Kyrgyzstan: A Corrupted Future

a corrupted futureOSH | “A friend of mine has been working in Russia for the last two years,” says Rustam Saidov, a third-year student from a university based in Osh. “Every six months he sends me money so that I can negotiate his exams with our teachers. You don’t have to be at the university physically to pass your exams. All you need is money to bribe teachers.”

Back in 2005, those clamoring for educational reform had guarded hopes after Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev pledged that one of this government’s key priorities would be to “revive a classical education system capable of providing a strong foundation for our culture.” Yet four year later, the urgent reforms that the new authorities promised when they took power after the so-called Tulip Revolution have not been realized. On the contrary: observers and even education officials agree that the quality of the Kyrgyz educational system has continued to decline. And corruption continues to be one of the main culprits.

“In general, corruption starts when an applicant pays for his or her admission into a university, and bribery continues for five years until he or she graduates,” explained Erkaim Mambetalieva, an expert on corruption in the higher educational sector at the National Corruption Prevention Agency in the northern region. She sees a direct impact on the level of the education system, saying only 5-10 percent of graduates are rated as competent specialists, partly because of such corrupt practices.

“The majority of graduates are not ready to seek jobs on the labor market since their knowledge is inapplicable and does not meet the requirements of the labor market,” Mambetalieva told TOL. She said that the Education Ministry has finally admitted that corruption is widespread within higher education, and ordered university administrations to establish anti-corruption public councils and special commissions to fight illegal behavior. These councils are established at universities and comprised of university teachers and students, but they do not have any real powers.

In May, the head of the National Corruption Prevention Agency even ordered his employees not to take vacation until the end of admission entrance exams at universities.

Taking Responsibility

“Unfortunately, one can hardly be satisfied with the level of university entrants, but they buy their tickets to universities,” Professor Biymirza Toktoraliev, the pro-rector of Osh Technological University and a member of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, said. “To stop corruption and the admission of such [high school] graduates, the university teachers who examined them should bear responsibility for their further success or failure for all five years of their study.”

“It is a significant step that our ministry has started an anti-corruption campaign, but one should have no illusion of quick results,” Professor Toktoraliev said.

Mambetalieva from the National Corruption Prevention Agency had a similar opinion. “This is a well-organized system in universities to make money by means of abuses, which has made corruption the main tool to generate money,” she said.

Corrupt practices are hardly a specialty of just institutes of higher education; they are also prevalent on the primary and secondary school levels. “Every year, we have education ministry officials inspecting us,” Jyldyz Z., the head of the curriculum department of a Jalal-Abad school, said on the condition of anonymity. “Our school director collects money from school teachers to buy them [the ministry officials] gifts and take them to restaurants. We have to please them. Otherwise they would find various deficiencies and problems no matter whether our school provides bad or good services to schoolchildren.”

Non-existent Teachers and Supposed Repairs

Another illicit practice is the “dead souls” method of personnel management, when principals have more teachers on the payroll than they really have working at their schools—a legacy from the Soviet Union still used by Kyrgyz schools to earn extra money from the ministry.

Parents also continue to be a source of additional financing despite the government’s ban on the practice four years ago.

“When Bakiev came to power in 2005, he prohibited collecting money from parents to maintain and repair school buildings. However, many school administrations ask parents to contribute 200 soms [approximately $4.60] per pupil,” said Bakhtiyar S, a car dealer from Osh. “I have three children, so I have to pay 600 soms. I don’t mind paying the money, but I know it will go into their pockets since our government provides resources for such purposes [school repairs].”

Parents, such as Bakhtiyar, complain but do not report such cases of abuse to the police. “That won’t stop corruption at schools, anyway,” he says, “and if I do [report anything], I will only spoil my relationship with the school administration, which may affect my children’s life at this school.”

One place that the illegal payments probably do not end up is in the pockets of primary and secondary school teachers. Their salaries continue to be abysmal, contributing to a worsening exodus from the teaching profession. According to the figures provided to the media by the parliamentary education committee, in 2007-2008, Kyrgyz schools were short 3,000 teachers, and in 2008-2009, the number increased to 3,500 specialists. And 40 percent of school teachers have nearly reached retirement age.

