Why are there no foreign universities in Tajikistan?

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Fat cat Victor Aeroflot
Viktor the Fat Cat, prepare for take-off to Dushanbe! (If you missed the story of the overweight cat’s stowaway flight, Aeroflot’s response and the internet’s memetastic follow up, read this first)

This is the excellent question posed by Khaidar Shodiev writing for Asia-Plus, the nearest thing Tajikistan has to an independent newspaper. Strictly speaking, the country’s higher education system is not entirely devoid of international universities, with the regional University of Central Asia’s campus in Khorog and three Russian branch campuses all in the capital Dushanbe.

But the bigger question Shodiev is asking in the article links to the broader systemic disincentives for foreign institutions to set up shop in Tajikistan on the one hand, and the lack of discernable will to fundamentally reform the education system from the Tajik government’s side. Yes, it’s accepted a heck of a lot of cash from the World Bank to implement the Bologna Process, but scratch the surface and most people will tell you that the so-called ‘transition’ to this series of European-inspired educational transformations is nowhere near getting off the ground.

The article can be found at https://asiaplustj.info/ru/news/tajikistan/society/20191204/pochemu-v-tadzhikistane-ne-otkrivayutsya-zarubezhnie-vuzi but in case the website gets blocked again, and for non-Russian readers, here it is below after an English translation by me.

Why are there no foreign universities in Tajikistan?

By Khaidar Shodiev

Tajikistan’s higher education institutions (HEIs) don’t fall into any of the university rankings, whether global or among the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Only one well-known foreign university has opened a branch in the country – Moscow State University.

Asia-Plus reports on why this is this case, and why the country is not rushing to increase the number of prestigious foreign universities.

Past the rankings

The well-known British newspaper Times Higher Education (THE) recently released its annual World University Rankings for 2019.

The top three universities in the world haven’t changed. For the third year in a row, the first place is held by Oxford University, which has the top indicators in research (quantity of research, research income and reputation). As before, second and third places are occupied by Cambridge University and the US’ Stanford University.

Of all the countries in the CIS, Russia has the most HEIs in the ranking with 35 contenders. Kazakhstan is the Central Asian leader with 10 HEIs in the QS international education ranking. No HEIs in Tajikistan were listed in these international rankings.

What are the reasons for this state of affairs?

“If you are talking about the criteria that are used to compile international rankings, then this is first of all about scientific (research) output and the quality of teaching,” says Ilhom Kamolzoda, head of the department of international affairs at the Ministry of Education and Science.

“The level of research is measured by the quality and quantity of articles that are published in top international journals that are included in the Scopus citation database. Following that, the rankings measure the ratio of teaching staff to students, the number of international students and faculty, and so on.”

Kamolzoda noted that Tajikistan is currently in transition to the Bologna system of education.

“Furthermore, for HEIs in the country to be recognized in international rankings, degree programs need to undergo international accreditation. And of course, as I’ve already noted, more high-quality research and training of highly qualified professionals to an international standard are necessary. Work on this is ongoing,” he says.

“The old school has fallen but a new one hasn’t yet been formed”

Education expert Bakhtiyor Asliddinov believes we need to dig deeper to find the reason for the current state of affairs in the country’s higher education.

“After the fall of the USSR, the single education system collapsed, and links between HEIs in the former Soviet republics were lost,” he says.

“The situation was exacerbated by the events of the 90s [ES note: the civil war from 1992-97] as a result of which thousands of academics, researchers and lecturers fled Tajikistan. Universities like Tajik Technical University, the Polytechnic and the Medical Institute – which had been well known in the Soviet Union – lost many of their best people. The old school fell and a new one hasn’t yet formed.”

Bakhtiyor Asliddinov also explains that in its drive to increase quantity, the Ministry of Education and Science has been unable to assure the quality of education in many HEIs. This has also led to declining education quality in his opinion.

“Previously in Tajikistan there were around 10 HEIs. Now there are over 30. Previously, each course had three cohorts (per year) and now there are up to 10 and sometimes more. How do you find qualified candidates for all these HEIs with such large numbers of students? How much are these degree programs in demand? Is work available for all graduates? I don’t think these questions will find answers for some time,” the expert says.

According to Asliddinov, beyond these factors, the quality of secondary [high] school education also needs to be taken into account: how can you get a high quality higher education if the secondary level leaves much to be desired?

“For our universities to be part of the global higher education landscape and for graduates to be desirable to employers, this education issue needs to be dealt with holistically,” he noted.

