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Education in Transition

Throughout the post-communist world region, disputes about education are bringing people onto the streets - evidence of the crucial importance of education to ordinary citizens. by Nicole Ritter 2 July 2005 Editor's note: This report was prepared for the 2005 OSI Education Conference, Education and Open Society: A Critical Look at New Perspectives and Demands.

Introduction

Revolutions, reforms and allegations of corruption marked the education sector in 2004 and the first half of 2005 in many countries in the post-communist region.

Late fall of 2003 brought the Rose Revolution to Georgia, followed by similar events in Ukraine in 2004 and in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. Change was in the air, with considerable effect on the education sectors of those countries.

Political revolutions of a different sort occurred in Central Europe and the Baltics, which joined the European Union en masse in May 2004. Changing national education laws so as to allow other EU citizens to educate themselves in any of the 10 new member states was one obvious development. So was an increased interest among Central European students in studies at Western European universities. The competition from the original member states spurred some universities in the “New EU” to “retaliate”: For example, Warsaw University has started serious recruitment efforts Austria and the Netherlands and has introduced English-language courses in Warsaw in an attempt to appeal to more EU students.

Attempted education reforms in Georgia led to plaudits from philanthropist George Soros but recriminations and demonstrations from medical students in the country’s capital. Protests against proposed reforms also took place in Central Europe, where students decried changes in the school-leaving exams that have been a traditional rite of passage for students hoping to graduate from secondary school and enter university. Russia, too, saw its share of student unrest as the government wrestled with university funding, and Moldova marked a second year of education-related mass demonstrations, this time concerning Moldovan-language education in the breakaway region of Transdniester. Language politics also alarmed many of Latvia’s ethnic-Russian population, who launched protests against a plan to eliminate much Russian-language teaching in secondary schools.

It was not only education reform proposals that brought people to the streets, however. In Armenia, for example, student and youth activists from a junior coalition partner launched programs intended to highlight alleged corruption in the education sector. Such allegations dogged a number of other post-communist countries in 2004 and 2005 as well. Accusations of widespread bribery in grading and admissions were rampant, especially in Central Asia.

The willingness of people to protest over these issues proves the importance of education to the lives of ordinary citizens throughout the region, a primacy that continued unabated in 2004 and 2005.

Southeastern Europe and the Balkans

Albania

A crucial reform took place in 2004 in the form of a plan called the National Development Strategy for Secondary Education that is to be implemented until 2015. Decentralization in higher education is also taking place, and a strategy for the development of university instruction was also adopted. However, the process is moving rather slowly, as demonstrated by the protests of professors and students at the University of Tirana in December 2004. The protestors sought higher wages and more autonomy for schools in managing student fees, and their demands reflected the burdensome implementation of the Bologna process that required a heavier professorial workload that isn’t reflected in academic contracts.

According to demonstrators, the protests—which in the end bore positive results for the professors—also showed a need for the Albanian Education Ministry to set aside more than the current 2.4 percent of GDP for education spending.

Albania also lags when it comes to integrating minorities into school opportunities, especially the Roma. Romani girls face particular risks of illiteracy and lack of education because poverty and traditional values of girls remaining close to home often keep girls from even enrolling in schools. Illiteracy rates overall are still very high for the Roma minority in Albania, and primary school enrollment is among the lowest in the region. Some local initiatives have been started to educate Romani women, but they remain scarce.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

The amendments imposed by the UN Office of the High Representative on the framework law on primary and secondary laws on education in July 2004 represented one of the key reforms of the year. Bosnian laws promise equal schooling for all children, but in reality there is a significant gap between law and practice. UNICEF warned the Bosnian government at the end of 2003 that a drop in girls' primary enrollment could potentially be a hidden risk for Bosnia in terms of human rights. In fact, girls in rural areas and in areas where access to schools is made difficult by a lack in transportation are more likely to stay at home. As in Albania with Romani girls, poverty and traditional values are blamed for this increasing trend. Denying girls access to school is punishable by fines, but the Education Ministry pays scant attention to enforcement.

The “two schools under one roof” issue persists as well, with children attending ethnically divided schools with separate entrances. Experts warn that segregation and ethnic hatred are being perpetuated by separate schools, sometimes resulting in violence between children in areas where returnees of different ethnicities are supposed to be learning to co-exist.

These problems are exacerbated by the lack of a comprehensive higher education law and the stagnation of the Bologna process. Education ministries at the state level have not been instituted and are not planned in the near future. The highly decentralized system—BiH has 13 separate ministries of education—makes reforms difficult to institute.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) issued a report in April warning the local authorities that they have signed on to many international treaties on education but are not meeting the international responsibilities they signed on to.

