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Transformation of Education in Uzbekistan

As the main transmitter of culture from one generation to another, education played a strategic role throughout the existence of Uzbekistan as a single nation. While the society underwent a change from traditional Islamic to bourgeois under the rule of the Tsarist Russia, and then to communist under the Soviet government, education transformed trying to adapt to the requirements of each era.

The present day educational system of Uzbekistan is the product of the above transformations. Although, the measures are being taken for a rapid development of education in Uzbekistan, and its internationalization, there are still traces from the past of the educational system that bear the characteristics of Islamic education, Secular education introduced by Tsarist Russia, and a great influence of Soviet education which existed in the country for seven decades.

The name Uzbekistan - the country of Uzbeks - was introduced by the Federal Soviet government in 1924. In historical records, the country is mentioned by two other names. During the Middle Ages it was called Mawarannahr, which means "the land beyond the river". This refers to the geographical location of Uzbekistan between two great rivers of Central Asia: Amu Darya and Syr Darya. In the 18th-19th centuries the country was called Turkistan, and was represented by a group of small states - khanates.

I brought up the names of Uzbekistan in the past to have a clearer picture of the situation of education in my country in different time periods. The fact that it was always a powerful political tool in all of these periods is of no doubt. For example during the Islamic period - when the country was called Mawarannahr - education was fully administered and run by the Islamic clergy. Not only did it teach the subjects fully related to Islam, but it made possible to keep the society under the political control of the clergy. Two centuries later, when the Russians conquered Turkistan, education was separated from the religion. It was a drastic change and a very difficult process that involved the work of many progressive thinking people of the country. Of course Islamic clergy was very unhappy with the changes and showed strong resistance to the educational reforms. However, secular schools offered a few courses related to Islam, the scientific knowledge they provided was found popular among the common people, and took over the existing Islamic schools. The newly reformed education of the end of the 19th century painted the common life under the strict dominance of religion as backward, boring and degrading, which in fact was true. The majority of population by that time sought refuge in secular education not so much to escape the religious indoctrination, but to end their misery of submissiveness before the local rulers of Turkistan - khans and beks. Either way, once again education was used very effectively as a political tool to infuse new views and preference amongst population, to help them accept the change of political regime.

Communists had the biggest influence on education, which resulted virtually in a total change of life, society and culture. When the communist rule took over the Tsarist, the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was formed. The soviet education was totally different from the previous two forms of education in Uzbekisatan. First of all it became free, and therefore available to all social classes. Although it bore a great deal of ideological teaching and development of Soviet patriotism in children, education was a big step towards development in still rural and backward Uzbekistan. During the first decades of Soviet era in Uzbekistan a great number of secondary schools and higher education institutions were opened. Through teaching the topics of love for the Motherhood - Soviet Union - and educating children using the works of mainly Russian scholars, the Uzbek culture was linked to the Russian culture to a great deal. The main aspect of education in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic was teaching languages. Education was available in Russian and Uzbek, with Russian program being better. Secondary schools provided up to 8 hours of Russian language and literature. The position of teachers in society was very high and respected, their salaries also attractive, which served as an incentive for young people to become teachers in the future. As it is seen from these facts, education was first of all a political tool. Though Soviet schools were more efficient and better organized than Muslim schools of the past, they still could not compete with Western education. However, because Soviet Union was a closed country with very little inflow of foreign literature, the education became stagnant at some point.

Apparently not only education, but the whole Soviet system had become stagnant, which resulted in the collapse of the "great Read Empire" in the 1990's. Ever since, independent Uzbekistan has tried to follow a democratic way of development, with the focus on free market economy. Education nowadays in Uzbekistan has become closely connected with economy rather than politics. The educational institutions take into consideration the demands on the market for specialists in providing education to young people. Internationalization of education, studying the requirements of modern education in developed countries, and implementing the necessary changes has become a popular issue in the Republic. But unfortunately, the market economy brought division of social classes in Uzbekistan. Education, which was free of charge before, became partially funded by the government. This means, that not all talented and able young children have access to prestigious educational institutions where education is paid for. The prediction for future is that education will gradually become fully paid for by the students.

The new educational reforms after the independence touched the issue of language again. Uzbek language as state language is being given priority in both secondary and higher education. Although the issue of textbooks and classroom materials has been improving, with total abandoning of the Soviet textbooks, there was a lapse in the availability of information in Uzbek language. Textbooks issued in haste after independence are of a low quality and had to be changed a number of times, due to the introduction of the Latin alphabet in the country. As of today, the situation of education in Uzbekistan is not critical. A number of steps were taken to solve the educational issues, the most important being abandoning of ideological teaching. However, investments into education whether in the form of finances or reforms require quite a long time before they can bear visible fruits. It will probably take a whole generation of children born and brought up in the independent Uzbekistan to finalize the developments in the educational system of the country.
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