Uzbekistan gained its independence from the former Soviet Union almost 30 years ago, yet its education system still largely follows the Soviet model. Uzbekistan has a uniform state curriculum with uniform textbooks used across the country. The system focuses on rote learning, in which information is memorized but not deeply understood or applied, rather than meaningful learning, which prioritizes understanding and using learned concepts to make connections. In Uzbekistan’s newly introduced private schools, the situation is no different. The state’s control of education stifles innovation and the implementation of new ideas.
Since the presidential decree on the development of private education was adopted in September 2017, there has been a tremendous rise in the number of private schools throughout the country. The main objective of the decree was to improve the quality of education and to develop non-governmental educational institutions in Uzbekistan. However, the decree maintains that private schools must follow the state curriculum in terms of program and textbooks. Although the new road map on public education for 2030 maintains freedom to choose textbooks for classes, there is no mention of diversity in curricula. Moreover, while the minister of education, Sherzod Shermatov, mentioned the possibility of working with private schools on creating and using new and improved curricula, the law on licencing non-governmental educational institutions mentions that all private schools have to follow the state program. The uniform curriculum eliminates all possibility for innovation and context-based learning.
To improve the quality of education in Uzbekistan, the government, needs to open the door to change – more specifically, to ideas from the private sector. Private schools need academic independence so that they can respond better to the needs of their students. A healthy competition of ideas between private and public schools can improve both. Academic independence will increase the efficiency of the provision of education, and can even serve as an idea generator for the state curriculum.
The private sector already plays an important role in education in Uzbekistan – it just isn’t recognized. Today a large number of university applicants rely on additional private tutoring in order to gain admission to universities. True academic independence would allow private schools to develop curricula which meet the expectations of the competitive university admission process and more importantly, satisfy modern job market demands. If private educational institutions were allowed to innovate toward these ends, the public sector would be forced to also improve the quality of its programs, delivery, and teacher qualifications. This competition will benefit all of Uzbekistan’s students.
The ability of private schools to create their own programs will improve the quality of education. Competition among the various curricula can weed out ineffective methodologies and practices that are still used today, and give room for innovation. Moreover, these schools should be able to choose textbooks and materials they find useful to their specific contexts and specialize in subjects relevant to the contemporary job market in their communities.
Academic independence will lead to a diversity of programs, which means a diversity of ideas. There is a widely-held view that governments have better information regarding the technology of education. The evidence, however, suggests the opposite. Private schools, which are more autonomous and responsive to students and their parents, are often able to deliver education in a more efficient way. Public schools could adopt at least some teaching and administrative practices from private schools, whose cumulative program development could serve as a testing ground for ideas.
There are certainly concerns regarding the abuse of this freedom by private schools. There have been cases in other countries when schools fabricated test results, or specialized solely in certain subjects and deprived their students of others. However, academic independence in this article assumes some government role in regulating minimum educational standards across the country. A committee under the Ministry of Education could ensure the quality of the programs taught at these schools by providing proper guidance.
Uniformity in education stifles progress, while diversity creates opportunities to innovate and be creative. The freedom to be able to choose effective practices and materials can lead to success in education, which provides the human capital for a successful and prosperous state. The government needs to accept that it cannot meet the demand of information and knowledge in the modern world alone. It needs to open the door to private sector as an important partner in education Uzbekistan’s future generations.
Firdavs Navruzov is the founder and principal of the first private school in Bukhara. He is a former Fulbright and Muskie fellow and now is a visiting scholar at George Washington University, in the Central Asia Program’s New Voices of Uzbekistan fellowship.