Foreign universities: To be or not to be?

The establishment of branches of well-known international HEIs in a country is a common practice around the world.

In recent years, our neighbours have been actively working on this. The number of foreign branch campuses has begun to grow in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, and in Uzbekistan their number has grown three times in the last two years, and now there are 21 of them!

The situation changed at the end of 2017 when the government of Uzbekistan decided to fundamentally reform the education system in the country. It announced a five-year moratorium on all forms of taxes as well as exemption from mandatory contributions to state funds for foreign branch campuses. Furthermore, branch campuses do not have to pay the single social payment and income tax on foreign individuals working at the HEI. After this, the number of foreign branch campuses grew dramatically.

In Tajikistan today there are just three Russian branch campuses: Moscow State University, the National University of Science and Technology MISIS (Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys), and the National Research University MEU (Moscow Power Engineering).

The Ministry of Education and Science has not indicated whether there are plans to open additional branch campuses of Western or Asian universities. The government did agree that a campus of the Malaysian Limkokwing University of Creative Technology could open in Bokhtar in 2013, but that project has yet to come to fruition.

“There are particular difficulties,” explains Ilhom Kamolzoda, “largely due to the fact that Western branch campuses teach in English. Applicants are required to confirm their language proficiency by passing an IELTS exam. This would require a lot of preparation of facilities, teachers, completion of the transition of the education system to meet international standards, and much more.”

“For these reasons, I believe that it’s too early to open Western branch campuses here. But we are moving in that direction. At the moment, high school graduates have the opportunity to study abroad and over 35,000 of our citizens are studying in 40 countries.”

Competition shouldn’t be alarming

“The opening of well-known Western and Asian branch campuses will help increase the level of education and the image of Tajikistan, which at the same time will turn into an international education centre for the region. This could attract international students and researchers and overall, enhance the opportunities for international investment in Tajikistan,” believes Makhmadsalim Abdukarimov, Acting Deputy Director of Moscow State University in Dushanbe.

“As is known, we already have experience of opening such branch campuses,” said Abdukarimov. “For example, our campus in Dushanbe has been operating successfully for nearly 10 years, and it attracts experienced global authorities in research and teaching. Our students have the opportunity to do placements at the main university in Moscow.”

“Moscow State University graduates have a good education toolkit and are able to continue their studies or find work even in developed countries. For example, our graduate Farangis Umedzoda was accepted to study for a Master’s degree at Oxford University.”

According to Abdukarimov, there are many educational establishments in the country that teach in English. Graduates of these schools can be potential students of Western branch campuses in Tajikistan.

“Moreover, there will be competition between our HEIs and the foreign branch campuses, and this shouldn’t alarm local teachers. On the contrary, it’s all for the good of our education system. Another advantage of opening foreign branch campuses is that they are more affordable. For example, at the Moscow State branch in Dushanbe, the annual fees are $1,400.”

“Now try to imagine how much money a Tajik student would need if he or she studies in Moscow – for fees, living costs, food and much more. Using the educational experience of leading world universities and their potential is a sign of the times. And the sooner we start this process, the faster we will make progress in our education system.”


Почему в Таджикистане не открываются зарубежные вузы?

Автор: Хайдар Шодиев

Таджикские высшие учебные заведения не входят в рейтинг лучших университетов не только мира, но и стран СНГ. А филиалов известных зарубежных вузов в стране, по сути, только один – МГУ.

С чем это связано и почему в республике не спешат увеличить количество престижных иностранных вузов – в материале «АП».

Мимо рейтинга

Недавно известный британский журнал Times Higher Education (THE) опубликовал очередной ежегодный рейтинг университетов мира THE World University Rankings-2019.

Первая тройка университетов-лидеров в мире не изменилась. Первое место в рейтинге уже третий год подряд занимает Оксфордский университет, имеющий также самые лучшие показатели исследовательской деятельности (объем исследований, поступления от исследовательской деятельности и репутация). На втором и третьем местах по-прежнему остаются Кембриджский университет и Стэнфордский университет США соответственно.

Среди стран СНГ больше всего представлены вузы России – 35. В Центральной Азии лидирует Казахстан – 10 вузов страны входят в международный образовательный рейтинг QS. Вузы Таджикистана в международные рейтинги не попали.

В чём же причины подобного положения дел?

