To change or not to change: time to decide
For decades, Central Asian countries were establishing their national systems of education. Their primary task was to transform from mostly Russian language-based programs, teachers, and materials to national language-based ones. The second type of reform was implemented to embrace the new views on education goals: schools didn’t have to give knowledge anymore, but provide students with tools for independent learning. The third task was to slide smoothly into the global digitalization trend and not lag behind forever.
However, there are a number of social trends that if not addressed can become real obstacles to the further development of Central Asian countries. In this article we will discuss the main three of them.
The steady growth of the child population together with the limited financing opportunities
One of the main trends shaping the status quo in education sphere in Central Asia is the continuing and consistent increase of the child population which leads to the pressure on the socially oriented spheres: primarily, healthcare and education.
According to World bank data, the share of population aged 0-14 in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan makes up to 29%, in Kyrgyzstan – 33%, and in Tajikistan – 37%.
The rapid growth of “human capital”, however, is not accompanied by the relevant financing. Government expenditure on education per student in Kazakhstan is around 1,500 US dollars, in Kyrgyzstan – 366 US dollars, and in Uzbekistan – 476 US dollars while in OECD countries this indicator is 11,000 US dollars on average.
This results in a lack of schools, a shortage of quality teachers, and poor learning conditions. Each year around 500-800 thousand new students come to the schools that are not ready to accept so many of them. The situation is much worse in big cities, and especially, in capitals of the Central Asian countries where some schoolchildren have to study in classes of around 40 people. According to official data, while the average number of students per school in regions of Uzbekistan ranges from 400 to 700 people, there are 1,300 students per school in Tashkent. The same difference can be traced in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan.
The poverty trap and emerging educational inequality
Most studies show that one of the main factors affecting children’s academic accomplishments is their socio-economic status. It not only means that there are gadgets or Internet at home, books or a separate room to prepare homework. It also defines the surroundings, social and cultural capital, and networking possibilities.
Apart from having a big share of households below the poverty line, Central Asian countries have another socio-economic peculiarity – a big share of labor migrants. According to World Bank and International Organization data, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are among the top ten countries that receive the highest payments from abroad. Various sources point out that around 2 million Uzbekistan citizens work outside the country. In recent years, around 35 thousand Kazakhstan citizens migrate to South Korea in search of work, and 12 thousand of them stayed there illegally.
The results of the study in Uzbekistan in 2019 show that in almost a quarter of labor migrants’ families, both parents leave the family, and in each tenth family – it is the mother who goes abroad. Children of the labor migrants left behind have to cope with the learning process alone struggling from psychological and social deprivation caused by the lack of parents around. This doesn’t only affect academic success but also influences the perception of their own future prospects. After graduating from school many young people don’t apply to universities. It led to the situation that in 2019, for example, only 12% of Uzbekistan citizens at the age of 25-29 years obtained higher education.
At the same time, in the capital cities of the CA countries, a new class of wealthy people is emerging whose children usually go to private highly priced schools. The schools are usually more equipped, employ better teachers, and work with internationally recognized educational programs to launch their students right to Europe or the USA. The two worlds: those who struggle outside the country to provide for children, and those sending their children to London for English courses never intersect, though the latter are usually the decision-makers.
High level of conservative views in societies lead to the latent gender inequality
According to the World Values Survey map, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan can be undoubtedly considered as countries with traditional values. This conclusion is based on the distribution of opinions on a range of issues including the perception of gender roles in the family, and society.
These results show that there is still a strong belief that women should have a secondary supporting role in front of men.
For example, 52% of respondents in Tajikistan and 54% in Kyrgyzstan believe that “A university education is more important for a boy than for a girl”. 50% of Kazakhs, 71% of Kyrgyz, and 87% of Tajiks agree that “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women”. In addition, 50% of respondents in Kazakhstan and 75% of respondents in Tajikistan agree that “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do”.
This widely spread perception influences the education process even in schools. On one hand, girls are usually expected to perform better, because of their obedience, and do perform better, according to PISA. On the other hand, they are more encouraged to engage in household chores from а very young age. A study in Kazakhstan showed that young men at the of 15-29 years spend around 70 minutes a day on household chores, while girls of the same age spend 278 minutes a day. The spare time boys spend on education, networking, and cultural leisure.
Involving young girls in an unpaid domestic labor is a peculiar educative element, because of the perception of them as primarily future wives and mothers. In Central Asia, they even may marry right after school. In Tajikistan, for example, 44% of all marriages are concluded with the brides of 15-19 years, in Kyrgyzstan – 20%, in Kazakhstan – 13,5%.
There are no easy solutions to the above-mentioned problems. However, it is crucial to take them into account when developing policies and strategic plans. Education is the only social elevator not only for individuals, but also for whole countries. Once not addressed properly problems of education will negatively affect all other areas. Thus, in our opinion, first and foremost, a priority to financing schools must be given. Secondly, policies to include and adapt children from poor families and families of labor migrants need to be developed. As for the gender issues, an information campaign on the significance of girls’ education and further high-quality employment needs to be conducted.
Kamila Kovyazina is a sociology and public policy researcher in Kazakhstan. Kamila has a 12 year experience of working in a number of think tanks to conduct sociology field study, as well as to prepare analytical papers. From April 2022 she is a part of PaperLab Research Center. Kamila holds an MA in Area studies of Eurasian National University and is a doctoral student in Nazarbayev University. Her research interests include gender issues, inequality, and secondary education.