Tajikistan

Higher education policy in Central Asia and Afghanistan – new report published (open access)

Posted on Updated on

Grumpy cat
RIP, Grumpy Cat. My blog won’t be the same without you.

What are the challenges and opportunities in higher education in Central Asia and Afghanistan?

What kind of government policies can introduce innovation?

How can science and technology capacity be promoted?

For more on these important questions and some ideas about further developing science, technology and innovation in Central Asia and Afghanistan, please take a look at my newly published report for the University of Central Asia.

Currently available in English, I am told a Russian version will also be available soon.

Here’s a direct link to the report in pdf format: UCA-IPPA-Wp51 – ENG

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on the propositions in the report.

Harnessing Tajikistan’s growing diaspora

Posted on Updated on

Tajikistan stamp cat
Expat cats of Tajikistan are not writing home

Website Cabar recently published a thought provoking report by political scientist Muslimbek Buriev on the potential role of the one million+ Tajikistanis living outside the country. The report is available in Tajik, Russian and English.

A sizeable proportion of the nine million strong population of Tajikistan can be considered disaporic in the sense that they are geographically dispersed beyond the country’s borders. The estimate of one million may well be an under-statement of the true number, which could be anywhere up to two million – as much as 20% of the population.

The vast majority of Tajikistanis living abroad are based in Russia, making this group a logical focal point for Buriev’s report. Buriev discusses the activities of expat Tajikistanis in Russia and shows how the lack of proactive government policy towards citizens living abroad misses opportunities to harness their significant potential (although the remittances sent back to Tajikistan prop up the national economy – it is estimated that around 30% of GDP comes from these overseas transfers, making Tajikistan a top five global recipient of remittances).

Buriev makes an interesting comparison with Armenia, where the government has helped to formalize the relationship between the homeland and its diasporic communities, suggesting ways that this experience could be helpful in the case of Tajikistan.

An underplayed aspect of Buriev’s report is the role of the diaspora in promoting alternative visions for the future of Tajikistan. Buriev does note that Rahmon’s regime attempts to ‘reduce the risks of ideological influence’ on those living abroad who may be opposed to the current administration in Tajikistan, but it would have been really interesting to delve into this issue further.

The Tajikistan government’s ability to act extra-territorially is well-established, whether this be undeniable connections with the murder of opposition figures or pressure placed on the family members of those who have escaped the country (with very rare positive outcomes).

The (very) long arm of the law likely precludes many ‘ordinary’ diaspora Tajiks from collectively or publicly voicing their opposition to the current regime, although people are comfortable expressing their views in private and amongst friends. On the other hand, this type of action also drives people away from the country – not only those who overtly oppose the regime but those who see better prospects for themselves and their families outside the borders of an increasingly authoritarian state.

Both cases point to a future where the Tajikistani diaspora remains in much the same condition as it is now: quiet on the outside, increasing in number, social rather than political when diaspora groups do come together, and largely ignored by the government. On the whole, this is probably the best state of affairs that both sides could hope for.

University of Central Asia Students Hold First TEDx in Khorog

Posted on Updated on

It’s exciting to hear about the initiative taken by University of Central Asia (UCA) students in Khorog, Tajikistan, to hold the town’s first TEDx.

TED (the ‘x’ afterwards indicates it’s an independently organized event) is now a well-established idea. TED talks are mini-conferences in which people have just a few minutes to share a small number of key points in an accessible approachable way.

The Khorog session sounds like it was a fantastic event and I wish I could have been there! Here’s a news story about TEDxUCA from UCA’s website:

https://ucentralasia.org/Resources/Item/2128/EN

Undergraduate students at the University of Central Asia (UCA) organised the first TEDxUCA event in Khorog, Tajikistan with the theme “Encounters at the Edge”, gathering over 100 guests. Five speakers from different backgrounds discussed their experiences of how they have “stood on edge” of what is known and comfortable, and then to develop and grow as individuals within the global society.


UCA undergraduate students and speakers at the first TEDx in Khorog.

Speakers included Hadi Husaini, CEO of the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat Central Asia, who expressed how communities could prosper as they are on the edge of survival; Ozodkhon Davlatshoev, Global Director of Accelerate Prosperity, who explored how technology can influence an individual’s life; Daler Jumaev, CEO of Pamir Energy, and Furough Shakarmamadova, Communications Officer at the Pamirs Eco-Cultural Tourism Association. Sahar Ibrahim, Communications Officer at the Aga Khan Education Services Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan also made a presentation.