Bulgaria

One topic that garnered significant media attention in 2004 was the issue of illegal quotas in which the girl-boy ratio had been manipulated to be equal in many secondary schools, despite the fact that more girls than boys pass the secondary school entrance exams. Following the expose, the Education Ministry vowed to end the illegal process.

The EU signaled in its October 2004 report on education that Bulgaria has made steady progress, although the country still needs to build up its administrative capacity in the fields of education and training in order to pursue reforms. Thirty-six national education standards were adopted in July 2004, with a goal of ensuring more transparency and comparability with European standards. A new department for continuing education was created, and a law on higher education was amended to focus further on the Bologna process and improve the efficiency of the national evaluation and accreditation agency, according to the EU report.

However, experts say that Bulgaria still needs to increase its resources for vocational training and continuing education to modernize its educational system. Improved access in these areas, as well as an outline of an overall strategy in these fields, are essential and should be regarded as a major priority, according to Bulgarian educational experts.

Croatia

Croatia has recently seen a shift toward a more democratic, modern educational system. Bologna process reforms are progressing steadily, although some universities still refuse to cooperate with the Education Ministry and others have yet to allocate the necessary funds to make the process possible. Vocational education still needs reform, and as in most transitioning countries, the curriculum in schools should be linked to the needs of the economy and wider society. A new law on scientific research was implemented during the period under review as well.

Priority issues that have been defined by the Science, Education, and Sports Ministry (MoSES) in the past year are changing the content of teaching and supporting the shift from presentation-recitation models of instruction toward active, productive learning and strengthening education management and school leadership by creating systematic arrangements for professional development and monitoring the educational processes and outcomes.

The World Bank’s Education Sector Support Program (ESSP) is assisting MoSES in this process with a program designed to aid in the professional development of school principals and teachers, the distribution of new curricula for primary and secondary schools, and the establishment of a National School Examination Center. Several regional initiatives are also being undertaken under this rubric.

However, experts warn that Croatia still has work to do in the field of primary education. Some local authorities, as well as the church, refuse to allow sex and health education to be implemented in primary schools. Furthermore, the issue of language has once again been politicized by a declaration on the Croatian language adopted by the Croatian Academy of Science and Arts in February 2005. Many experts considered the pronouncement to be politically and nationalistically motivated, since Croatian cannot realistically be “endangered” by Serbian and Bosnian.

Macedonia

Macedonia still faces great divisions where ethnic minorities and education are concerned. The government's decision to legalize a formerly illegal higher education institution that has existed for ten years, the University of Tetovo, stirred great protests by Macedonian students at the beginning of 2004. Many Albanian, Turkish, and Romani children attend separate educational facilities, which doesn't allow them to learn the local language and creates segregation and a lack in communication between coexisting communities.

Albanian, Romani, and Turkish girls go on to attend secondary schools at a lower rate, even though the is equal in primary schools. Drop-out rates are high, especially for ethnic minorities.

Macedonia is progressing toward a decentralized system that is designed to give more opportunity for integrated programs at the municipality level. As of now, however, experts warn that vocational education and training must improve to correspond with the needs of the labor market. Also, analysts say, educational services and quality are unequal in urban and rural areas.

Romania

According to experts, the main conditions that Romania needs to fulfill to fully meet the criteria of offering an “effective educational system” is to increase schooling rates, improve the quality of teaching, and reform the administrative capacity with a focus on the national agencies in charge of finance and management of educational programs.

According to a 2004 EU report, Romania must implement a vocational training policy to facilitate adaptation of industrial changes and increase employability. These provisions are already being implemented through the Socrates, Leonardo, and Youth programs.
Enrollment is improving due to a larger number of schools; however, Roma children and children in rural areas still have a difficult access to primary education, and the drop-out rate needs to be lowered, experts caution.

Legislation adopted in May 2004 promised a new higher education program based on three cycles, which is in accordance with the Bologna process. There has also been progress in reforming vocational education and adult training by creating the National Qualifications Agency. In March 2004, the government implemented provisions of the directive on the education of the children of migrant workers.

Serbia and Montenegro

The year 2004 was a turbulent one for Serbia and Montenegro regarding changes and fluctuations in education. At the beginning of the 2004, Ljiljana Colic was named the education minister, and soon showed her hostility to reform by making decisions and amendments that experts said were an attempt to bring back a curriculum of the “old regime” of Slobodan Milosevic. In one example, she proclaimed that foreign languages shouldn't be taught starting in first grade, because such study failed to meet Serbia's “strategic goals”.

