in many rural areas coupled with far less access to internet-connected devices.


Точка зрения. Как студенты относятся к онлайн-образованию

(c) Gazeta.uz, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2020/05/13/distance-learning/

С середины марта во всех учебных заведениях Узбекистана досрочно начались каникулы и дистанционное образование. «Газета.uz» спросила студентов трех вузов о результатах онлайн-учебы и отношении к ней.

13 мая 2020, 13:21

16 марта, на следующий день после регистрации первого случая коронавируса в Узбекистане, школьников и студентов по всей стране отправили на каникулы, а затем — на дистанционное обучение. «Газета.uz» спросила студентов отечественных вузов, как они оценивают учебу в режиме онлайн.

О платформах для дистанционной учебы

Студентка 1-го курса филиала Университета Вебстера в Ташкенте:

Мы перешли на дистанционную учебу 16 марта. В принципе для нас ничего особо не изменилось, потому что мы всегда работали на платформе WorldClassroom. В обычное время учителя грузили на эту платформу задания, а мы отправляли уже выполненные. На эту же платформу они могли загрузить подкасты, чтобы нам было легче учиться. Все остальное проходило в WebEx и Zoom.

WorldClassroom используют все университеты США. Есть версии для ПК, для IOS и Android. В приложении приходят уведомления, если, например, учитель поставил оценку. На главной странице есть ToDo-list, чтобы не забыть ничего. Есть чат для личных и публичных сообщений.

Студент 4-го курса Университета мировой экономики и дипломатии (УМЭД):

После [выявления коронавируса] нам объявили, что учеба будет дистанционной. Студенты выпускного курса начали учебу онлайн спустя полторы-две недели после начала карантина. Студенты младших курсов — немного раньше.

Мы учимся на платформе moodle. Для лекций мы также иногда использовали Zoom. Когда онлайн-учеба только началась, какие-то задания, которые мы и так должны были сдавать, уже были загружены на платформу. Остальное уже потом загрузили.

Бывает, платформа виснет, когда все студенты заходят. Или задания загружаются по два раза, и мы не понимаем, что происходит. Или например, когда мы решаем тесты, вводишь правильный ответ «2», а правильный ответ оказывается не цифра «2», а слово «два». Но это если придираться. Такие мелочи доставляют неудобства.

Не хватает хотя бы каких-то лекций. Сейчас нам просто загружают очень много заданий. У учителей тоже не особо есть время и желание заниматься этим. Они просто загружают все материалы. У студентов таких предметов может быть 10.

Я уверен, что студенты даже не просматривают эти материалы, а просто смотрят вопросы, пытаются найти ответы в интернете, быстрее сдать и перейти к другим предметам. Потому что в день бывает несколько дедлайнов.

Студент Узбекского государственного университета мировых языков (УзГУМЯ):

Дистанционное обучение у нас началось примерно с 25 марта. Сначала мы использовали Telegram, затем частично перешли на платформу moodle.

Нам дают сухой учебно-методический комплекс, чтобы мы сами его переварили, а потом сдали домашнее задание и тесты. Сложность в основном в усвоении материалов онлайн. Их тяжело понимать без объяснений преподавателя.

Выполненные задания мы отправляем по телеграм или загружаем в moodle. Нам в принципе так удобно. Вот только некоторым учителям тяжело. Иногда учителя нам пишут поздно вечером, и я понимаю, что их график сдвинулся сильно. Мне немного жаль их.

Без писанины у нас никак. Мы даже контрольные некоторые писали в тетрадях, потом фотографировали их и отправляли учителю.

Студентка 3-го курса УМЭД:

Есть только один предмет, где требуется писать конспекты. В целом, к третьему курсу такое уже почти не наблюдается. Видеоуроки по предметам у нас не проводятся ввиду отсутствия хорошей скорости интернета у многих студентов.

О разнице между онлайн и оффлайн образованием

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Есть некоторые предметы, которые трудно проходить в онлайне. Например, я учусь на направлении Медиа-коммуникации. У нас есть урок фотографии, на котором мы берем камеру, фотографируем и редактируем. Камеры есть не у всех. Поэтому сложно.

Еще не хватает академической атмосферы университета, учителей. Это же американский университет. Дома, конечно, тоже комфортно, но в университете другая обстановка.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Лекции прошли только по одному предмету. Слава богу, по специальному. Остальное прошло в письменном варианте.

Кому-то нравится оффлайн, кому-то онлайн. Кто-то ложится поздно, не ходит в университет, и это его устраивает. То есть студент особо и не любил ходить в университет. Наверное, таких большинство.