TEDxUCA was realised by UCA students, Saif Ur Rehman, Parvina Sultonmamadova, and a dynamic group of volunteers on March 9th 2019. The event was supported by Tcell of Tajikistan, and also included performances from the Khorog Music School and UCA’s Undergraduate Performing Arts Society, who presented Prometheus.

The event created an environment of excitement within the Khorog community, and was attended by Mr. Yodgor Faizov, Governor of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast, representatives of the Education Department, the Mayor’s office, Aga Khan Development Network agencies in Khorog, as well as UCA’s School of Professional and Continuing Education and undergraduate campus faculty, students, and staff.

TEDx is an independently organised event that brings people together to share TED-like experiences to spark deep discussion and connection.

“We have kept our traditions” – Why not everything has changed in higher education – Seminar, Feb 22, online access

Posted on Updated on

After an event as momentous as the fall of the Soviet Union, it would be natural to expect significant changes as a result, whether that be at the macro-level of new states being created to the micro-level of people being forced to change profession in order to earn enough money to keep their families going in the economic crisis that followed the Union’s dissolution.

It would be logical to expect major change in higher education too, given that in the Soviet system, universities were funded and managed solely by the state – so when that centralized state disappears along with the ideology that underpinned it, you might even have predicted the collapse of higher education. This was amplified in Central Asia, where, despite rich educational legacies stretching back hundreds of years, the newly independent states inherited only the formal Soviet system of higher education that had been built up since the 1920s.

And yet, as the quote in the title of the post implies, higher education in Central Asia has not completely transformed.

In the course of my PhD fieldwork, I found out from the faculty members I interviewed that certain aspects of higher education seem to be incredibly durable. This doesn’t mean they are totally unchanged, but that certain values and ideas persist despite change.

presentation laser point
No cats were harmed in the making of this presentation.

Intrigued?

I hope so!

(Honestly, dear reader, if you’ve made it this far into the post it suggests that you might have an inkling of curiosity, or at the very least share a tiny bit of my passion for higher education in Central Asia!)

I’d be delighted if you’d join me on February 22, 2019, so I can share more of my findings and ideas with you. I’ll be presenting as part of the Joseph P. Farrell Student Research Symposium organized by the Comparative, International and Development Education Centre at the University of Toronto. The whole symposium will be streamed online at https://zoom.us/j/661234725.

I’m on between 10.45am-12.15pm EST as part of a panel with two excellent fellow researchers in my department, Nadiia Kachynska – who will be talking about the idea of ‘research excellence’ in universities in Central and Eastern Europe – and Scott Clerk, who will present his emerging thesis research plans to study south-south development cooperation in higher education.

Here’s the schedule for the whole day: JPFSRS Final 2019

Hope to see you online then!

Study abroad returnees required to report regularly to local police in Tajikistan

Posted on Updated on

Not content with demanding its nationals return home from studying abroad, reports are circulating [ru] that the government of Tajikistan is now regularly monitoring these former students.

Despite international borders opening for Tajiks since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Tajik government appears to be doing its best to close down opportunities for travel – for some citizens, at least. Since 2010, officials have been ‘encouraging’ students enrolled in courses related to Islam in other Islamic countries to abandon their studies and come back to Tajikistan.

Around 3,000 students have returned from Islamic universities and madrassahs in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen. No one really knows how many students remain abroad or how many have managed to get around the travel restrictions since they were introduced, but there were suggestions back in 2010 that there were around 4,000 Tajiks studying in Pakistan alone.

The government’s stated reason for returning these students home is the risk that they will be radicalized abroad. The directive is in line with other steps that have been taken to try and limit the growing popularity/resurgence of Islam in Tajikistan. Such measures have included restrictions on clothing and personal appearance (in short: hijab or beard – bad, suit and tie – good), age limits on mosque attendance and asserting control over who is permitted to provide Islamic education.

Yet the risk identified by the government appears to be unfounded: whilst there is evidence that a small number of Tajik nationals have joined ISIS and/or travelled to Syria and Iraq, Central Asian security expert Edward Lemon has cogently argued that the perceived threat should not be over-estimated.