– Если говорить о критериях, которые учитываются при составлении мировых рейтингов, то это в первую очередь, научные труды и качество преподавания, – говорит начальник управления международных связей Министерства образования и науки Таджикистана Илхом Камолзода.

– Уровень научных исследований, в свою очередь, измеряется количеством и качеством научных статей, которые были опубликованы в ведущих научных журналах мира, включенных в международную реферативную базу данных Scopus.

Следующие параметры – это соотношение количества преподавателей по отношению к студентам, число иностранных студентов и преподавателей и т.д.

Камолзода отметил, что Таджикистан в настоящее время находится в периоде перехода на Болонскую систему образования.

– Кроме того, для признания вузов страны в мировом рейтинге, нужно провести международную аккредитацию специальностей наших вузов. Ну и, конечно же, как я уже указал, нужно проводить больше качественных научных исследований, готовить высококвалифицированные кадры мирового уровня. Работа в этом направлении ведётся, – говорит он.

«Старая школа распалась, новая ещё не сформировалась»

Эксперт в области образования Бахтиёр Аслиддинов считает, что причину нынешнего положения дел с отечественным высшим образованием нужно искать глубже.

– После распада СССР разрушилась единая система образования, были утрачены связи между вузами бывших советских республик, – говорит он.

– Усугубили ситуацию события 90-х, из-за которых Таджикистан покинули тысячи научных работников, ученых, преподавателей вузов. Такие известные в Союзе и за её пределами вузы республики как ТГУ им. Ленина, Политехнический и Медицинский институты лишились многих своих лучших кадров. Старая школа распалась, а новая еще не сформировалась.

Падение качества образования Бахтиёр Аслиддинов объясняет еще и тем, что в погоне за количеством руководство Минобрнауки не смогло обеспечить качественное образование во многих вузах.

– Раньше в республике было около десяти высших учебных заведений. Сейчас их более тридцати. На каждом курсе раньше было по три группы, сейчас их до десяти и более. Где найти квалифицированные кадры для всех этих вузов с огромным количеством студентов? Насколько востребованы все эти специальности, смогут ли обеспечить работой всех выпускников? Эти вопросы ещё долго не найдут ответа, – говорит специалист.

По его словам, помимо всего вышесказанного, невозможно получить качественное высшее образование, если среднее оставляет желать лучшего.

– Чтобы наши университеты котировались в мире, а выпускники были желанными работниками, нужно решать образовательную проблему в комплексе, – отметил он.

Зарубежные вузы: быть или не быть?

Открытие филиалов известных зарубежных вузов в стране – часто применяемая практика в сфере образования в мире.

В последние годы в этом направлении активно работают и наши соседи. Так, число филиалов зарубежных вузов начало расти в Казахстане, Кыргызстане, а в Узбекистане их число увеличилось за последние два года в три раза, и сейчас их там – 21!

Ситуация изменилась в конце 2017 года, когда правительство Узбекистана решило коренным образом улучшить систему образования в стране, и объявило о пятилетнем освобождении иностранных вузов от уплаты всех видов налогов и обязательных отчислений в государственные фонды. Им также разрешили не платить единый социальный платеж, и налог на доходы физлиц, в части оплаты труда иностранных работников. После этого число зарубежных филиалов резко возросло.

В Таджикистане на сегодня действуют филиалы лишь трех российских вузов – филиалы Московского государственного университета имени М.В. Ломоносова и Национального исследовательского технологического университета «МИСиС» (Московский институт стали и сплавов), а также Национального исследовательского университета «МЭИ» (Московский энергетический институт).

Об открытии в Таджикистане престижных вузов западных или азиатских стран, пока сообщений со стороны Минобрнауки не было, если не считать решения правительства страны об открытии Малайзиского университета креативных технологий Лимкоквинг в Бохтаре в 2013 году. Но этот проект так и остался невыполненным.

– Есть определенные трудности, – поясняет Илхом Камолзода. – Во многом это связано с тем, что обучение в филиалах вузов западных стран ведется на английском языке. Абитуриенты обязаны подтвердить уровень владения языком, сдав международный экзамен IELTS. Нужно подготовить базу, кадры, завершить переход системы образования на международные стандарты и многое другое.

По этим причинам, на мой взгляд, сейчас рано открывать вузы западных стран у нас. Но мы идем к этому. Пока же у выпускников школ республики есть возможность обучения в зарубежных вузах, выезжая из страны. Так, на сегодня свыше 35 тысяч наших граждан учатся за рубежом в 40 странах.