Мне кажется, в онлайне есть свои плюсы. С ним можно немного время сэкономить. Но на лекциях нам хоть и было не особо интересно, но мы краем уха могли что-то услышать, хоть что-то для себя воспринять.

С научными руководителями можно связываться онлайн. Руководители помоложе используют Telegram. Со своим руководителем я могу списываться в основном через почту. А каждый раз названивать ему, чтобы он посмотрел, тоже неудобно. В университете мы могли бы после пар или на переменах задавать им свои короткие вопросы и получать хорошие консультации.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

В оффлайне мы хоть немного, но получали информацию на лекциях. Некоторые из них были очень интересными. Было видно, что учителя готовятся к своим занятиям. На семинарах нас оценивали объективно. Всем студентам были понятны их текущие оценки.

Студентка 3-го курса УМЭД:

Учеба протекает плавно, волей-неволей привыкаешь. Основная проблема заключается в том, что не успеваешь уследить за накапливающимися заданиями, поэтому зачастую приходится даже расставлять приоритеты в пользу тех или иных предметов.

При традиционном обучении количество заданий на вид умеренное. Несмотря на то, что каждый день проводились семинары, подготовка к ним не была такой насыщенной, как сейчас. Зачастую преподаватели оценивают студента по тому, как студент преподносит материал, а не по его информативности. В онлайн-обучении приходится уделять больше времени поиску и анализу информации, чтобы сдать достойную работу, т.к . всё сдается в письменном виде и проверяется на плагиат.

О выпускных экзаменах

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Учеба у нас закончилась 8 мая. Экзамены мы уже сдали. У нас были тесты, по каким-то предметам мы писали курсовые. На каждый экзамен дается определенное время. Учитель может отследить, сколько человек выполняют задание. У нас есть программа Turnitin, которая отслеживает плагиат. Поэтому если кто-то будет подглядывать, то в читерстве его уличить легко.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Мы уже начали сдавать итоговые тесты. Это как онлайн-сессия. Нам сказали, что пока неизвестно, как мы будем сдавать выпускные квалификационные работы. Говорят, их вообще могут отменить. Студенты не хотят зря готовиться и теряют время. Я думаю, это нормальная логика любого студента.

Были ребята, которые начали готовить дипломные работы давно. Но из-за очень интенсивной работы в «модуле» браться за дипломную работу не удавалось. Сейчас нам сказали обязательно писать дипломные работы. Но мы до сих пор не понимаем, как мы будем их защищать.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

Про формат экзаменов точно не говорят. Но однозначно сдавать их мы будем онлайн.

Студент 3-го курса УМЭД:

Экзамены будем сдавать в moodle. Формат, насколько я знаю, будет зависеть от преподавателя. Один из них — традиционная раздача билетов, который нужно будет решить в течение определенного времени.

С одной стороны, не будет такого напряжения, как в аудитории с несколькими десятками студентов и гуляющими из одного угла в другой наблюдателями. С другой, зная, что за тобой никто не наблюдает, можно запросто зайти в интернет и найти нужную тебе информацию, что значительно демотивирует на подготовку к экзаменам. Поэтому у меня к этому пока противоречивое отношение.

О готовности Узбекистана к дистанционному образованию

Студентка Университета Вебстера:

Знакомые из национальных университетов рассказывают, что учителя пропускают уроки, для учебы они используют Telegram, их заставляют писать конспекты. Поэтому я думаю, что Узбекистан пока не готов к онлайн-обучению.

Студент 4-го курса УМЭД:

Некоторые ребята говорили, что если бы платформа лучше работала, можно было бы учиться онлайн всегда.

Неудобно и неприятно, что у нас очень много ненужных предметов. И ладно бы мы проходили их для общего развития. Мы проходим их на таком уровне, как будто бы это наши «спецы». На это уходит очень много времени.

Мне кажется, Узбекистан еще не готов к дистанционному образованию. И это я говорю, будучи в Ташкенте. У меня с сетью проблем нет. Но иногда бывают перебои. В областях у кого-то вообще света по два дня нет. Даже не говоря об этом, просто сама система дистанционного обучения, мне кажется, вообще не проработана.

Карантин дал какой-то толчок. Но нужно хорошо проработать систему, чтобы таких казусов, которые происходят, не было. Даже если они мелкие, они сразу отталкивают студента от самообучения. А студентов, я считаю, нужно либо настолько мотивировать, либо заставить их учиться. В таком возрасте мало кто с энтузиазмом все подряд сам будет учить. Хотя такие есть.