Nevertheless, the state continues to pursue those who made the choice to follow instructions and return home from their study abroad. In January 2019, Radio Ozodi (Liberty) reported [ru] that these former religious studies students are now obliged to report to their local office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs twice a year for ‘registration and an interview’.

The purpose of these twice yearly meetings is to establish that the former student is still living in the same place i.e. has not gone back abroad. A number of former students explained that they are also being asked by local officials what the purpose of their study abroad was, what they are currently doing, and who they are friends with.

Human rights activists have pointed out that the rights of these former students are being violated [ru] on the presumption that they remain innocent until and if proven otherwise.

Yet all the evidence points to the government taking little heed of these warnings. Rather, it is likely to continue poking away at citizens’ ability to freely express themselves, to learn and to practice religion, to wear what they want and go where they want. And perhaps frustration and dissatisfaction with that is what might in the end cause people to take a path towards radicalization – not a handful of Islamic studies students.

Empowering girls through education in Tajikistan

Posted on Updated on

super-cat_o_593743
Channel your supercat this year! Be like Tajik teacher Hamadony Muzafarov and work for a better world.

Happy new year! I hope that 2019 will bring you health and happiness, and I hope that the world becomes a slightly more sensible place this year (I can hope, right?).

Kicking off the year is a wonderful story about an inspiring teacher in rural Tajikistan who over the course of many years has shown great dedication to his students.

Hamadony Muzafarov is particularly committed to his female students, working to raise the opportunities and prospects for girls and women both in and out of the classroom. As Muzafarov says:

“My passion for empowering local girls, sharing the benefits of knowing English, and making children excited about learning, drives my desire to teach. Even in this remote corner of Tajikistan, it’s important to inspire and educate the future leaders of our world and all of its individual communities.”

-Hamadony Muzafarov

His ‘day in the life’ story is below. Read, enjoy, and be inspired to take action!

The article is (c) TES and can be found in the original at https://www.tes.com/news/day-teaching-life-ofhamadony-muzafarov

A day in the teaching life of Hamadony Muzafarov

This teacher faced opposition when he began teaching girls English in the rural villages of Tajikistan, but he refused to give up

By Hamadony Muzafarov

30 December 2018

When I left my remote village to attend college in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, I dreamed of becoming an English teacher in Tajik villages. But when I started teaching, I had significant problems with local attitudes: local men told me that it’s better if their wives are uneducated so that they won’t be able to talk back or challenge them, even in the case of physical violence.

Realising the severity of the problem, I dedicated my work to women’s education in this difficult climate. Slowly, I’ve changed local attitudes: first ensuring that girls can complete high school and eventually, in 2014, integrating classrooms, so that boys and girls could learn together. English is key to female empowerment – in Tajikistan, knowledge of the language is necessary to attend university.

Mastering the English language can open a student’s mind and allow them to exchange ideas, opinions and cultural views. Similarly, it plays a great role in intercultural relationships and increases opportunities for the future. It will allow students to pursue higher education, apply for scholarships abroad, and it increases their employment opportunities.

To reach these goals, I ran my own language centre, Dunyoi Donish, from 2006 to 2016 and taught in local schools. Since 2010, I have worked in partnership with the US Embassy in Tajikistan to teach the English Access Micro-Scholarship Programme, which is targeted at children from low-income families.

Until 2014, the male and female students who were accepted on the programme were separated from 10 to 14-years-old until I started mixing them. Throughout the year, I facilitate a girl’s empowerment club. Every summer, I run a summer leadership Program and organize a free summer English club for children which teaches English and leadership.

My passion for empowering local girls, sharing the benefits of knowing English, and making children excited about learning, drives my desire to teach. Even in this remote corner of Tajikistan, it’s important to inspire and educate the future leaders of our world and all of its individual communities. I strive to create a safe and friendly learning environment inside the classroom, and outside of the classroom I plan activities where students can encourage and empower other students.

At times, it’s been an uphill battle. I fight daily in a traditional society where it is challenging for girls to reach even secondary school. Tajik girls in rural areas are often pulled out of school as teenagers and forced into marriages. I’ve worked with girls from rural and underprivileged backgrounds by building trust with parents when I launched an all-girls group.

