Another 25 year old single female from Dashoguz could not share in the same optimism as her older teaching colleague. She, along with other Turkmen had to study the history and culture of Turkmenistan as well as the writings of the former President Saparmyrat Turkmenbashy. She admitted: “The majority of young people in our country are not open-minded and have problems with creative thinking as well as the ability to state their own opinion. Turkmenistan’s democratic development will also proceed slowly and gradually, and only from within. Due to the authoritarian nature of my country’s government, it is imperative that increasing numbers of teachers and young professionals receive training abroad, for such opportunities simply do not exist domestically.
Most of the educators are women and a 33 year old, married female from Ashgabat, Turkmenistan wrote the following in an ambivalent, realistic way, “The drastic changes and mismanagement in education in the past ten years has led to a situation when the Government has called for a wide scale education reform. Programs and teaching methods for public educational institutions have drastically changed. However, the change is not always good and may have, especially in education, dramatic implications which will be echoed for many years to come.”
Dealing with reality in the classroom in Mary, Turkmenistan is a 30 year old single female who wrote more in depth about the complexities she faces on a daily basis: “Starting my working activity as an English teacher in my native city of Mary, and by working there two years, I came across with the existed obstacles on teaching foreign languages, such as lack of resources and guidebooks about expanded methods of teaching, paltry informative and technical supplies, which were used during the lessons, students’ book, designed on the basis of old methods of Soviet times, the level of responsibility of school administration and many other things that left much to be desired.
At that time, the education policy of Turkmenistan was based on the state programs “Knowledge” and “Education” which were issued and approved by late president of Turkmenistan. Saparmurat Niyazow, who ruled Turkmenistan for about two decades…some other attempts were made to improve the national education policy in a rapid way, by reducing the length of study in the secondary schools from ten to nine years of study and as for high educational institutions by replacing the last two years study period to the practical training, did not give back the desired result. The practice showed that secondary school graduates of that experiment were not psychologically ready for adult life, as well as young specialists faced with the fact to be responsible to accomplish tough positions with limited knowledge. Thanks to the reforms of the new elected president of Turkmenistan, Mr. Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov, the situation of education policy was modified for better standards.”
A 26 year old single male from Ashgabat wrote that Russian is his native language. He, of course, was expected as all good Turkmen to study the “Holy Ruhnama”. He observed what happened with the changes of policies from the former autocratic regime. “The first reason was that our education system was under consistent changes and unfortunately most of them made negative impact on school education in particular. Our government decided to cut education at school from 10 to 9 years and I did not realize how wrong it was until I started to teach at school. All of the study materials remain the same as before and there were no books written considering new study plan. Most of the teachers just jammed what they taught before in students’ minds not paying much attention to consequences of such inefficient study. Many teachers just could not do such a bad job because they felt responsibility and obligation for what they teach and how they teach; I was one of them. But fortunately, our government recently understood weaknesses of nine-year school program and came back to the previous one…I did not have as many real professional teachers as I would like to have. Some of them left the country after it became independent and now we have a great deficit in educational specialist. Since the graduate study is abolished in Turkmenistan, the only way to get a graduate degree is to go abroad, but it is cost-prohibited for me.”
The young educator from Dashoguz, Turkmenistan wrote what she saw was the problem and it might help to explain her pessimism. “Our current curriculum simply doesn’t allow teachers to implement new pedagogical methods and techniques, nor to conduct interactive lessons. Teachers are not trained sufficiently throughout their education, nor does the system allow for it. The average English class in secondary schools meets for a mere two hours each week, hardly enough time for students to grasp a foreign language.” She further wrote: “Anyone can stand in front of a class, but only a well-trained and knowledgeable teacher can impart knowledge to students that will be retained.”
Another 30 year old single male teacher used the following quote: “An ignorant teaches teaches ignorance, a fearful teacher teaches fear, a bored teacher teaches boredom. But a good teacher develops in his pupils the burning desire to know and to love for the truth and beauty.” He further explained his situation in Turkmenistan: “In my country and in all the former Soviet republics the educational system is still based on the Soviet background. Of course most of the countries have new rules or new techniques of teachings, but the basics are taken from Soviet system of education.”
Finally, a 24 year old single male in education wrote: “First of all, we have to get rid of conservative ‘Soviet’ education system where everything based on monotonic memorizing method with any illustrations and entertain exercises or pictures while learning….The objective of education is no longer simply to convey a body of knowledge, but to teach how to learn, problem solve and synthesize the old with the new. So relics of communist system are not in power to overcome with these innovations…”
The nation of Turkmenistan has long been crippled by the Soviet Union’s communist policies, then later traumatized by the late president Turkmenbashy’s ill-conceived whims. Compared to the other Central Asian countries, Turkmenistan has a long road of recovery ahead of them. Improving education for the future well-being of Turkmenistan is perhaps their last hope. This is my final installment of all the IREX applications I read through from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. This proved a real education for me to peer into these applicants’ Central Asian realities. I hope the best for them and their future leaders in education and all other disciplines of study.