Конкуренция не должна тревожить

– Открытие филиалов известных вузов Запада и Азии будет способствовать повышению уровня образования и имиджа Таджикистана, который таким образом превратится в образовательный международный центр региона, сможет привлечь зарубежных студентов, иностранных специалистов, и в целом, будет способствовать привлечению иностранных инвестиций в РТ, – считает заместитель исполнительного директора Филиала МГУ им.Ломоносова в Душанбе Махмадсалим Абдукаримов.

– У нас, как известно, уже есть опыт открытия подобных филиалов, – говорит специалист. – Например, наш вуз вот уже 10 лет успешно ведет свою деятельность в Душанбе, к нам приезжают опытные, авторитетные в мире науки и образования преподаватели, наши студенты имеют возможность практиковаться в головном вузе в Москве.

Выпускники филиала МГУ имеют достаточный багаж образования, чтобы продолжить учебу или работать даже в развитых странах мира. Так, например, выпускница нашего вуза Фарангис Умедзода поступила в магистратуру Оксфордского университета.

По словам Абдукаримова, в республике много образовательных учреждений, где обучение проводится на английском языке. Выпускники этих школ могут стать потенциальными студентами западных вузов в республике.

– Кроме того, будет конкуренция между нашими вузами и филиалами зарубежных вузов, и она не должна тревожить местных преподавателей. Наоборот, это только на пользу нашей образовательной системе. Другое преимущество открытия филиалов зарубежных вузов – более доступная цена. Например, в филиале МГУ в Душанбе годовая оплата за обучение – $1400.

А теперь представьте, сколько денег нужно таджикскому студенту, чтобы он прошел обучение в Москве – за учебу, общежитие, питание и многое другое. Использование образовательного опыта ведущих университетов мира, их потенциал – требование времени. И чем раньше мы наладим этот процесс, тем быстрее достигнем прогресса в образовательной системе.

An Uzbek experiment: Self-financing for universities

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Hot on the heels of being awarded The Economist’s ‘Most Improved Nation‘ in 2019 and just ahead of parliamentary elections that may pave the way for future steps towards political openness, the government of Uzbekistan is not resting on its laurels.

Uzbek HEIs demand to be given all the bills

In early December it was announced that ten higher education institutions (HEIs) in Uzbekistan (of a total of 74) will be part of an experimental reform that will see them become self-financing. This is a huge shift from the top-down state-centric way that public HEIs have been funded and governed until now.

The HEIs, listed below, were chosen because of their “high research and teaching potential, financial stability, adequate resource base and high demand for their courses”, according to a post by the Ministry of Justice.

As of January 1, 2020, the HEIs will be allocated “additional tasks” that will enable them to earn income from non-state sources. These include expanding course options, offering professional development courses and introducing other paid services.

This experimental reform is part of a Presidential Decree signed on 11 July 2019 that is called ‘Measures to Introduce New Principles of Governance in the Higher and Technical and Vocational Education System’.

Many new principles, and still no sign of the Uzbek energy for reform flagging…

List of HEIs to shift to self-financing on an experimental basis from 2020:

  1. Samarqand State University of Foreign Languages
  2. Samarqand Institute of Economics and Service
  3. Tashkent State University of Law
  4. Tashkent State University of Economics
  5. Tashkent Institute of Finance
  6. Tashkent State Institute of Oriental Studies
  7. Tashkent Institute of Pharmacy
  8. Uzbek State University of World Languages
  9. Urgench State University
  10. Tashkent Institute of Railway Engineering

International students on the rise in Kazakhstan

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cat не понял на казахском
“I didn’t understand it in Kazakh” says the Russian language international cat student

In 2019, over 25,000 international students chose to study abroad in Kazakhstan. This figure is up from 16,000 last year, an impressive year-on-year increase of 64%.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science, most international students come from India, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

The Ministry believes that one reason for the growth is that universities in Kazakhstan have been given greater academic freedom including the ability to offer double degrees i.e. degrees jointly offered by a university in Kazakhstan and one abroad. The implication of this shift is that international students may be more attracted to study in Kazakhstan on the basis that they’ll end up not only with a degree from the Kazakh side, but from its foreign partner too.

Impressive as these figures are, they pale in comparison to the 70,000 Kazakh students who are currently studying outside the country. Most of them – as is the case with many other former Soviet countries – head to Russia.