Most of her decisions and amendments were of a radical, conservative nature. However, since the National Scientific Council hadn’t yet been formed, her decisions weren't recognized as legal. After Darwin’s theory of evolution was thrown out of biology classes in September, the issue became a national scandal that forced to minister to resign.

The subjects that were ruled as having illegally been taken out of classes were brought back in the same manner.

Experts say that access to education for all is still an issue in Serbia, given that the country can be divided into three almost independent parts in terms of educational quality—Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia. In Kosovo, the situation is perhaps bleakest. It is the only part of the Balkans that isn't involved in the Bologna process, and higher education at the University of Pristina is facing a crisis in terms of educational and instructional quality. Schools in Kosovo are definitely segregated, and Romani children face the most difficult situation of all, marginalized by both the Albanians and the Serbs, with almost no access to education.

The official level of enrollment overall in Serbia is high, at almost 97 percent, yet there are risk groups, such as Romani children and children with disabilities, who are neglected by the government.

An issue that stirred much debate at the beginning of 2005 was the introduction of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) language in the educational plan as the language of instruction for the Bosniak minority in the area of Sandjak (Montenegro) in February 2005.
The problem lies in the politicization of a language that is only different by dialect and uses the Latin as opposed to the Cyrillic alphabet. New divisions founded on ethnic lines could be the consequence, since children are already divided in schools according to their religion.

After the name of “Serbian” in Montenegro was changed by the local government to “maternal” or “primary” language of instruction, some teachers in Niksic refused to teach the “new” language and consequently lost their jobs, protesting on the streets in the fall of 2004 along with others echoing their sentiment. Students in Kotor went on a hunger strike in April, protesting the change in the name of the language of instruction.


Central Europe and the Baltic States

Czech Republic

The Czech parliament in 2004 laid out and adopted a new foundation of for Czech education in the form of the Pre-school, Basic, Secondary, Tertiary Professional and Other Education Act, more simply called the Education Act. The new law—which does not affect university education, since that system is controlled separately—replaces three major education laws that had regulated the system previously and sets down conditions under which education and training are executed, defines “the rights and duties of natural and legal persons involved in education,” and specifies “the scope of competencies of the bodies executing state administration and self-government in the system of education.”

The Education Act confirmed the right of all Czech citizens and nationals of the EU to equal access to all kinds of education without discrimination, as well as to free basic and secondary education. Other important developments in 2004 and early 2005 included a new law pedagogical staff, which regulates the position of education professionals in the Czech Republic.

Higher education funding continued to be a contentious issue, with an April 2004 “week of unrest” capping a long period of intermittent protests by students. Protestors continue to draw attention to what they say is the Czech university system’s woeful under-funding while also resisting attempts to introduce tuition fees at public universities.

Hungary

Hungarian students spent 2004 in a fashion similar to their Polish counterparts—heading toward a major change in the way leaving exams would be carried out. The debut of new exams in May 2005 ended in a scandal that threatened the education minister’s job, after exam questions leaked to several Internet sites on a mass scale.

In the background of the preparations for the new exams was a debate on whether the education system in Hungary suits the country’s current economic needs. A discrepancy between the most popular education trends and what the market demanded was observed, particularly in terms of the “over-production” of university graduates in the fields of marketing, economics, and law.

In a separate small but important development, a court in Budapest ruled that the segregated classes that many Romani children attend under the guise of special education are unlawful. The judgment concerned nine Romani families whose children attended such classes. According to the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center, the ruling represents “a crucial precedent establishing that segregation and stigmatization of children with learning difficulties is both morally unacceptable and legally untenable.”

Poland

The year 2004 marked preparations for the completion of the education system reform initiated in 1999. A new form of the standard high school-leaving exam, the matura, was discussed and tested on students. The Education Ministry hoped the new exam would enhance young Poles’ ability to search out information, analyze it, and present it in clear and concise form—skills that international tests have repeatedly shown Polish students to lack.

The new exam was also supposed to change the way high school graduates test for universities, as the score achieved on the matura exam is supposed to replace the old system of separate entrance exams. Some universities, however, did not put much trust in the ministerial exam and retained their own entrance tests.

The introduction of the new exam in the spring of 2005 caused some protests from teachers in April and May, as they demanded extra pay for extra hours they spent examining students, and from students worried about the effects of the new exam.

At universities, ministerial spot-checks continued throughout 2004 to determine what departments would qualify for accreditation under the Bologna process. The accreditation visits took place at both state-run and private schools and confirmed the improving level of educational standards of the latter.