Студент УзГУМЯ:

Учебу онлайн можно было бы продолжить. Но только с тем преподавателем, который разбирается в онлайн-образовании и может разработать нормальную учебную программу под удобную онлайн платформу.

На мой взгляд, Узбекистан пока не готов к онлайн-образованию, но первые шаги уже сделаны. Возможно, лет через 5−10, но не сейчас.

Студент 3-го курса УМЭД:

Я скорее за онлайн-образование, чем нет. У меня появилась возможность самостоятельно распределять свое время и учиться в соответствии с собственным режимом дня. К тому же, усвоение материала дается гораздо легче и интереснее, когда сама нахожу ответы на вопросы.

При появлении вопросов можно без труда связаться с преподавателем, что перечеркивает утверждение о том, что для легкого усвоения материала требуется прямой контакт между студентом и преподавателем.

На данный момент Узбекистан не готов к дистанционному образованию. Исходя из опыта своих сокурсников, могу сказать, что дистанционное обучение подходит далеко не всем. Одна из главных причин — отсутствие нормальной скорости интернета (в основном в областях). Нынешняя ситуация должна стать толчком не только для модернизации образования, но и нашей телекоммуникационной системы в целом.

Coronavirus: The strangers reaching out to Kyrgyzstan’s lonely teenagers (BBC)

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In case you missed this story of hope and friendship that was published recently on the BBC, I’m reposting it here. Written by Abdujalil Abdurasulov, the story looks at how over 100 young adult Kyrgyz volunteers are reaching out to teens around the country to offer them companionship during Covid-19.

It’s a wonderful initiative and I’m sure there are versions of this springing up around the world (please post a comment if you know of other similiar schemes). However, what makes this project in Kyrgyzstan particularly stand out for me is the way it addresses not only the boredom and stress many young people are feeling with schools closed down (although Kyrgyzstan is doing a better job than many places in setting up remote learning) but also known social issues affecting children who grow up without their parents and/or in rural and isolated areas.

The volunteers have also been thinking about how to address communications gaps too, receiving donations of second hand mobile phones that they are trying to deliver through the lockdown to the teens.

The scheme is called You Are Not Alone (Сен жалгыз эмессиң in Kyrgyz) and has received support from the Soros Foundation in Kyrgyzstan.

Here are links to the article in Kyrgyz; the English version was published at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-52587000 and is shown below:


Coronavirus: The strangers reaching out to Kyrgyzstan’s lonely teenagers

By Abdujalil Abdurasulov, BBC News

26 May 2020

Local authorities control documents as an additional measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a checkpoint in the village of Baytik, near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan,
Image captionKyrgyzstan has been under a curfew since March

Like teenagers around the world, Maksat hasn’t been to school in weeks. As Kyrgyzstan imposed quarantine restrictions, the 15-year-old feels isolated like never before. He has been trapped at home with a sister he doesn’t get on with, a father he struggles to communicate with and a mother working abroad.

He is comfortable talking only to an internet chat bot.

Maksat (not his real name) feels alone and misunderstood. He often expresses suicidal feelings – a noticeable change, his teachers say, from the boy they knew before the curfew was brought in.

And then he met a “phone pal” – Jalalbek Akmatov, a university student in the capital Bishkek.

Jalabek is one of around 100 young adults taking part in a project to reach out via phone to teenagers just like Maksat, thousands of whom have been stuck at home for weeks.

The scheme – called You Are Not Alone – was launched after seven teenagers took their own lives in the first two weeks after Kyrgyzstan started coronavirus lockdown in in March.

Jalalbek Akmatov also works as a volunteer at UNICEF
Image captionJalalbek Akmatov is one of more than 100 volunteers acting as “phone pals” to lonely teens

At the time, the nation’s attention was on the poor medical facilities, lack of protective equipment and impact of coronavirus on the economy.

But as news of the teenagers’ deaths spread, a group of activists decided there was also a need to focus on the country’s children and their mental health.

“I was dismayed. We had had one coronavirus death and during the same period [so many] children committed suicide,” said Banur Abdieva, one of the project’s founders.

There is nothing to say the seven deaths were directly related to the lockdown, but people like Kurmanjan Kurmanbekova, a psychologist from a refugee centre in Tubingen, Germany, feared the strain it was putting on children’s mental health.

“And as a symptom of depressive conditions, we get a suicide mood,” she explained to the BBC.