Thus, for the time being, Kazakhstan remains a net exporter of international students, despite aspirations to become a regional education hub.

Tajikistan-China education cooperation

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yawn cat
Warning: This post may be soporific

News agency Avesta has published possibly the most boring story I’ve read about the prospects for higher education cooperation between Tajikistan and China. Seriously, this post could easily have been called ‘Diplomacy wins, or: How to make a story from nothing’.

Bear in mind I read a lot of news stories about education in Central Asia (I know, I know, it’s a selfless task) and I come across my fair share of government-issued press releases or uncritical adulation of whatever new policy the Eternal Leader of the Spotless Country has come up with.

But this one was so vague and, well, diplomatic that I am translating it in full so that English language readers can share my pain (Russian language readers, you can check out the original here):


Education cooperation between universities in Tajikistan and China discussed in Beijing

Avesta.tj, 3 December 2019

The Ambassador of Tajikistan to China Parviz Davlatzoda visited Beijing City University, the press service of the Republic of Tajikistan in the Chinese People’s Republic reports.

During the Ambassador’s meeting with Liu Song, the Rector of Beijing university, the parties exchanged views on the prospects for cooperation in the areas of science, education and culture.

Parviz Davlatzoda noted that Tajikistan attaches great importance on educational cooperation, particularly in relation to professional training of highly qualified personnel

The Rector of the university and heads of departments acquainted the Tajik diplomat with the University’s phases of development. The main directions of the university’s activities in research and teaching were presented.

The parties also discussed possibilities to cooperation in the field of international education, research and industrial activity.

The parties noted the importance of establishing and developing cooperation between universities in both countries through organizing joint events and participating in each others’ conferences and seminars.

The immportance of actively engaging in academic mobility programmes for students and faculty was also underlined.


Still awake? Well done you, and congratulations Avesta for producing this yawnfest.

Activism, academia and equality in Central Asia

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I’m a little late to the party on this, but then again it’s never too late to find time to read a brilliant series of articles on OpenDemocracy from earlier this year on how academic research is conducted in Central Asia.

Spearheaded by tireless UK/Sweden/globally based academic and activist Dr Diana T. Kudaibergenova, the series currently includes the following articles:

When your field is also your home: introducing feminist subjectivities in Central Asia by Diana Kudaibergenova

When “the field” is your institution: on academic extortion and complaining as activism by Elena Kim

How does it feel to be studied? A Central Asian perspective by Syinat Sultanalieva

Listening to women’s stories: the ambivalent role of feminist research in Central Asia by Davlatbegim Mamadshoeva

A view from the margins: alienation and accountability in Central Asian studies by Mohira Suyarkulova

“Two fields” within: Lost between Russian and Kazakh in the Eurasian borderland by Zhanar Sekerbayeva

The series has been well received by other Central Asia experts, who have been sharing their feedback on social media:

 

So what are you waiting for? Get those tabs open and set your learning mode to “on”!

Getting around the law to get in to university in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan

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cat breaking law
Cats are above the law

Central Asian faculty and friends I know are fond of observing that higher education in the region is not as good as it used to be, and/or is facing a ‘crisis’ because of a lack of quality, corruption, outflow of good teachers and so on.

All of these points are valid. Yet at the same time, a university degree continues to be in high demand. Two recent stories from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan that happened to pop up in my newsfeed on the same day show the lengths that some are prepared to go in the clamour for admission to university.

In Kazakhstan, it has been reported that five higher education institutions (HEI) have had their licenses taken away, and a further 12 have been fined, with one being taken to court. Given that the state-issued license gives an HEI the right to operate legally, its removal effectively closes down operations, at least temporarily.

This particular crackdown is a response to what some might see as actually a pretty canny move by students. Kazakhstan, like most (if not all) of the former Soviet states, has a national admissions entrance testing system, an exam taken by domestic high/secondary school graduates to determine which courses and universities they are eligible for.

To get around this barrier, it seems that some students – as many as 37,000, according to the news story on MK Kazakhstan – had enrolled at universities in neighbouring (ex-Soviet) countries as international students i.e. without having to sit that country’s entrance exam. Then, after a semester or a year, they transferred to an HEI in Kazakhstan, typically a smaller institution based outside of one of the bigger cities in the country. Whether or not these students ever even went to the foreign university to study before transferring is questionable; it seems likely that this is purely a paper shuffling exercise.

