Tajikistan

Nine years of blogging later…

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blogger cat
Cat memes are now an integral part of the blog. I started to include them after a friend suggested (jokingly??) that I should add cat pics to increase readership…

I started this blog back in September 2011 after completing my Master’s degree and having had the chance to write my final report about a subject you all now know I hold dear: higher education in Central Asia.

To begin with, the blog served partly as a personal library, a place to store interesting stories about education, society and politics in Central Asia (and sometimes other parts of the ex-Soviet space) and to monitor developments in the region.

Over time, I started to add my own analysis to stories I read about elsewhere, sometimes bringing together multiple sources to create a blog post. I also decided to provide translations or summaries of Russian language stories for an English reading audience.

In nearly a decade of running the blog, I’ve published 325 posts (around three a month) and there have been over 60,000 views and over 32,000 visitors to the site. The blog has nearly 2,000 followers. Not bad at all for a site that has a very specific focus and which I started out of personal curiosity!

Writing for the blog has been a vehicle for turning my personal interest in higher education and in the former Soviet space into a career choice. As you may know, I moved to Canada in 2015 to start a PhD on – you guessed it – higher education in Central Asia. Alongside my doctoral studies, I’ve had the opportunity to engage in academic and policy research on a wide range of higher education related issues as I sought to shift from a career in university administration to one more focussed on research and teaching.

On September 1, 2020 – the Day of Knowledge in many ex-Soviet countries – I successfully defended my PhD and am now looking forward to what lies ahead. I’ll be giving a public webinar about my thesis research on October 1 through the Centre for Global Higher Education. I warmly invite you to join. Here’s the link: https://www.researchcghe.org/events/cghe-seminar/surviving-a-crisis-resilience-adaptation-and-transformation-in-higher-education-after-the-collapse-of-the-soviet-union/.

I plan to keep blogging about Central Asian education, and hope you will keep reading. Let’s see where the next nine years takes us!

Making it easier for international students to work in Russia

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International cats are now able to seek important office work during term time in Russia

Good news for international students in Russia: updated regulations that came into force earlier in August 2020 make it easier for them to work whilst they are studying.

Previously, international students had to obtain what one Uzbek student calls “an enormous pile of documents” before seeking term-time employment, which was enough to deter that student from looking for a part-time job.

With the change to the law, international students may now look for work during term time with just written confirmation from their university or college that they are a registered student. Neither they nor the employer needs to seek special permission or undertake a large paperwork exercise, and there are no limits on how many hours a week can be worked (as long as the work doesn’t place during a scheduled class). This mirrors the regulations already in place for breaks between semesters.

The thinking behind this policy change is to encourage students who need or want to find work to look for a job that’s more related to the area they are studying. More importantly, this move aims to reduce the cash (i.e. illegal) jobs that everyone knows students are doing.

This is hopefully a win-win for everyone. And what’s not to like about a regulation that reduces, rather than increases, red tape?

Russia’s international students

According to UNESCO, there are 250,658 international students in Russia. This means that just under 5% of the total student population is international – which may not sound much, but it’s on a par with the USA. The top sending countries to Russia are, unsurprisingly, from the former Soviet space with Central Asian countries leading the way: Kazakhstan (65,237 students), Uzbekistan (20,862), Turkmenistan (17,457), Ukraine (15,263), Tajikistan (14,204) and China turning up next with 11,950 students.

Here’s an infographic from RFE/RL showing the growth in international student numbers in Russia in recent years:

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/foreign-students-in-russia/29600284.html

Back to school in Central Asia

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Covid-cat is ready to go back to school (if it’s open)

The impending start of the 2020/21 school year is presenting challenges for teachers, students, parents, and governments around the world. Although some countries have managed to come up with a plan, many are still fumbling in the COVID-19 induced darkness, even with September just around the corner. Here’s a round up of where things stand in Central Asia (with updates as applicable after this was originally posted):

Kazakhstan is one of the countries with a clearly laid out plan of action, which was published in July (so organized!) and which I discussed in an earlier post.

Kyrgyzstan announced on August 18 that universities and colleges would begin the academic year online. There are no plans yet to return to face-to-face learning, which is not surprising given the very difficult time the country is currently having in managing COVID-19. Schools will also be online with the exception of first graders, who will study in person.

