Uzbekistan has a comprehensive system of education that embraces the entire population. Although the lands that now constitute Uzbekistan have been centers of higher learning for centuries, the system of education as it exists today has its roots in the Soviet era and thus follows the modern European model of state-based, free, compulsory, universal, and secular instruction.
Traditional Uzbek Education
Before the Soviet era, every residential neighborhood in Central Asia had a maktab (primary school),Page 48 | Top of Articlewhere a teacher, usually the imam of the mosque, taught basic texts to neighborhood boys. The purpose of the maktab was to inculcate culturally accepted norms of behavior and to have students memorize certain basic texts of the area's Islamic tradition. The teacher received gifts from the parents of the boys he taught. Girls were usually taught at home. Beyond the maktab, education took place in practical contexts of apprenticeships or in madrasahs (religious schools). Those who aspired to work in the nexus of administration, justice, and religion entered the madrasah, where they could learn the art of textual interpretation from a recognized master in a system that had marked similarities to apprenticeship. Madrasahs were funded by income from endowments (waqf) established by various individuals. Bukhara's madrasahs were renowned and drew students from as far away as Tatarstan (a region on both sides of the Volga River) and India. This pattern of traditional education survived the Russian conquest of the 1860s and 1870s. A network of Russian schools emerged, but it attracted few local students.
After the turn of the twentieth century the maktab and the madrasah came under intense attack from a new group of modernist intellectuals, the Jadids, who accused them of not meeting the needs of the age. The Jadids advocated a new method of education, in which the maktab would focus on imparting functional literacy and a basic knowledge of arithmetic, history, geography, and hygiene. For higher education, the Jadids advocated a curriculum of technical and vocational education to equip future generations with the skills necessary for survival in the vastly new circumstances introduced by the Russian conquest. Lack of material resources and hostility from both the state and conservative elements in local society meant, however, that "new-method" schools remained few in number before the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Uzbek Education under the Soviets, 1917–1991
Real change came during the Soviet period. The Bolsheviks who took power after the Russian Revolution shared the Jadids' critique of traditional Central Asian education, although their agenda was far more radical. For the Bolsheviks, economic backwardness— in Russia as much as in Central Asia—could be overcome only through combating cultural backwardness. They therefore expended substantial energies on campaigns against illiteracy and for the establishment of a ramified system of educational institutions. Crash courses to train primary teachers and to abolish illiteracy among adults began with the advent of Soviet power. A network of Soviet primary schools offering a basic modern education faced substantial difficulties, however, and did not become a reality until late in the 1920s. Only in 1930 did education become universal and compulsory. The Soviet commitment to universal education meant that girls were brought into the educational system. By the 1930s, coeducation was the norm in Uzbek schools.
Education was the key to the remaking of society and culture, in the Bolshevik view. One of the first Soviet decrees concerned the separation of church and school. The Soviets saw religion as an ideological cloak that prevented the full realization of human reason; religious elites were also potential political opponents. This notion was applied in Central Asia as well, although maktabs were tolerated for much of the 1920s until enough Soviet schools could be built. The triumph of the Soviet school spelled the end of traditional Islamic education in Uzbekistan. Soviet primary schools replaced the maktab, while madrasahs were destroyed by the early 1930s through the nationalization of their waqf property, which was given over to the use of new state-run schools. Traditional Islamic education was pushed underground by the mid-1930s. In 1941, a madrasah with a radically transformed curriculum and modern pedagogical methods was opened to train small numbers of officially sanctioned clergy; a second one followed in 1970.
Soviet policy called for provision of education in the vernacular for all nationalities. The new schools operated in the Uzbek language, with Russian taught as a second language. In the cities with substantial Russian populations, Russian-language schools were also built. These were open to non-Russians, and since a knowledge of Russian was a vital skill, many ambitious Uzbek parents sent their children to Russian schools. Higher education, especially in technical fields, operated only in Russian, and after World War II the Uzbek regime emphasized the importance of Russian as the lingua franca of the USSR. Moreover Uzbekistan's higher education was closely linked with Soviet networks, with the most prestigious institutions being those in Moscow.
Higher education evolved along parallel tracks of teaching and research. The Central Asian Communist University (called Tashkent State University since 1960), established in Tashkent in 1920, was the first institution of modern higher learning in Uzbekistan. Over time, universities were established in Samarqand, Bukhara, and Nukus. A number of specialized institutes, teacher-training colleges, and vocational schools existed alongside the universities. Research-oriented education was based in the Uzbekistan Academy of
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|SOURCE: UNESCO (1999).|
Sciences (established 1943), with numerous affiliated institutes. Access to higher education was through university entrance examinations.
Soviet education achieved nearly universal literacy by the 1970s. In other indicators, Uzbekistan lagged behind all-Soviet levels, at least partly because of relatively low levels of urbanization. According to the last Soviet census (1989), Uzbekistan had 817 "specialists" per 10,000 population, as compared with the USSR average of 1,271. These figures are nevertheless impressive.
Uzbek Education after Independence, 1991
The basic structure of Uzbekistan's education system survived the breakup of the USSR. After nine years of compulsory education, students continue in vocational or academic streams, on the basis of their examination results. The infrastructure of primary and secondary education remains in place. Five million children study at school, and more than a million are enrolled at kindergarten level. (See Table 1.) In other ways, however, there have been drastic changes.
The end of central planning has necessitated new ways of funding education, and such resources have not always been forthcoming. Material difficulties, such as poor physical plants, shortages of textbooks and supplies, and low salaries for teachers, pose the largest threat to the system. Other problems arise from the disruption of contacts with academic institutions in the former USSR, which have not always been replaced by new ones. The government has also sought to downplay the public visibility of Russian, while emphasizing Uzbek-language education. Nevertheless Russian remains the only foreign language most people know. Russian schools continue to exist, and Russian remains a compulsory subject in non-Russian schools. Although the government would like to replace Russian with English as the means of communication with the outside world, such a switch remains highly unlikely given the shortages of teachers. Higher education has suffered from brain drain as well as from shortages.
Another significant feature of the period since independence has been the reemergence of Islamic education. The government acknowledges Islam as part of the spiritual heritage of the nation, but it is also wary of political challenges from a religious opposition. It therefore keeps tight control over religious education. Only schools under the supervision of the Muslim Religious Board of Uzbekistan, a government department, are allowed to operate, and their curricula meet basic requirements set by the Ministry of Education. State schools remain resolutely secular, with no religious instruction whatsoever.
Bendrikov, K. E. (1960). Ocherki po istorii narodnogo obrazovaniia v Turkestane (Sketches from the History of Public Education in Turkestan). Moscow: Akademiia pedagogicheskii nauk.
Medlin, William K., William M. Cave, and Finley Carpenter. (1971) Education and Development in Central Asia: A Case Study on Social Change in Uzbekistan. Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill.
UNESCO. (1999) Statistical Yearbook, 1999. Paris: UNESCO.