The year 2004 also marked the beginning of a low tide in terms of numbers of young people entering Polish schools. This, experts assess, will lead to school closures and the likely loss of teaching jobs. It will be also a test for higher education institutions as the decreasing number of students will inevitably increase competition as less attractive schools to close down.

Slovakia

In Slovakia, education experts accused the government of dragging its feet in the field of education reform in 2004 and 2005. Three attempts by Education Minister Martin Fronc to introduce reform in the financing of higher education were rejected by the parliament amidst strong opposition from students and parts of the academic community. After the latest negative vote, Fronc announced he would not put forward the reform again in this parliamentary term.

The most controversial part of the proposed legislation was the introduction of tuition fees for study at universities. Under the proposed rules, university students would be charged up to 26,000 Slovak koruna ($840) a year. Student loans with favorable terms would be offered to help students and their families pay the tuition fee. The law also would have required students to pay for extending their studies. At the moment, Slovak public universities only receive some basic allowances for administrative expenses from their students, while the state finances them for the most part. However, students rebuffed the ministry’s plans.

Still, Slovakia has proceeded vigorously with the reforms mandated by the Bologna process. The three-cycle model has been in place since 1996, although the government has kept an exception for Catholic theology, medicine, and veterinary medicine, the systems of which have continued in their previous incarnation.

Slovak students in 2004 and 2005 continued to participate in European mobility programs, and several universities have introduced a common credit system, which helps them to take courses in other universities across the continent, while using the credits received there for their own home study program. However, students sometimes complain that the adaptation of the courses to European standards tends to be carried out somewhat mechanically, without a proper rethinking of the contextual changes needed to build up study plans for different courses within different periods.

Slovenia

The biggest change in Slovenia's school system was the May 2004 adoption of a new law changing the structure of higher education to be compatible with the Bologna process. However, not all faculties were ready to change their study programs according to the Bologna lines in the 2004-2005 academic years, because some failed to reshuffle their courses in time.

In another reform, university departments became more financially autonomous from the state, and are now able to more freely decide on their development priorities by having greater control over their budgets.

In the field of primary education, teachers, politicians, and researchers were still evaluating the first results of the new, nine-year primary education schedule introduced in 2003 to replace the old eight-year system. Concerns remained as to whether children were now getting a better education or if the new system overloaded them with work.

Latvia

Latvia’s education system in 2004 continued to mirror the divisions in society. The country’s schools have become the main laboratory to put into effect integration between the Latvian and Russian-speaking communities by teaching in Latvian. Before World War II, ethnic Latvians made up almost 80 percent of the country’s population, but following decades of in-migration by residents from other parts of the Soviet Union before its collapse, they now make up less than 60 percent. Russian speakers in Latvia are one of the biggest national minorities in Europe, at almost 40 percent of the population. Many Latvians suspect them of having a greater allegiance to Russia than to Latvia.

Some 60 percent of children study in Latvian-language schools, while the remaining 40 percent attend minority schools with Russian as the main language of instruction. This year marks what the authorities hope is a watershed moment on the way to ending de-facto school segregation.

Starting in September 2004, Russian-speaking children lost the right to be educated entirely in Russian. All 10th graders in minority schools must have 60 percent of their subjects introduced in Latvian. Next year, ninth graders will follow. By 2007, all secondary students will take their school-leaving examinations in Latvian so that, advocates say, all students will be ready to enter university or the job market on a par with those for whom Latvian is their mother tongue.

But many Russian speakers in Latvia do not take such a benign view of the reform. In Riga last year, an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 Russian-speaking students demonstrated against the plan. Many teachers resorted to quiet “sabotage,” pretending to teach in Latvian but in fact using mostly Russian.

Opponents of the reform have created a very politicized organization known as the Headquarters for Russian Schools Defense. Another main group—the Latvian Association to Support Russian Language Schools (LASHOR)—is also trying to preserve the current bilingual education system.

NGOs tracking the issue say that the problem is not so much the reform itself but rather the lack of dialogue between the two sides that has fed mutual suspicion. They suggest relaxing timetables and showing flexibility if individual schools or weaker students have trouble meeting the new requirements.

There have been also discussions on teaching history and religion at primary and high schools. A compromise has been reached that the parents themselves may chose between lessons in ethics or religion for their children. The content of history books is under permanent discussion by the society and media, in particular, as to interpretation of 20th-century events.

Estonia

The biggest change in Estonia is largely the same as that in Latvia: the transition to largely Estonian-language tuition within secondary levels of public schools. There has been considerable controversy about the planned changes; though because it has been introduced gradually, it has been less politicized than in neighboring Latvia. According to the secondary-school law, the transition should have happened by the year 2000, but because of inadequate preparations, the deadline was postponed until 2007.