Tajikistan has finally admitted that COVID-19 exists, but this has had little impact on regular activities. However, schools did finish the previous school year early (in April) and as a result started back on August 17 – ahead of the traditional September 1 timeline. The additional two weeks will be an adaptation period, according to the Minister of Education, not least to catch up on the time lost because there was no switch to remote learning.

Students will have to follow fairly strict measures such as maintaining physical distancing in the school yard, wearing a mask, and regularly washing hands. As far as possible, lessons are to take place outdoors or in larger indoor spaces to help teachers keep a 2m distance from students and to ensure the minimum 1m space between students.

The August 5 directive from the Ministry regarding the return to school also mentions enhancements to cleaning and sanitary measures, although is silent on how this will be funded and who will do this additional work.

Turkmenistan apparently has a dust problem but does not have a COVID-19 problem. So presumably schools and universities will operate as usual come September.

Update August 21: The Ministry of Education issued directives on the new school year on August 14 (but these were not reported immediately). School will return on September 1 as is traditional, but with some changes to the health and safety regime. These include mandatory deep cleaning before the start of the school year, disinfection after every lesson, daily temperature checking for students, class sizes limited to 10-15 students, shorter lesson times, mask wearing, physical distancing in class (2 metres) and use of larger spaces for classes.

As with Tajikistan’s plans, there is no mention of how this will be paid for or who will do the additional cleaning etc.

Uzbekistan, which did a pretty good job of pivoting to distance learning earlier this year, has not yet decided on the format for the new school year. As at at last week, the Ministry was preparing for both face-to-face and online delivery. New TV lessons were being filmed from mid-August in preparation for online learning – by ‘online’, the government means both internet and TV based delivery.

I checked the Ministry of Education’s website and Telegram channel today (August 18) but there’s no update yet. An August 18 meeting of central and local officials noted that three options are still under consideration (as well as the two above, presumably the third is a hybrid mode) and stressed the importance of ensuring clean drinking water in all schools.

Update August 25: School may return in online and face-to-face format from September 14, confirms the Ministry of Education. A poll held by the Ministry showed that 70% of parents opted for online schooling.

Watch/listen again: My SCOLAR Talk on higher education in Central Asia

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Screenshot from my SCOLAR Talk on August 13, 2020 with Olesya Dovgalyuk

Thanks to everyone who tuned in live last week to watch my SCOLAR Talk with the talented Olesya Dovgalyuk. We had a great time chatting about everything from Ibn Sino (Avicenna) to the 400+% growth in the higher education system in contemporary Kyrgyzstan!

You can now watch a recording of the event here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNEwTwKc0X0

Or download the podcast and take me with you on your next run/walk/drive/wheel! While you’re about it, feel free to subscribe to SCOLAR Podcast to hear more episodes too:

https://scolaronthebeltroad.podiant.co/e/unpacking-the-state-of-higher-education-in-central-asia-with-emma-sabzalieva-38c2639ae8640a/

Thanks again to Olesya and the SCOLAR team for the invite to chat.

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

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

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’…

Covid-19 and education in Central Asia

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With the world’s attention drawn to the coronavirus pandemic for the foreseeable future, this week’s post looks at the current impact of Covid-19 on education in Central Asia.

First, a few shout outs to others reporting on the spread of coronavirus in the region.

For general updates on what’s happening across Central Asia, check out EurasiaNet’s coronavirus dashboard, which is updated daily.

An early analysis has been provided in a brief open access policy memo by Marlene Laruelle and Madeline McCann for PONARS Eurasia. Published on March 27, it offers insights on the political and ideological responses of the post-Soviet states.

And on March 29, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty published its latest Majlis podcast on the topic of coronavirus in Central Asia. Majlis is always worth a listen to so do subscribe to the podcast once you’ve downloaded the current episode.

For education not specific to Central Asia, four suggested resources:

1) track the astonishingly high percentage of the world’s out of school children (currently over 80%) with UNESCO’s International Institute for Educational Planning;

2) read a thoughtful letter to Education Ministers around the world by Professor Karen Mundy and Susannah Hares;

3) follow Alex Usher’s daily blog for responses to Covid-19 in higher education and some important reflection on what may life ahead; and

4) Canada specific but this spreadsheet by Ken Steele is an incredibly detailed and up to date report on the responses of higher education institutions around the country.

