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Tajiks Don't Need No Education

Tajik authorities are taking a more pro-active stance on education lately, although their efforts appear focused on regulating where people cannot and should not study.

Late last year, the Education Ministry pulled the teaching license of Tajikistan's only privately owned college of higher learning - the Institute of Innovative Technology and Communication (IITC). That move earned condemnation from the normally reserved diplomatic missions in Dushanbe, including the embassies of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Signed by some of the top diplomats currently serving in Tajikistan, their statement strikes, with admirable candidness, at the heart of the issue:

"The opportunity for young people to learn from a diverse body of instructors and discuss a wide range of views is crucial for the development of civil society.  It is important for economic prosperity as well:  Students who think openly and freely are the ones who develop the economic innovations of the future."

The Supreme Economic Court decided last month to uphold the Education Ministry's ruling, though the reasons behind the decision are unclear. There is some suggestion that the IITC was not equipped satisfactorily, but anybody that has visited a provincial Tajik university could quickly point out the flaws in that argument. This writer once met a second-year computer sciences student in a major southern Tajik city who professed never to have actually used a computer in class.

As Deutsche Welle reports, IITC's closure will leave around 2000 students without nowhere to study and 200 teachers with nowhere to teach.

The German broadcaster suggested a possible motivation for the institute's closure: the college employs several prominent opposition politicians, including Islamic Renaissance Party leader Muhiddin Kabiri and the head of the Social Democratic Party, Rakhmatillo Zoyirov.

Now President Emomali Rakhmon himself has weighed in on the education question by exhorting students at madrasahs abroad to return home, lest they be poisoned with dangerous ideas:

"Many parents hoping to give their children a good religious education send them to foreign madrasahs and other Islamic educational centers. Unfortunately, in most cases, teenagers, left unchecked, are taught not how to become mullahs, but are put on the path of terrorism and religious extremism."

It is hard to know how much truth there is in Rakhmon's words.

If anything, these two incidents seem to represent a distressing new trend toward stamping out dissident thinking, be it on religious or political grounds. Tajik education has already been hollowed out by the mass emigration of the country's most talented cadres and underfunding. Government policy now seems further intent on squeezing out any intellectual vitality there is left among the nation's youth.

Tajiks Don't Need No Education

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