At the moment, two main problems have been recognized concerning the issue: a lack of teachers to provide a due level of teaching in Estonian in Russian schools, and underestimations of the needed amount of financial and teaching aid. Direct participants in the reform are also complaining about the absence of clear mechanisms to implement the reform. Bilingual education on different levels already takes place in 83 percent of non-Estonian schools.

The state has worked out seven different programs for the current transition period, including the creation of Russian sections in Estonian-language schools and partial “immersion” programs for different age groups.

The Assembly of Russian Pupils in April 2005 called for a 25 percent increase in teachers’ wages, preparation of a schedule for the transition, and transparent financial backing for implementing the reform by 2006.

New initiatives are also being undertaken within the auspices of the EU, including a project on creating an electronic vocational school involving 34 vocational schools and four colleges.

The year also saw amendments adopted to equalize the financing of state, municipal, and private schools as well as to increase the rights of school boards of trustees, and an amendment to the law on elementary schools and gymnasiums abolished entry tests for entering pupils.

In 2004, one of the most controversial Education Ministry efforts was an attempt to emulate the Swedish school system. Sparking strong criticism among parents and many teachers, the notion of getting rid of marks for primary school students in grades one through eight seems to have failed.

Lithuania

Discussion on the draft plan for higher education development for the next five years continued in Lithuania through the time of this writing. The aims of the plan include improvement in Lithuanian graduates’ competitiveness in keeping with EU standards, an increase of “partner” participation in administrating universities, and perfecting a system of lending to students who are paying for their higher education.

In a country with less than 10 percent Russian-speaking population, there is little tension as to the main instruction language at schools: Lithuanian is the primary language at 82 percent of all educational establishments, Russian 7 percent, Polish 6 percent, and Belarusian 3 percent. In recent years, the growth of Polish schools has been evident in Lithuania. Ethnic Polish parents have given up sending their children to the Russian-language schools that previously were considered as giving more international perspective.

Educational reform in Lithuania has already largely been accomplished, in terms of new forms of school-leaving examinations, changes in financing education, launching anti-corruption education, and so forth. Secondary school graduates pass their examinations at special examination centers, submitting anonymous written papers, and there are no examinations for entering university, except in some mostly creative professions. Students are accepted based on their school-leaving exam marks and an interview.


Eastern Europe

Russia

Demographics were a key concern for policy-makers and education experts in Russia in 2004 and 2005. If existing trends hold, by 2010 the number of students in the general education system will decrease by 20 percent and the number of students in the professional education system will drop by 40 percent. The number of students at higher educational institutions is also expected to drop by 16 percent by 2010.

Despite this expected drop, the Russian Education Ministry estimates that there are approximately 3,000 state-run and private universities and colleges, compared with only 600 during the Soviet era. Rampant rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, the country’s education minister promised in April that the state has no plans to introduce a tuition fee system.

Still, that same month some 4,000 students in Moscow and around 300 students in Nizhny Novgorod took part in demonstrations, protesting against what they called the privatization of state universities.

According to recent reform plans, institutions found to be below the accepted educational standards will have to either improve or close or merge with a more successful institution. Educational establishments will be divided into three tiers based on their performance. The highest will comprise 10 to 20 “national” universities. Next will come 100 to 150 powerful “system-building” universities on a regional level. The third tier will specialize in “training experts for the national economy.”

Russia is also preparing to join the Bologna process, which it signed on to in 2002. Russia plans to complete its transition in 2008.

On the secondary level, 78 of the 89 regions in Russia participated in a unified state examination experiment, and discussion that basic military training could become again a compulsory subject in Russian schools raised considerable debate. Earlier, in April 2004, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II created his own controversy by saying that it was high time to teach basic religion at secondary school. He qualified the statement by adding that attendance should be optional according to the wishes of students and their parents.

The Russian government in October 2004 approved a $100 million loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development to create electronic textbooks and train teachers. It was also announced that two-thirds of Russian schools will be connected to the Internet by the end of 2005.

In February, however, the Education Ministry said that Russian educational standards were sub-optimal and continuing to deteriorate. Among the reasons cited were low teacher salaries and a decrease of interest in training. The declaration came just a year after the ministry had announced that for the first time in the history of modern Russia, expenditures on education exceeded expenditures on the defense industry.

Moldova

Once again language issues topped the agenda in Moldova in 2004, this time between the government in the Moldovan capitol of Chisinau and that in the breakaway region of Transdniester.