OK, now back to Central Asia.

Covid-19 has officially made it to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan but somehow neither Tajikistan nor Turkmenistan has reported any cases as at March 31 when this post was written. On April 1, schoolchildren in Tajikistan went back to school after their spring holidays to classrooms that have been disinfected twice – but not because there has been any coronavirus, of course…

So Tajikistan and Turkmenistan join an illustrious if rather short list of countries that also includes North Korea which are yet to report any cases. On the contrary, as has been well commented upon on social media, Tajikistan’s erstwhile Leader of the Nation Emomali Rahmon has overseen numerous well attended public events in recent days. This includes the national Navruz celebrations that brought thousands of people together in defiance of the global trend for physical distancing.

So it is to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan that we turn to see how they are responding in the sphere of education – it’s business as usual in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s schools and universities for now.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan closed all schools and has moved the spring holiday from March 16 to April 5. Teachers are working from home during that period and a government sanctioned group is working on making alternative teaching and learning arrangements in the likely event that schools will remain closed after April 5.

Pre-schools are working as usual but parents are asked to keep their children at home if at all possible; no child will lose their place at the pre-school if they are not attending.

Colleges and universities rapidly switched to distance learning with an array of technologies available for use. These include solutions common around the world such as Google Classroom, Moodle, Coursera, and Zoom as well as locally built programs. Although the government’s webpage says that universities and colleges should already be familiar with at least some of these forms of online learning, one enterprising news agency has published a list of universities where distance learning is well established.

Students who are unable to travel home are being allowed to stay in dorms but must stay in their rooms. Kazakh students who study abroad and international students in Kazakhstan have had varying fates. Some, such as a group of 54 Kazakh students studying in the Russian city of Samara, were sent home on a free bus on March 30. They will be able to continue their studies at a distance, something that will keep them busy as they complete a mandatory self-quarantine once they get home. Less lucky has been a group of 115 Indian students who are currently stranded at Almaty airport, unable either to leave for home or to get back into the locked down city.

Kyrgyzstan

The response in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, where a state of emergency has also been declared, is similar to Kazakhstan’s (albeit with significantly less funding available from the state). Schools will be shut after a long vacation that runs until April 8. After that, they will continue learning using video lessons which will broadcast on two TV channels as well as YouTube.

To support distance learning, around 400 textbooks in four languages (Kyrgyz, Russian, Uzbek and Tajik) have been made freely available online. A fantastic looking website for school children, iBilim, has been released in two languages (Kyrgyz and Russian). The site is still being tested but kudos to the developers for getting it up so fast. A government hosted learning site is also being worked on but I couldn’t get into it when I tried today. As well as Zoom and Google Classroom, Kyrgyz teachers will also be communicating with their students using WhatsApp and Telegram.

Colleges and universities in Kyrgyzstan switched to distance learning on March 30 following a government directive. Students have also been granted a longer spring break during which time instructors and administrators were asked to develop plans to use technology to support distance learning and to supervise students’ independent work. Students have been advised to return to their family homes and remain there for the time being.

The University of Central Asia is making up to 90 beds available on its Naryn campus in Kyrgyzstan and is providing food and medical supplies to vulnerable members of the local community.

Looking a little further ahead, it’s not yet clear how higher education admissions will be managed. Students finishing high/secondary school this year may end up like their British counterparts i.e. with no final/university admission exams but graded based on their classwork. This has not yet been confirmed. Some universities that hold their own entrance exams (e.g. University of Central Asia) have postponed the exams that are scheduled for this time of year.

Uzbekistan

Mirroring Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan closed all pre-schools, schools, colleges and universities for an early spring break on March 16. From March 30, during the holiday, lessons began to be shown on TV.

Disability rights researcher Dilmurad Yusupov noted approvingly that TV classes have been accompanied by sign language interpretation (except for English classes, where there is a lack of professional interpreters). This ‘Online-maktab‘, as online/TV school is being called, is being broadcast on a range of TV channels to ensure they reach as many people as possible.

