ASHGABAT – Turkmenistan’s Education Ministry is considering a 12-year compulsory education system to replace its present-day 10-year system, a plan that has both strengths and weaknesses, observers say.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov mentioned the initiative at a conference with educators in August, saying that the new system could take effect as early as the 2013-2014 school year.
This is not the first education reform initiative proposed in the past few years, political scientist Orazmamet Kaparov told Central Asia Online. In 2007, the nine-year schooling system introduced under former President Saparmurat Niyazov returned to the Soviet norm of 10 years and the two-year system of higher education Niyazov had enacted reverted to four years.
“If the Turkmen president sees his plans through now and succeeds in replacing the 10-year schooling system with a 12-year one, he will have every chance to be recognised as a serious reformer,” Kaparov said.
The plans also call for changes in what the students study. For example, they will focus more on science, math, languages and history and give less attention to the Rukhnama, a book of collected wisdom and philosophy put together by Niyazov.
Turkmenistan isn’t the only post-Soviet country that is interested in introducing such changes. Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union about 20 years ago, other former Soviet bloc countries have expanded their education system to 11 years and have broadened their curriculum.
By extending the schooling protocol by two years, educators hope to help students better get through a couple of transitional periods, Ashgabat schoolteacher Irina Batalova said.
“The so-called ‘grade zero’ would be established to prepare 6-year-olds for schools – learn to read, count, sit at desk correctly and so on,” she said. “Many kids today come to school unprepared.”
At the other end of the age range, Batalova said, the addition of an 11th-grade curriculum would better prepare students for university admissions.
What about textbooks?
Some educators worry that they will need more time to adjust to the new schedule. New textbooks, syllabi and supporting materials figure into their concerns.
“There’s virtually no time left for us to provide the schools with new textbooks, methodological recommendations, teaching aids and 12-year curricula,” Aknur Annameredova, head of the curriculum at an Ashgabat high school, told Central Asia Online.
It’s not even clear from where new textbooks would be coming, she said.
“Of course, we and our students would like the shift to a 12-year system to be accompanied by higher-quality schooling on the basis of modern technology and the latest achievements in pedagogical science,” schoolteacher Amandursun Kakalyyeva from Tedzhen told Central Asia Online. “But I’m afraid quality might get put on the back burner.”
The transition to 12-year education would be gradual and would allow enough time for specialists to revise the textbooks and adjust to administrative changes and demands, according to the Education Ministry.
Some parents express concern
“The proposed new system will no doubt be better, giving children more time to cope with the programme, which, I hope, will include additional subjects that’ll help would-be high school graduates enter universities,” said Galina, a mother of two from Ashgabat.
While schoolchildren’s parents generally support and approve of the planned shift to 12-year education, some of them are concerned about their sons’ futures.
“If 12-year schooling is introduced, my son will finish school at 18 and will immediately be drafted,” Garadamak Village resident Kakadzhan Atakhallyyev told Central Asia Online.
“This means he won’t have the opportunity to enter a … university after school,” he said.
In response to such concerns, though, the Education Ministry said there shouldn’t be a problem because young men would still have the chance to enrol in a university first before serving time in the military. Young men who fail to gain admission to a university, though, are subject to the draft.