In July 2004, authorities in the primarily ethnic-Russian breakaway region started closing schools teaching in the Moldovan language. In Moldova as a whole, the majority of people speak Moldovan, which is virtually identical to Romanian, but Transdniester has a higher number of Russian and Ukrainian speakers. Transdniestrian separatists argued that teaching in Moldovan could eventually lead the country to consider reunion with Romania, a country with which it has many historic and linguistic ties.

The move to close the Moldovan-language schools generated strong protests within Transdniester and Moldova—which declared sanctions against Transdniester—and from the international community. In one example, the OSCE called the closures "linguistic cleansing."

The standoff continued until the end of September, when Transdniester officials agreed to reopen the schools in question.

With that conflict-within-a-conflict solved, Chisinau turned its attention to its hopes of joining the Bologna process, which it ultimately did during a conference of education ministers in Norway in May.

Funding for all levels of education continued to be a concern in Moldova. According to a March report from Education International, Moldova spends only 4 percent of its GDP on education. In May, local media reported that studies indicated that 80 percent of Moldovan students have to pay for their education.

Belarus

The year 2004 was another turbulent one for education in Belarus, with the closure of the country’s only private university, the European Humanitarian University, and the introduction of a new ideological curriculum in all levels starting in August 2004.

Belarus’s strongman president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, also ordered a new textbook to be written and taught. The book, The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People, was unveiled in August 2004 and is to be used at all schools. Copies of the book were also presented to Belarusian war veterans.

The summer developments came on the heels of the introduction of a unified, centralized university entrance exam. The new exam, which covered mathematics, Belarusian, and Russian, was given to all university aspirants in May and June 2004. Near the end of the year, the Education Ministry said it was considering introducing a common school uniform.

One problem that still needs to be addressed, according to the Education Ministry, is corruption within universities. A new proposal in the works could lead to expulsion for students who attempt to bribe professors for grades.

In June 2005, students started a hunger strike to protest the overall repressive environment for education in Belarus. Two university students who were expelled for attending opposition rallies and for activity in the Youth Front organization, are among approximately 33 young people in both university and secondary schools who have been expelled from their schools since the beginning of 2005. It remains to be seen if their protests will make a dent in the situation within Belarus, where access to education is supposed to be constitutionally guaranteed.

Ukraine

Following the so-called Orange Revolution that swept the opposition to power at the end of 2004, Ukraine’s new government had to hit the ground running. New Education Minister Stanislav Nikolayenko said on 10 February 2005 that he would support the “modernization and improvement” of Ukraine’s system of education and research rather than any radical reforms. The ministry announced that its main priorities would be improving the quality and accessibility of education.

In the spring, the minister announced that education funding under the new government in 2005 had already increased from 3.5 percent of GDP to 5.5 to 6 percent. In the same declaration, Nikolayenko promised that teacher salaries at all levels would be raised by 1 September.

In addition to aligning its new domestic priorities, Ukraine’s new government announced in April that it is planning to apply for a World Bank loan for a program it is calling “Equal Access to Quality Education in Ukraine.” The loan will be used to support and develop secondary education during the next 10 years. The Education Ministry has applied for $86.5 million from the World Bank for the period from 2005 to 2009 and has pledged to cover 10 percent of the costs from state coffers.


The Caucasus

Armenia

In November 2004, youth activists from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) party alleged that corruption within the educational system was endemic, launching a public campaign to expose money-for-grades schemes. The campaign garnered considerable attention, but in April, the country’s education minister, Sergo Yeritsian, told Radio Liberty that the system was now less corrupt than under his predecessor, who had been a member of HHD, and argued that allegations of corruption are exaggerated and that any corruption “mirrors the overall situation in the country.”

Other widespread student protests were triggered by government attempts to change the way deferments are awarded for compulsory military service. The proposed bill would have removed the graduate student deferment, which currently allows students to postpone conscription until the completion of their graduate studies. Defense Ministry officials claimed that the graduate student deferment allows students to dodge the draft for money, while students said requiring an interruption of study would “negatively impact academic standards,” according to a February RFE/RL report. The government withdrew the bill at the end of February.

The rural-urban education divide also continued to be a problem. In 2002, the Armenian Education Ministry summarily dismissed some 10 percent of all teachers, a move that experts say has contributed to the current shortage of teachers willing to work in rural settings. Education Minister Yeritsian said in December 2004 that there is a significant shortage of secondary teachers in most of the rural districts. Many teachers currently are assigned to rural districts but stay only one year because the living conditions are not adequate, a December RFE/RL report stated.

Azerbaijan

The promised debate over a new general education law met with delay after delay in Azerbaijan in 2004 and 2005. In June 2004, ruling parliamentarians defended the delays but promised that debate would begin “soon.” Postponed to fall 2004, substantive debate was again put off in that session, and as this report was being prepared, no decisions had yet been made, despite a flurry of activity in the early spring of 2005.