Schools closing in Kyrgyzstan mean many children have limited options for interaction, especially in rural areas where education offers a respite from the relentless drudge of housework and a rare opportunity to communicate with other children.

Added to this were concerns from experts over any potential increases in domestic violence, which could possibly be exacerbated by isolation and parents’ loss of income.

But how do you reach teenagers like Maksat, who live in remote villages?A girl takes part in a traditional danceGettyKyrgyzstan

in numbers

  • Six millionpeople live in Kyrgyzstan
  • 2.1 millionof them are children
  • One in fivedo not live with their parents
  • Almost 73%of children report experiencing abuse or neglect

Source: Unicef

The answer, the project team decided, was to keep it simple – to start a network of volunteers who would befriend teenagers considered “at risk” by calling them up for a regular chat.

“Their aim is to show moral support and engage in social interaction so that the child doesn’t feel total isolation,” Ms Kurmanbekova explained.

Volunteers approached local schools and state education agencies which sent them a list of students in a “group of risk” – mostly children without parents or who live with relatives and may lack attention and care.

There are now more than 100 volunteers and nearly 400 children aged 12 and older in their database – and the list is growing.

Crucially, volunteers are not just on the end of the phone to talk about the problems their new friend is facing – unless the teenager brings it up themselves. Instead, they focus on their new friend’s future goals and potential.

A four-way Zoom call
Image captionVolunteers meet on Zoom to discuss strategies how to bond with their new friends

Take volunteer Ayperi Bolotzhanova, who is 25. She bonded with her 12-year-old phone pal over taekwondo.

“I offered to teach her some tricks and she agreed,” said Ayper. “Now, I send video of my practices and she sends back her own.”

But it is not always easy to take the first step, the volunteers admit.

“I was very nervous before my first phone conversation,” Jibek Isakova, who currently lives in Budapest, recalled. “I was afraid that she would refuse to be my friend.”

Of course, there was distrust: a total stranger calls you up out of the blue and offers friendship. But most of the volunteers found their “mobile relationship” took off after a few conversations. Indeed, the volunteers were surprised how most teenagers were keen to talk to them.

What do they want to discuss? Other than the skills needed to milk a cow – a must-have in rural Kyrgyzstan – they’re much the same things teens across the world want to talk about: K-pop, Instagram, the difficulties of finding love. Drawing famous Japanese cartoon characters and learning languages were other topics that cropped up.

And they were all united in one thing: how much they hated online education during the quarantine.

Every response, every question the volunteers receive from their teenage friends is seen as a success. Jalalbek got particularly excited that – after a difficult start – Maksat sent a photo of him together with his family in the mountains.

For some volunteers, the cause is very personal. Eldiyar Manapov, 24, joined the project because he considered suicide as a teenager. Like his phone pal, he grew up without parents and now feels a particular connection with his new friend.

“I experienced what he is going through now,” he told the BBC. “You are constantly in need of some things like clothes. Children mock you that you don’t have parents. I don’t want him to feel all this pain, I want him to chat, to be distracted.”

Even though the idea is simple, the challenges the activists face are not. One of them – a lack of mobile phones – could easily derail the whole project.

“It’s very difficult to build a phone friendship when most children don’t have personal phones,” said Banur Abdieva. “Volunteers have to negotiate with parents or guardians. Sometimes they even ask teachers if they could come to the gate at a designated time. And it’s quarantine, so they need to sanitise their phone and pass it on to the child.”

Activists launched a fundraising campaign to buy phones for the project. Some people donate their used phones, which volunteers try to deliver to children living in remote regions, a challenge on its own during the lockdown.

“Just imagine how happy my friend will be if he gets his own device,” said Eldiyar, whose phone pal is using a mobile belonging to a cousin. “He will be able to learn more and communicate more. That means he will have less time for all bad thoughts.”

If you’ve been affected by a mental health issue, help and support is available. Visit Befrienders International for more information about support services.

Kyrgyzstan: Distance-learning exposes weaknesses of education system (Eurasianet)

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This is an insightful article by Bishkek-based journalist Ayzirek Imanaliyeva published in Eurasianet on some of the challenges posed by Kyrgyzstan’s necessitated shift to online learning in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. The article was published at https://eurasianet.org/kyrgyzstan-distance-learning-exposes-weaknesses-of-education-system.


Bolsunai Turgunbayeva’s three school-age daughters take turns using her battered old smartphone.

The device has become their main means for getting an education since the authorities in mid-March began a system of long-distance teaching as a precautionary measure against the spread of COVID-19. 

