Russian language

Kyrgyz students in Russia

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Say hi to Pep, who likes to hang out at the University of Regensburg in Germany. Pep has nothing to do with today’s story but I seem to have exhausted most of the internet’s attempts at cat memes relevant to university students.

Whereas their Uzbek counterparts are being sent home from studying abroad, Kyrgyz students are heading to Russia in ever greater numbers. From 1,300 in 2006/07, there were 5,700 Kyrgyzstanis studying in Russia at last count in 2016/17.

But in the style of the classic Russian gameshow What? Where? When? (Что? Где? Когда?), let’s find out more.

The most popular Russian cities and universities for Kyrgyz students are not in the major metropoles of Moscow and St Petersburg, but in the country’s regions. The Siberian city of Tomsk – one of the closest to Kyrgyzstan, just north of Kazakhstan and a mere 2,300km away – has the top two – Tomsk State University and Tomsk State Architecture and Building University.

Following the Tomsk pair, the next most popular are a duo in Moscow – the Higher School of Economics and the Russian People’s Friendship University, and then Kemerovo State University. Kemerovo is just down the road from Tomsk and its popularity is probably linked to its convenient location.

The Russian Minister for Education Valeriy Falkov is pretty happy about this given the government’s emphasis on developing higher education in the regions.

Kyrgyz students in Russia are more likely to study medicine and an array of technical subjects and hybrid courses such as agrobusiness.

Students from around the former Soviet space are these days not necessarily drawn to Russia because of the historic ties from their Soviet legacy. Nevertheless, there persists a sense – particularly in economically poorer states like Kyrgzystan and Tajikistan – that Russian education is ‘better’ than the domestic system based both on its history as well as comparatively higher investments in the system. Furthermore, there are still plenty of Central Asian students being educated in Russian who can manage the language of instruction.

That said, it’s just as likely that the current generation of Kyrgyzstani 18 year olds – who were born a good decade after the fall of the Soviet Union – are attracted by scholarships that are offered not just on admission but for placing highly in competitions and olympiads organized by Russian universities. A number of education fairs held annually in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in Central Asia/ex-Soviet region also help recruit students to Russia’s higher education system.

The upward trend of international students in Russia is gaining some attention in the academic and practitioner worlds, and for good reason. Of the 5+ million students studying abroad, Russia is now the sixth most popular destination country. The number of international students in Russia has grown by 9% per year on average over the past 15 years; the government has an ambitious plan to increase numbers from the current figure of 220,000 to 700,000 by 2025.

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.

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!

Calls to bring back Russian to Tajik classrooms

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EurasiaNet’s Konstantin Parshin has identified what he sees as a growing call EurasiaNet’s Konstantin Parshin has identified what he sees as a growing call amongst Tajik parents for more and better Russian language instruction in primary schools.

The article, at http://www.eurasianet.org/node/70211 and (c) EurasiaNet, offers an interesting angle on the oft-repeated theme of endemic corruption in the Tajik education system. There is no firm evidence of the demand Parshin refers to but you could counter firstly that he presents some anecdotal (if urban-centric) first hand stories, and second, that neither the Tajik academic community nor the government has the capacity or the desire to undertake a wider scale survey to assess demand for Russian in schools.

It would be interesting to see whether this alleged demand is equally as high outside the capital Dushanbe and other towns.

Anecdotally, I am told that the main Russian language university in Tajikistan, the Russian-Tajik Slavonic University has dropped hugely in quality and reputation from its earlier position as the (perceived) most prestigious university in the country. There are a range of factors underlying this shift, but there must clearly be a connection with Parshin’s report on the diminishing quality and quantity of Russian language provision being offered at school level and the pipeline of qualified applicants able to complete higher education in the medium of Russian.