According to the Education Ministry, illegal private universities continue to be a serious issue in Azerbaijan. Local media reported that such universities typically operate without licenses, often promoting themselves as Azeri campuses of well-known Russian universities, without the knowledge of those Russian institutions. In March 2004, the ministry conducted a series of raids on some of the universities and closed them down. Russian and Azeri officials have been working together on a bilateral agreement to regulate such educational issues.

In November 2004, a rift emerged between Labor and Social Affairs Minister Ali Nagiev and Education Minister Misir Mardanov. Nagiev was quoted by local media as saying that he held Mardanov responsible for the “deplorable” state of the education system, adding that “the ‘illiteracy’ of the population today constitutes a more serious problem than does the Karabakh conflict [with Armenia],” RFE/RL reported in November 2004. Mardanov has defended the country’s educational system, despite its continuing problems with corruption in both the secondary and higher levels.

To try to identify the problems facing the sector, Minister Mardanov in January announced the results of a ministry-organized telephone “hotline” that students and other concerned parties can call to alert the government to issues of note. He told local media that the hotline had been a success, receiving many calls on subjects ranging from concerns about exams to illegal student admission.

Georgia

As the location of the first of the three so-called “color” revolutions that have taken place in the former Soviet Republics since 2003, Georgia in 2004 had its hands full digesting the necessary reforms and new set of transition issues endemic in its post–Rose Revolution incarnation.

One of the chief concerns for the new government has been reforming education, which has been plagued by corruption and lack of funding since Georgia first gained independence in 1991. In December 2004, the government adopted a new law on higher education that aims to establish overarching national curriculum and admission standards for all institutions of higher learning—and to change the de-facto system of money for admission and grades. However, the changes were met with hostility by current university students—especially those at Tbilisi State Medical College, who in March launched protests and hunger strikes to try to roll back the changes.

April brought education news again to the fore as the parliament adopted a new law on general education. One of the most applauded and criticized measures makes a strict separation between state schools and religious teaching. Under the country’s previous agreement with the Orthodox Church, Orthodox religious instruction was allowed as an elective, and the church maintained control over what was taught and who taught it. Critics had complained that the rights of religious minorities in Georgian schools were consistently violated. The new law requires that Orthodox schooling can only take place as an extracurricular activity and school employees cannot take part in the teaching. Religious minorities and civil rights activists welcomed the changes, while Orthodox officials evinced disappointment.

In May, education reform got a boost when George Soros visited the country and remarked positively on the Georgian government’s moves to reform education.


Central Asia and Mongolia

Kazakhstan

While Kazakhstan is considered to be one of the most advanced Central Asian nations in terms of economic development, challenges remain for the education sector. In October 2004, the Kazakh government unveiled its latest plan to improve education, called the Education Development State Program 2005 to 2010. The program is designed to move the education sector toward the professional development of human and education resources.

Under this program, Kazakhstan by 2010 will offer a 12-year general education system for secondary pupils, form a common educational and informational sphere, and make efforts to integrate into the world educational community. Professional training will be reformed to correspond with the recommendations of the International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED).

Despite its impressive economic growth—estimated by the Asian Development Bank to be 9 percent for 2005—Kazakhstan still faces a major school shortage. According to data collected for the upcoming education development program, the country needs as many as 500,000 additional places to meet current demand. Experts say that Kazakhstan also lacks school textbooks because of the country’s collective dearth of publishing experience. Estimates from 2004 indicate that as much as 50 percent of the current school literature in use needs to be renewed.

Additional serious problems for Kazakhstan—which is itself largely symbolic of the situation in other Central Asian nations—stem from the aging teaching population and the uncertainty faced by graduates. Approximately 70 percent of Kazakh secondary school graduates say they have “no idea” about what the future will hold for them.

Kyrgyzstan

Like Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan is facing a whole new set of potentials following its own March 2005 revolution. In light of the government change, Kyrgyz experts have asserted that the education system of the country needs urgent reform.

According to Seitbek Jaanbaev, a senior researcher at the Kyrgyz Education Academy, “The March events and disorders—for example looting and illegal seizure of land—are signs of current deficiencies within the country’s educational system.”

“Graduates lack skills and are poorly trained for life,” Jaanbaev told the Kabar Agency on 19 April 2005.