The Minister of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education Imomjon Majidov recommended on March 31 that students use the newly available free time to study and do research (he’s clearly not one to waste a good crisis). He will even be using an official Telegram channel, ‘We will defeat Covid-19‘ to set up an online contest for which prizes will be offered by the Minister’s office.

No decision has been made about when students will be able to return to study. A government directive approved on March 27 on distance learning enables the introduction of relevant technologies and approaches to support undergraduate and Master’s students; these are still under development. At least two foreign branch campus universities (South Korea’s Inha U and India’s Amity U) have switched to accepting admissions documents electronically for those seeking admission in September this year.

Until then, the government has been extremely active about keeping people up to date, primarily using Telegram (which is extremely popular in Uzbekistan) and the Coronavirus Info channel, which already has 1.3m subscribers. For example, the Ministry of Pre-school Education issued a post with guidance for parents on how to support their kindergarten/nursery aged children to access and make the most of the new TV/online lessons.

That is where things stand for now, at the end of March. As we are seeing around the world, the situation is changing day by day. I’ll report again if anything major changes in Central Asia.

Catten the curve!

The one suitable way to end this round up is, of course, through the medium of feline:

Thanks to Dr Anne Marie Darling for this work of genius.

Why are Uzbek students abroad being sent home?

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No choice but to home for Uzbekistan’s overseas students

Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Education has announced that Uzbek students studying abroad in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan should return home and enrol at a domestic higher education institution.

The Ministry has been quick to underline that this decision is not connected to the novel coronavirus that has been panicking the world after spreading rapidly in and from China in early 2020.

Instead, the reasons given are two-fold. Firstly, parents of these internationally minded students are apparently concerned about the difficulties of getting money to their offspring. The second issue is that some of the universities where these students are studying are not listed in Uzbekistan’s national ranking. This in turns has led to a question about whether these universities are of sufficient quality for the nation’s next generation to be educated at.

Hm. Something’s not quite right here.

It’s true that students from Turkmenistan who are studying abroad have experienced difficulties with receiving money transfers from home or using their Turkmen-issued bank cards internationally, as I have reported on before. On that basis we could surmise that Uzbek students in Turkmenistan might indeed experience some problems with getting funds from their relatives. Tajikistan has been having a rocky relationship with money transfers too, though largely because the government is keen to scrape as much commission from the companies that are still allowed to operate. But I’m not aware of any potential issues for students in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan.

So yes, there may be some truth to the first reason given – although is that enough in itself to summon all overseas students home? What about those studying in non-Central Asian countries?

As for the second issue of quality assurance, call me cynical but that just seems fabricated to cover for something else. Uzbekistan has barely been able to put together its own national ranking – the Ministry of Justice outright cancelled the Ministry of Education’s first effort in 2018!

Since then, Uzbekistan has proceeded to put together rankings but this is the first I’ve heard of them taking international (i.e. non-Uzbek) universities into account. It seems like an awful lot of work to go through when the country is still in the very initial phases of ranking its own universities.

The recall of students has implications for the students themselves, for the host universities, and for the relations between Uzbekistan and its neighbours.

Uzbekistan’s universities are notoriously hard to get into – not because of corruption (although that’s definitely a problem) but because there are so few places. In 2019, 1 million school leavers competed for under 150,000 places. Little wonder that many of those denied a place at a domestic university look abroad.

In a pattern than plays out across Central Asia, most of Uzbekistan’s international students head to Russia – 26,000 last year alone. But there are significant numbers nearer to home too: more than 4,000 in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and almost 2,000 in Kyrgyzstan. So the loss of these students will have a major impact on the host universities.

This is a particular problem for Tajikistan’s Pedagogical University, which apparently has a whopping 2,500 Uzbek students on its books. Almost all of them are ‘contract’ (i.e. fee paying) students paying around 4,000 TJS (around US$400) per year, which all adds up to a significant amount of revenue for the university and will be sorely missed once the students leave.

Finally, this has ramifications for Uzbekistan’s bilateral and regional relations. Only recently starting to thaw, the Uzbek government has made huge inroads into improving its relations with its neighbours. In higher education this has led to, for example, many new cooperation agreements between universities and commitments to joint research and academic mobility.

