Nuriddin Said

New Minister of Education for Tajikistan

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Cats sparking joy, unlike certain Tajik civil servants…

Whilst Russia has been making the headlines for its more-Marie-Kondo-than-Marie-Kondo approach to replacing government personnel (if it doesn’t spark joy…), the Tajik government has been doing some pretty comprehensive new year cleaning of its own.

I heard earlier today (January 24, 2020) from a knowledgeable source in Tajikistan that many high ranking staff in the Ministry of Education have been kicked out and replaced with more forward-looking and innovative colleagues. This framing is interesting given that for the most part our outsider view of most civil servants in Tajikistan is of corrupt / nepotistic practices outweighing talent and policy vision in employee selection.

However, the source assured me that the head of the Ministry Nuriddin Said was safe in his top spot… but only minutes later, I found out that he too has been moved on. Said had been Minister of Education and Science since 2012 but as of today has been moved to lead the government’s Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee. That seems a big step down.

Said was an unpopular Minister, receiving heavy criticism for his poor Russian language skills. An online petition even circulated on social media in 2018 calling for his resignation. That is extremely unusual for Tajikistan, where social movements are not allowed to exist (unless government sanctioned) and any hint of online protest tends to get the internet shut down.

Responding to the dissatisfaction with his language skills, Said responded “I’m neither Tolstoy nor Solzhenitsyn”, but did acknowledge he has a strong accent when speaking in Russian. You can judge for yourself here.

Said has been replaced by Mahmadyousuf Imomov, who until today was Rector of Tajik Nationa University. Imomov is no stranger to government, as he is also a representative in the Majlisi Milli, the parliamentary upper house.

Imomov began his academic career in 1981 immediately after graduating from Tajik State (now National) University. He worked at the Institute of Languages and Literature before moving to the USSR Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Literature. He later switched to work at the Tajik Academy of Sciences and after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, taught at Tajik State University. By the end of the 1990s he had worked through various promotions to the level of Dean.

His first major leadership position came in 2004 when he was appointed as Rector of the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University, at the time a new entrant on the Tajik higher education scene (it was founded in 1996) and considered at that point to be the country’s top university. In 2012, Imomov was moved to become Rector of Tajik National University and now, another eight years later, he has become Minister of Education and Science.

In other education-related government appointments:

  • Updated Jan 27: Some confusion as to who will replace Imomov as Rector of Tajik National University. Previously, it was reported that Abujabbor Rahmonzoda was taking over but today (Jan 27) I read that in fact the new Rector is the youthful Khushbakht Khushbakhzoda. Khushbakhzoda is still in his 30s and was previousy Dean of the Finance and Economics Faculty, whereas Rahmonzoda was previously a presidential advisor on social development and public relations. Prior to that Rahmonzoda was Rector of the Pedagogical University (2012-14), Minister of Education (2005-12), and a representative on the TV & Radio Broadcasting Committee (what is it with this committee?);
  • Deputy Minister of Education of Science Sayfiddin Davlatzoda has been ‘exiled’ from his cushy Dushanbe posting, replacing Muhammad Shodiyon who has been fired as Rector of Bokhtar State University.
  • The head of the Centre for Islamic Studies under the President of Tajikistan has become Murodullo Davlatzoda, an Islamic Studies scholar and ex-parliamentarian.

A full list of the government changes as at January 24 can be found here.

Want a PhD in Tajikistan? Then learn English or Russian

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The sages at the Ministry of Education in Tajikistan have decided that PhD candidates in the country should defend their theses in Russian or English [ru]. No official justification has been given for this November 8 announcement by Minister of Education Nuriddin Said.

The only exception would be for theses relating to ethnic and national issues, which would be permitted in Tajik, the national language.

News agency Radio Ozodi speculates that this move could be seen as a way of increasing the global audience for new Tajik knowledge given that there are more Russian and English speakers in the world than Tajik speakers.

On the one hand, there is some logic to this perspective. But on the other hand – and here we have a much bigger second hand – this new regulation appears highly problematic.

Having created its own Higher Attestation Committee (known by the Russian acronym VAK, from Vysshaya Attestatsionnaya Komissiya) with power to approve theses only in 2011, the Tajik government should surely look to this body for proposals on higher degree regulations.

What we’ve seen from the Tajik VAK so far is that it is open to postgraduates defending their work in their mother tongue. For most students these days, that is Tajik. Indeed, most universities now teach in the medium of Tajik, although some offer provision in Russian. Other than the University of Central Asia, I do not believe it is currently possible to study in the medium of English in Tajikistan.

languagecats
Would learning another language be facilitated if more cats were involved?

This raises a second objection to the Minister’s ruling: the issue of language. It shouldn’t be assumed that postgrads know either Russian or English, or that they know them well enough to defend a doctoral thesis in another language.

Whilst the point about increasing the the audience for Tajik theses is fair, this would reduce the status of Tajik and Tajik knowledge. It places lower value on Tajik in the national education system at a time when the use of Tajik is rapidly increasing in the country.

One academic interviewed by Radio Ozodi suggested that learning another language should not pose a problem. Language learning, he said, is part of your development. Many people in Tajikistan have knowledge of two languages (a common combination is Tajik and Russian) and those from the Pamir region usually have at least two – their own dialect, Tajik, and then English and/or Russian.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a national predilection for learning languages. Russian, Tajik and English are all quite different from one another: it’s not like, say, French and Spanish or Spanish and Italian which share a number of commonalities.

Another issue is resources. As one current postgraduate noted in the Radio Ozodi article, the time and cost of translating a thesis (assuming you write it in Tajik and then translate to Russian or English) is an “expensive pleasure”. Translating one page of text from Tajik to Russian costs around US$10, so imagine the cost of translating a whole thesis and remember at the same time that the average salary in Tajikistan is a little over US$100.

Radio Ozodi also points out that the number of highly qualified people in Tajikistan is growing, with over 2,500 people holding a Kandidat Nauk (Soviet-era PhD equivalent) and over 200 with a Doktor Nauk (the highest qualification in the Soviet system, similar to the European habilitation).

It doesn’t leap to any connection between the Minister’s ruling and what it sees as a “fashion trend” to a higher qualification, but perhaps makes an implicit assumption that there’s a connection (otherwise, why mention these number and talk about the growth as a “fashion trend”?).

So instead let me leave you with the words of “Librarian”, one of the commentators on the article:

…теперь поняли, что диссертация на таджикском языке дальше нашего аэропорта никуда. ДА ВАК Таджикистана желать остаються лучшего как говорят Русская рулетка кто больше ставит ставки тот и играет. За это время сколько дураков и лжеученых защитились за деньги. Мин образования все молчит и набивает карманы. Нашей стране давно это понять пора!

…now they understand that a dissertation in Tajik won’t get you further than the airport. Yes, Tajikistan’s VAK wants to remain the best [but] as they say, Russian roulette: whoever puts the highest stake will win. And during that time, so many idiots and pseudo-scientists have defended their theses for money. The Ministry of Education keeps quiet and lines its pockets. It’s long been time for our country to understand this!