“It is no surprise that young people after graduating from universities don’t want to work at schools. They want a better life and seek their luck elsewhere, but not at schools. The average salary at our school is about 2,000 soms [approximately $46],” Zumrat Mamashaeva, a teacher from Osh school # 29, said. In April 2009, the minimum subsistence level in Kyrgyzstan was 3,571 soms.

“How can one expect school teachers to provide quality services when they are underpaid?” Mamashaeva said. And there is little doubt that the quality of services has been inadequate: According to a 2009 UNDP report assessing progress toward the Millennium Development Goals in Kyrgyzstan, only about 13.6 percent of 15-year-old schoolchildren in Kyrgyzstan were able to pass a reading exam at the level of minimum international standards for their age, and only 11.7 percent and 11.8 percent, respectively, managed to pass natural science and math tests. The report says that the country’s management of the education system has not proven effective at addressing reform and development challenges.

In January 2009, Economic Development Minister Akylbek Japarov admitted in a parliamentary session that “unfortunately, teachers’ salaries have been low” and said he would “insist” on raising salaries in the first half of 2009.

Short All Around

Funds will be hard to find, however, when they aren’t even sufficient to print enough textbooks for the country’s students. In September 2007, the national education authorities asserted that schools were lacking 14.8 percent of the necessary textbooks. But this April, the new education minister, Abdylda Musaev, who took over in February 2009 after a government reshuffle, mentioned an even worse figure. He said a shocking 39 percent of students were missing books, suggesting to some that the previous minister might have covered up the depth of the crisis. Musaev said that the national government needs about 800 million soms to print 12 million textbooks to supply all schoolchildren.

However, the lack of financial resources to provide textbooks for Kyrgyz schools is not the only bottleneck. In 2007, the government did allocate 100 million soms for purchasing books, but then said officials couldn’t find a company interested in the tender that had the ability to provide quality books. Finally, in March 2009, Education Minister Musaev reported a modest success, saying that his ministry had spent 10 millions soms to purchase books and had printed 210,000 copies of 20 textbooks.

In addition to this modest achievement, the education authorities reported that 57 new schools were constructed in 2008, but that was down from the year before when 75 new schools were built. And new buildings are no guarantee that classes can be held there. According to the government, 170 millions soms are still needed to purchase furniture, including school desks, bookcases, desks and chairs for teachers, and blackboards.

In the current financial situation, pre-school education – already underdeveloped – has come under greater risk of shrinking.

On 17 March 2009, information agency quoted Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Ukhtomkan Abdullaeva as saying that out of 715,000 Kyrgyzstan’s children, a mere 70,000 attend kindergartens, and 315,000 children live below the poverty level. The number of preschool facilities has dropped from around 1,700 in the 1990s to only 488 in 2008, because of a lack of funding from the national government and the subsequent sale of school buildings that are now used for other purposes.

In addition to state-financed pre-school facilities, international donors fund more than 200 kindergartens in Kyrgyzstan. Education Minister Musaev expressed his concern that these schools may, however, be closed once external financing runs out. Musaev said, “to protect community based kindergartens, the government should support them,” reported on 17 March, but he made no promises.

Raiding Higher Education

In search of funds to boost the level of primary and secondary education, the Kyrgyz authorities have found a prime target: higher education. They plan to decrease government financing of the sector, which is composed of 54 mainly public universities that educate around 245,000 students.

Officials claim that the national budget cannot afford such a large number of universities in a country of only 5 million people. Nur uulu Dosbol, the state secretary of the Kyrgyz government and once an education minister, said in mid-March that the country’s universities have to gradually move to self-financing. And, a few weeks later, Finance Minister Marat Sultanov made it clear that the government is planning to fund only five to six national universities, such as the Kyrgyz National University, the Medical Academy, and some others.

It is an open question whether fewer universities will translate into greater competition for a few chosen spots and thus higher-quality applicants and graduates, or just the need for more expensive bribes or even worse cases of corruption.




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