“I have an old Samsung phone, it doesn’t work well, everything takes a long time to load, and the sound is bad,” said Turgunbayeva, 34, who lives in the village of Terek-Suu in the southern and rural Jalal-Abad region. “There wasn’t enough memory, so I deleted all the photos. As soon as we send videos of completed homework, we delete them.”

Because the girls are at different stages of their education – in second, third and sixth grade – they must abide by a routine. The younger ones do their studies in the morning, when Turgunbayeva is at their disposal.

The eldest daughter uses the phone alone in the evening to avoid distractions, because her studies are more complex. At that time, Turgunbayeva must tend to her newborn and do the household chores.

Turgunbayeva said the children are struggling to learn in these circumstances. Some households with even fewer resources may have it worse.

“Parents live in all kinds of conditions – some live well, some badly, then there are people who do not even have telephones and televisions at all. But everybody is having a tough time and the children are not taking in the lessons,” she said.

The one saving grace is that distance-learning is not proving a financial drain, since mobile operators in Kyrgyzstan have created free-of-charge data bundles for schoolchildren confined to their homes.

When the lockdowns were imposed, the government was relatively quick to roll out its remote teaching solution. Classes for the younger children were broadcast on the Balastan kids’ channel. Lessons for secondary and high-school pupils were shown on other stations.

Education ministry

The Education Ministry made the same lessons available on the UNICEF-supported online portal Sanarip Sabak (Digital Lesson). Children can re-watch classes on the site, although there have been problems here. Classes for the second half of May were not uploaded in time and the website only offered the forlorn message of “Lessons will be uploaded soon.”

In the middle of April, around one month into this forced experiment, the Education Ministry was positive about the results, although it was candid about the shortcomings. Organizing feedback with students in areas with low-speed mobile internet has been difficult, and the problem is exacerbated in households where parents lack IT skills or do not have a television, the ministry said.

“Even though we are doing distance-learning only for the first time, our teachers have shown good potential. I would also like to thank local authorities and sponsors for the help they have given to families who do not have televisions and telephones,” Education Minister Kanybek Isakov said at the time. 

Parents have been a little less forgiving, criticizing lessons for being insufficiently stimulating. 

Educational authorities have more recently put a figure on just how many children are struggling to get involved in the feedback process because of lack of resources. Isakov revealed on May 15 that 30,000 schoolchildren do not have access to smartphones and that 4,000 families lack televisions. 

The video-conferencing tools that have been brought in to bridge the lag caused by long-distance learning have not quite lived up to expectations either.

“When distance-learning began, there were many difficulties,” an IT teacher at a high school in the southern city of Osh told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity. “It was very difficult for teachers, no one was ready for online learning.”

Instead, instant messaging apps have been used as a fallback. For the younger pupils, the preference is for WhatsApp, said the Osh teacher, while the older children have their classes conveyed through Telegram. The reason is that young children use the phones of their parents, and WhatsApp is primarily the preserve of adult generations in Kyrgyzstan. Telegram’s functions lend themselves better to teaching, however.

But “many students do not have computers on which to do practical exercises. I give them assignments suitable for phone applications. Students work with Microsoft Office applications: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For video editing training they use Inshot and Viva Video,” the teacher said.

Half the students in her classes ignore her messages, however.

And engagement has dropped somewhat since the Education Ministry announced in the middle of May that progress to the next class will no longer depend on end-of-year exams, but will instead be decided on the basis on coursework.

The lockdown, which has eased a little in recent weeks, has been toughest on the high school graduating class. These students have been kept away from classes in the very crucial year in which they are due to sit their all-important ORT, or General Republican Test. It is on the basis of results from those exams that young people then apply to university. 

ORT exams are still due to go ahead, but at the end of June, instead of the middle of May, as had been planned. Special safety precautions will be taken for students sitting the exams.

In addition to the stress of tests, graduating students have been deprived of important rites of passage, like end-of-school celebrations on May 25. This year, many will instead be collectively marking this milestone online – the first time in the country’s history.

Doing environmental research in Central Asia (online lecture, May 7)

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It’s been longer than usual since I’ve posted, mainly because there’s not much to say about education in Central Asia that’s not related to Covid-19. For a round-up of how the five states have been approaching the novel coronavirus, take a look at my April 1 post (not a joke, sadly). Since then, Tajikistan has finally admitted it too has the virus. Turkmenistan is allegedly still immune. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistann are coping about as well as anywhere else is, and I’ve heard about a handful of innovative initiatives, mainly from Uzbekistan e.g. a move to make all Coursera online courses free for everyone.