This new and unexpected move to recall Uzbekistani students is thus not only surprising, but potentially throws a (small) spanner in the works as the overall schema for Central Asian regional relations had just begun to look more positive than ever before.

More Russian schools for Tajikistan

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A quick primer on how to say ‘cat’ in Russian. Easy, right? Oh, wait…

Here’s an interesting story on the continued growth of Russian language (and primarily Russian government funded) schools in Tajikistan. The story is (c) RFE/RL Tajikistan and author Farangis Najibullah (an excellent journalist; please check out her other work):

No Shortage Of Students As Tajikistan Builds New Russian Schools

Originally posted at https://www.rferl.org/a/tajikistan-new-russian-schools/30384557.html on January 18, 2020

Tajikistan’s parliament has approved an agreement to build five new Russian schools in the next three years, with funds largely provided by the Russian government.

The move shows the Tajik authorities’ willingness to maintain close ties with Moscow and reflects a growing demand among Tajiks for Russian-language education.

During a parliamentary debate in Dushanbe on January 15, Deputy Education Minister Rahmatullo Mirboboev said the schools will be designed to hold at least 1,200 students each.

The Russian-speaking community has significantly dwindled in the Central Asian country as the population of ethnic Russians has fallen from some 395,000 in 1979 to just 35,000 when the last census was taken in 2010.

Despite that, it’s expected there will be no shortage of students for the new Russian-speaking schools.

The demand among Tajiks for more educational facilities in which Russian is the language of instruction has risen both in cities and rural areas in recent years.

There are already 32 Russian-only schools in Tajikistan, with 10 of them established in the past two years.

Dozens of mixed-language schools offer education in both Tajik and Russian classes, taught separately.

Rampant Unemployment

Tajik parents who enroll their children in Russian schools say it will enhance their chances of studying in Russian universities and getting well-paid, white-collar jobs in Russia.

Unemployment is rampant and wages very low in Tajikistan, one of the poorest of the former Soviet republics. The average monthly wage in October was $140.

“My eldest son goes to a Russian school,” says Zahro, a pediatrician from the northern province of Sughd who didn’t want to give her full name.

She says her younger son couldn’t get a place in the Russian school and that he is “currently studying in Tajik” while waiting for a vacancy.

“A longer-term plan for them is to study medicine in Russia, possibly in some smaller cities where living costs are not high,” Zahro said. “The children are working hard, we’re also getting additional private instruction in chemistry and physics.”

Like many other Tajiks, Zahro believes the Russian-language schools in Tajikistan generally offer a better-quality education.

Russian schools are the second-best option for middle-income parents like Zahro, who can’t afford to send their children to private schools.

There are dozens of private schools and lyceums — including English schools — that enjoy a reputation for providing quality education with a broader range of extracurricular offerings, smaller class sizes, and experienced teachers.

Russian Investment

Plans to open more Russian schools in Tajikistan were discussed during a meeting between Tajik President Emomali Rahmon and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Dushanbe in September 2018, the Tajik leader’s official website reported.

Rahmon has always maintained a close relationship with “strategic partner” Russia, which hosts many hundreds of thousands of Tajik migrant workers.

The migrants’ remittances — estimated at around $2.5 billion and equal to about one-third of the country’s gross domestic product in 2018 — is an important factor for Tajikistan’s social and economic stability.

Russia, in turn, has always been keen to keep Central Asia within its sphere of influence, and uses Russian-language education and the lure of economic opportunities as a tool of soft power.

Since August 2018, Moscow has sent more than 100 Russian teachers to Tajikistan — a mountainous country of some 8.9 million people — while also providing textbooks for the country’s Russian schools.

A large portion of the teachers’ wages are reportedly paid by the Russian Education Ministry.

During his annual press conference on December 19, 2019, Putin mentioned the need to open more Russian schools in Central Asia.

“It is more difficult to adapt for those who come, for example, from Central Asia. What can we do? We have to introduce our education systems, open Russian-language courses, Russian schools, and university branches,” said Putin when asked about Russia’s demographic situation and the immigration issues his country faces.

Tajik education officials say the five new schools will be built over the next three years in the capital, Dushanbe, as well as in the cities of Khujand in the country’s north, Bokhtar and Kulob in the south, and the western town of Tursunzoda.