Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov wants to introduce modern teaching methods and model the education system on that used in Russia, but NBCentralAsia commentators say this will be no easy task given the devastation caused by his predecessor’s policies.
At a cabinet meeting held on April 30, President Berdymuhammedov told officials that schools and universities must introduces the interactive methods of teaching used in Russia, involving new multimedia technology to hold discussions and online conferences between students and teachers. The president said school pupils and students must learn the skills of critical thinking and analysing information.
Berdymuhammedov issued instructions for a new teaching system to be developed using these methods, and rolled out in all educational institutions.
In the last years of the presidency of Saparmurat Niazov, who died in December 2006, school education was reduced from ten to nine years and university education was limited to four years.
Under Niazov, foreign languages, art and sport were cut from the curriculum, and in their place schoolchildren were forced to study the Ruhnama, a book of morals he wrote himself. Advanced teacher training colleges were closed down, and the introduction of new teaching methods was prohibited.
NBCentralAsia observers say the reform Berdymuhammedov is planning will face a number of difficulties – there are few highly qualified teachers in the country, the literature on educational theory is out of date, and there are still strong controls placed on access to the internet, a major component of the new interactive teaching methods.
“At the moment, Turkmenistan simply does not have the resources to develop its own systems. Niazov’s crazy rule meant that the educational system was effectively destroyed,” said NBCentralAsia expert Oleg Gant.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civil Democratic Union, an émigré Turkmen group, believes interactive methods can only be introduced once a basic educational system has been put in place. All this will depend on how resolved the authorities are to see the process through, and on ensuring that the process is a gradual one.
“The right way to do it will be to develop a domestic educational model step by step, making it a priority to re-employ teachers and train new ones,” said Mamedov. “Until that happens, Turkmenistan will not be able to copy the [educational] systems of more advanced countries.”
Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Bulgaria-based Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, says that since Berdymuhammedov assumed office as president, there has been no reappraisal of the system of values that applies in education. The Ruhnama still figures high on the list of curriculum subjects, and the authorities are in no hurry to develop new textbooks, and are rejecting all local initiatives.
“An experienced university lecturer proposed reintroducing active teaching methods and role play, but the university management – who accused him of dissent several years ago – rejected his initiative. The same thing happened to a professor at the Turkmen State University, whose proposal that students could site exams via the internet was turned down,” said Begmedova.
An NBCentralAsia observer based in Ashgabat said people had been hearing about a “national education model” for many years and viewed the phrase with increasing hostility.
He noted that the authorities are planning to open an International Ruhnama University, and that there was recently an international student forum on the Ruhnama. As a result, “everyone is afraid that everything will stay exactly the same as it has been for the last 15 years,” he said.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.)