Today’s post draws your attention to a lecture on May 7 at the University of Central Asia which, as a result of Covid-19, will be available to anyone with a decent internet connection. Details in Russian and English are below; the lecture will be in Russian. Do join if you can – it looks set to offer some interesting insights into environmental research from a Central Asian perspective.

        MSRI Public Lecture | Открытая лекция ИИГС        
English   7 мая 2020 г., 16:30-17:30 (время бишкекское, GMT+6)
Открытая онлайн лекция
  Стадии проведения исследования в современных науках о природе
Максим Куликов
Институт исследований горных сообществ Университета Центральной Азии

Резюме Современные исследования природы уже давно не носят описательный характер и являются сплавом различных наук и умений. Они требуют от исследователя навыков поиска финансирования для своего исследования, его планирования, требуют знаний в собственно предметной части, сбора данных, навыков обработки полевого материала, статистического анализа данных и написания научных статей. В предлагаемой открытой лекции даётся краткий обзор этапов проведения современного научного исследования начиная от поиска финансирования и заканчивая публикацией в научном журнале.

Биография Др. Максим Куликов является научным сотрудником Института Исследования Горных Сообществ Высшей Школы развития УЦА. Он обладает обширным опытом проведения исследований в области окружающей среды и управления природными ресурсами, а также пространственного анализа и моделирования природных феноменов. Его область исследования включает климат, растительность, ирригацию и горные экосистемы. В настоящее время он занимается исследованиями в области климата и окружающей среды с фокусом на их пространственных и временных взаимоотношениях и моделировании в Кыргызстане.

Формат лекции 
Лекция пройдет в четверг (7 мая) в 16:30 в режиме онлайн через систему Zoom (GMT+6, время бишкекское): https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83038487436?pwd=c2ZLR1NoOVVoanFKc3ZtQXgxMDFPUT09. Вы также можете принять участие в лекции, скачав Zoom на сайте https://zoom.us/signup и используя ID (830 3848 7436) пароль (032283).

Язык презентации
Презентация будет проводиться на русском языке.

Все лекции Университета Центральной Азии можно посмотреть на канале университета в YouTube: www.youtube.com/ucentralasia.

* Точки зрения, излагаемые в ходе данной лекции, отражают мнение лектора и не обязательно совпадают с мнением Университета Центральной Азии или его сотрудников.   May 7th 2020, 4:30-5:30pm (Bishkek time, GMT+6)
Online Public Lecture
  Research Stages in Modern Natural Sciences
Dr. Maksim Kulikov
Research Fellow, Mountain Societies Research Institute
University of Central Asia

Abstract Modern natural research has long ceased to be just a descriptive exercise. Today, it involves a mix of various sciences and opinions. In order to conduct modern research, researchers should have skills in raising funds and planning their work, and should be knowledgeable in their area of study. Researchers should also be proficient in collecting data, processing materials collected in the field, conducting statistical data analysis, and writing academic papers. This lecture will briefly discuss the stages of modern scientific research, from finding funding, to getting research published by academic journals.

Biography Dr. Maksim Kulikov is a Research Fellow with the Mountain Societies Research Institute of the UCA’s Graduate School of Development. He has extensive research experience in environmental and natural resources management as well as spatial analysis and modelling of natural phenomena. His research area covers climate, vegetation, irrigation and mountain ecosystems. Currently he is engaged in climate and environment-related research, with a focus on their spatial and temporal interrelations, and modelling in Kyrgyzstan.

Location
This lecture will be conducted online via Zoom conferencing on Thursday, May 7th at 4:30 pm (GMT+6, Kyrgyzstan time) at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83038487436?pwd=c2ZLR1NoOVVoanFKc3ZtQXgxMDFPUT09. You can also join using the Meeting ID (830 3848 7436) and password (032283) after downloading Zoom at: https://zoom.us/signup.

Language­­­
The online lecture will be delivered in Russian.

Past online lectures are available on the University of Central Asia’s YouTube channel at http://www.youtube.com/ucentralasia.

Ideas presented in this lecture reflect the personal opinion of the speaker and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Central Asia and/or its employees. UNIVERSITY OF CENTRAL ASIA
138 Toktogul Street, Bishkek, 720001, Kyrgyz Republic
Tel.: +996 (312) 910 822 Fax: +996 (312) 910 835
PublicAffairs@ucentralasia.org