Not only a strategy deployed by students, the HEIs are also benefiting from this ‘market’: students who for whatever reason did not want to take the national entrance exam, as well as recruiting those who were thrown out of other universities for poor results. But with this latest crackdown, it looks like it’s 1-0 to the government for now.

Over in Uzbekistan, it’s Russian HEIs getting into hot water. According to Russian news agency RIA Novosti, five HEIs have been accused of recruiting Uzbek students without the proper authorization.

The HEIs – a mix of state funded universities and smaller private institutions – have allegedly been signing contracts with students for 2019/20, even though the academic year is already well underway. This would be OK if the HEIs were properly accredited in Uzbekistan (as over 20 Russian universities are), but in this case the paperwork wasn’t in order.

So, the State Inspectorate for Education Quality Control has put its foot down, issuing a stern warning to the institutions concerned. They’ve even put out a reminder that it now only takes ten days to get the right documents, down from one month. These Russian HEIs have been named and shamed, but whether this step or the Kazakh government’s legal actions make any significant difference to students’ and institutional behaviour when it comes to higher education admissions remains doubtful.

Keeping the classroom secular in Kyrgyzstan

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Religion-is-the-catnip
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, catnip use is on the rise

Kyrgyzstan’s President Sooronbay Jeenbekov has called on citizens to ensure that education in the country remains secular, citing the constitutional principle of compulsory basic education.

At present, Kyrgyzstan has over 110 religious institutions – mostly medressas and Islamic colleges plus one Islamic university, but there are also 13 recorded Christian schools. This is a tiny fraction of the total number of public schools and universities in the country: there are over 2,000 schools, more than 200 colleges and 34 state universities for Kyrgyzstan’s six million strong population.

So why the concern? There are clearly enough secular schools and universities to go around.

The worry expressed by the head of state stems from the revival of Islam in Kyrgyzstan since the country obtained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and the concern that this could lead to extremism.

Professor Almazbek Akmataliyev has observed that the rapid expansion of Islamic education in the country is not only connected to the ending of communist-era clampdowns on religion but also results from an influx of foreign funding. Coming from other Muslim states – mainly the rich Arab region nations – this cash has been used to build mosques and support education. This is something I have also heard reflected in comments made to me by people I know in the country.

Professor Akmataliyev also points to the lack of state intervention in religion in the early years of independence in the 1990s as a factor that allowed Islam to spread through the country. His views are backed up by fellow academics Emil Nasritdinov and Nurgul Esenamanova. Writing in the journal Central Asian Affairs, they found that the revival of Islam in the 1990s was marked among women, and this identity is increasingly commonly visually asserted through the number of women in the capital city who now choose to wear a hijab.

After recovering from a hiatus in control in the 1990s, the government of Kyrgyzstan has been more active in responding to the growth of religion and its impact on education. However, as an OSCE report on religious freedom in Kyrgyzstan published in 2013 found:

Educational programs and training programs do not pay enough attention to nurturing of respect for religious diversity and tolerance. Publication of religious studies materials and textbooks should remain neutral and give equal treatment to different religious groups operating in the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic in accordance with national legislation. (Source: OSCE 2013, p. 28)

By the time Jeenbekov came to power in late 2017, Human Rights Without Frontiers observed that:

The Kyrgyz Republic, led by a new President, is at a cross-road, either to restrict the religious freedom of all faiths in the name of security and the fight against violent Islamic groups, or to open the space of religious freedom for all peaceful movements whilst educating their youth about religion in a spirit of tolerance and fighting any initiative inciting to violence. (Source: HRWF)

Jeenbekov’s response?

Speaking at the 2018 ‘Islam in a Modern Secular State‘ conference (launched by Jeenbekov’s predecessor as an annual conference in 2017), Jeenbekov called on the one hand for tolerance towards all religions but on the other hand, pointed to the need for the state to get involved:

We need to create new forms of relationship between religion and the state to ensure peace, order in society and inter-ethnic harmony. (Source: 24.kg)

This was connected to religious education which, according to the President, should ‘correspond to the future development of our society’ (Source: 24.kg).

And that brings us back to the President’s recent call for secularism in the classroom. Since the 2000s (if not the late 1990s), the Kyrgyz state has decided that religion is not something to be left alone – tolerance of all faiths and none is to be aided and abetted by the government. By extending this to the state education system, the government runs the risk of marginalizing those who choose to follow a religious faith and politicizing religion, which is surely a shortcut to the very intolerance the President would like to prevent…