In Kyrgyzstan as in the other Central Asian countries, the role of poly-ethnic society in education is an important factor in the success or failure of educational reforms. In May, CIMERA, a Swiss organization, completed a pilot project entitled Multi-lingual Education in Central Asia in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Attempts to unify teaching languages at early stages in education continued successfully in 2004 and 2005 in four kindergartens and 12 schools in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan under the support of the Eurasia Foundation and the Dutch government. With the help of original methods, children are provided opportunities for common perception and learning of several languages at the stage when they are most receptive.

Experts say that the main problem in multilingual education is a shortage of books and methodological literature. In one hopeful sign, the leaders of the NGO Multilingual Education in South Kyrgyzstan noted that young teachers are being trained at Jalalabad universities, which have specific programs addressing multilingual education methods.

Tajikistan

In Tajikistan, reform dating from 2004 has as its goal not the expansion of curricular possibilities but the reduction of programs in the hopes of being able to better fund the system as a whole. The plan—set to run from 2004 to 2009—is aiming to reduce the number of approved school subjects from 34 down to 17.

Experts say the reduction will take place via the integration and merging of related subjects. Separate disciplines such as algebra and geometry will be united in one field of mathematics, for example.

Tajikistan’s bloody 1992–1997 civil war badly damaged the country’s infrastructure, and education was no exception. Experts note that among the younger generation, illiteracy—almost unknown in Tajikistan in the Soviet era—is emerging as a major issue.

In addition, Tajikistan lacks almost 59,000 teachers, according to a January 2005 report released in Dushanbe at a seminar on issues of education. Specialists have also noted an overall 2 percent decrease in school attendance in recent years and a shortfall of 600,000 school seats, in a country with a population of only 6.7 million.

Textbook shortages also continue to plague the country. Only 30 percent of students are routinely provided with textbooks, according to January news reports.

In more positive developments, as mentioned in the section on Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan has also been part of the poly-ethnic education pilot program started by CIMERA in 2004 and 2005.

Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan has perhaps seen the most dramatic decline in educational standards since independence due to the radical cult of personality imposed by the country’s president, Sapurmarat Niyazov. In independent Turkmenistan, schooling lasts only nine years, and university students stay for just two years. All education is conducted only in Turkmen, and the Turkmen teaching and methodological materials and textbooks are based on the Rukhnama, written by the president.

A 2004 Helsinki Committee report confirmed that “the system of education in Turkmenistan has sharply deteriorated and become too politicized. It seems that the education system has become not a means of intellectual development but a weapon with which the government politically influences the people.”

Also in 2004, civil servants who graduated from foreign universities after 1993 were asked to leave their jobs. Foreign diplomas are not recognized in Turkmenistan anymore. Except for a few schools that teach in Russian—which are presently being closed—there are no schools for other ethnic minorities in Turkmenistan.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan starting in 2005 has been concentrating on implementing the third stage of the National Human Resources Training program launched by the Ministry of Education in 1997. Under this stage, the educational process is supposed to be updated with the most modern teaching methods, advanced technologies, and computer information networks with access to international information networks.

Multilingual educational development projects are also under consideration in Uzbekistan. In September 2004, the Education Ministry and the Office of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities held an international conference entitled “Perfection of Education and Social Integration Support: Challenges of the Poly-Ethnic Society.”

According to experts in attendance at the conference, nearly 10,000 Uzbek secondary school classes are conducted in minority languages, including Russian, Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, Karakalpak, and Kyrgyz.

Mongolia

Education reform in Mongolia was assisted in 2004 by the Education Sector Development Program (ESDP) and the Secondary Education Development Project (SEDP), both ongoing and sponsored by various international organizations. Those efforts were boosted in 2005 by the May announcement that the Asian Development Bank had awarded a $500,000 grant to Mongolia to help “improve access to and the quality of education services for children and increase skills training opportunities for youth and adults in Mongolia by preparing a Third Education Sector Development Program."

While such international programs have helped stem the tide of deterioration in education, the overall quality of and access to education has declined since the country started its transition in 1991. The most serious issues remain outdated educational materials, limited capacity, school shortages, and low funding levels. The urban-rural divide in educational opportunities is also emerging as a dangerous contributing factor to the flight from Mongolians’ traditional nomadic, rural life to already overcrowded cities. For older students and potential workers, the lack of technical education and vocational training bodes ill for Mongolia’s future development.

Previous international programs have proven successful in improving sectors of Mongolia’s education system. Under the ESDP, for example, 181 schools were successfully restructured, , while more than 60 schools and kindergartens are being helped under the ongoing SEDP.
By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter with reporting by Mirna Skrbic in the Balkans, Wojciech Kosc in Central Europe, Aris Jansons in the Baltics, Sergei Borisov in Eastern Europe and Russia, and Hamid Toursunof in Central Asia.
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