SEATTLE — Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has implemented significant changes to its system of education. Beginning in 1991, the country’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, oversaw the implementation of an education policy which required memorization of the only legally allowed textbook, Ruhnama. The textbook was propaganda written by the president to encourage fervent affection from the Turkmen people.
President Niyazov’s education policy has been rightfully accused of stunting the educational development of his citizens, and by extension, the economic sustainability of Turkmenistan as it works to extend its trade partnerships. One challenge the country has had to face due to such a poor education system, which required only nine years of schooling, was based solely on dictated propaganda with no grounding reality and had practically no higher education schools available, was finding a way to improve the quality of its workforce.
Niyazov’s policies saw the decline of a society once regarded as one of the best educated in the Soviet Republic. Only following the death of President Niyazov has the country been able to redirect its education policy towards a more progressive, inclusive direction.
Turkmenistan’s second president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has established new standards of accountability in many aspects of his new education policy – the most notable being shifts that attempt to follow international norms relating to education and child’s rights. For example, since President Berdimuhamedow’s election in 2006, the government has abolished the use of Ruhnama in schools and reestablished the use of multiple textbooks covering a wide range of topics.
In 2013, the government implemented a new educational system that requires a standard 12 years of schooling for all children, a three-year difference from President Niyazov’s past requirement of nine years. The majority of changes to education in Turkmenistan have been made in cooperation with UNICEF and the Millennium Development Goals.
Now, nearing the end of 2017, Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Education continues to push for the continuation of educational improvements. In 2016 alone, they achieved success with an integrated approach to educating students with learning disabilities. The Ministry was also able to establish, with help from UNICEF advisors, a five-point plan that aims to improve the quality of education and accessibility to education through improvement projects for the country’s school buildings.
Despite these advances, however, education in Turkmenistan still has many changes to go through before students can be said to have fair and open access to learning, as the country is still an authoritarian state that maintains a strong tradition of censorship and a dominating state-run media.
– Katarina Schrag