Once I won trust in the community, I started gradually mixing girls with boys to foster gender balance in my classroom. My first female students have become “trailblazers” in the community, have confidence, and share their knowledge with other girls in the villages. They have learned English so well that they have become competitive for highly sought-after slots in American exchange programmes.

In 2015, I created a leadership development club for girls where 100 schoolgirls attended seminars on women’s rights, gender issues, parenting, environment, sewing, debate and peer training. The project included speakers who came to discuss the importance of education and disadvantages of child marriage.

In the Rasht region, war has damaged the quality of education. The remote locale of my district reduces opportunities for low-income citizens to receive a proper education. Female attendance in my region has been historically low because many families think education for girls is useless. This situation presents a unique set of challenges for any educator.

In 2010, the US Embassy provided me with funds for a pilot programme that encourages talented female students to study English. All the girls applied to institutions of higher learning to become English teachers, physicians, or other professionals.

Two of them were the first in their village to go to the US with exchange programmes, the first from their village. One of them, Madina, was one of my private students. After studying in the US, she became a teacher in Dushanbe.

She’s a clear success story. One of the judges of the Teaching Changes Lives competition at Oxford University even commented: “If we need proof that teaching changes lives, [Madina’s story shows] beyond doubt the power of education.”

The importance of teaching female students in a conservative society has been groundbreaking. So many girls regularly attend my classes and I have no doubt that all will be successful.

Hamadony Muzafarov is an EFL teacher, ambassador at TeachSDGs and runs a University Prep Club for Girls

(c) TES, https://www.tes.com/news/day-teaching-life-ofhamadony-muzafarov

Tajik research recognized on international stage

Posted on Updated on

Сулаймонов_Саидрахмон
Professor Saidrahmon Sulaymoni. Image by Shukhrat Sa’adiyev

Congratulations to Professor Saidrahmon Sulaymoni of Tajik National University, who has been awarded a Sheikh Hamad Award for Translation and International Understanding!

Professor Sulaymoni built his academic career in Arabic language at Tajik National University (TNU), working there from 1972 to 1985. He then worked at the Soviet/Tajik Academy of Sciences but in 2005, returned to TNU to lead the Arabic Language department.

In 2012 he was elected to the Egypt based Academy of Arabic Language, the first academic from Central Asia to receive this honour.

One of Professor Sulaymoni’s key achievements was the publication of an Arabic-Tajik dictionary, which he worked on for over 20 years! He has also found time to publish over 100 articles and a five volume collection of works by Abuali ibn Sino (probably the most famous Tajik* academic ever; commonly known in the English-speaking world as Avicenna).

According to Trend News Agency, the Hamad Awards seek to

honor translators and acknowledge their role in strengthening the bonds of friendship and cooperation amongst peoples and nations of the world. It hopes to reward merit and excellence, encourage creativity, uphold the highest moral and ethical standards, and spread the values of diversity, pluralism and openness. The Award also aspires to inculcate a culture of knowledge and dialogue, promote Arab and Islamic culture, develop international understanding, and encourage mature cross-cultural interaction between Arabic and other world languages through the medium of translation.

A photo of Professor Sulaymoni collecting his award in December 2018 was shared by Asia Plus.

Congratulations again to Professor Sulaymoni! It is exciting to see researchers in Tajikistan being recognized on an international stage.

Happy new year grumpy catThis news also allows me to end the 2018 blogging year on a lovely positive note. I’ll be back in January, but in the meantime, many thanks to all my readers and followers.

In 2018, you found the blog from over 110 countries! My top readers for 2018 based on site visits are in the US, UK, Canada, Kazakhstan and India – but I am delighted that one reader each from locations as diverse as Cambodia and the Cayman Islands also found their way here! Have a very happy (Orthodox) Christmas to those who celebrate, and all best wishes for a successful, healthy and cat-meme-filled 2019!

 

*For fact lovers: Ibn Sino was born near Bukhara and lived his life in the territory that is now Uzbekistan, but it is generally accepted that he was Tajik. Here’s a Canadian perspective from the Global Affairs Canada department’s Country Insights section:

“In the finest Soviet tradition, dead poets and writers are revered. Tajikistan does have an extraordinarily rich cultural legacy of poetry and music, and just about every Tajik can recite some lines by poets such as Rudaki or Rumi, among others. Avicenna, the great Tajik philosopher-scientist, is to the East what Aristotle is to the West.”