As her six-year-old daughter prepares to start school this September, Alina Bilyaletdinova says that sifting through online chat forums and scouring media reports of disgraced school principals has become “a full-time job.” With limited funds, trying to find an acceptable school in Kyrgyzstan’s shabby public education system, full of informal and semi-official financial arrangements, has been daunting.
It is hard to call any school in Kyrgyzstan “public” these days. After state budgets collapsed with the Soviet Union, parents were forced to share the cost of teachers’ salaries and school upkeep. Authorities encouraged schools to raise their own funds, effectively turning educators into entrepreneurs, says one former school principal. Two decades on, some public schools have flourished as “status schools,” while others have floundered. The trend both mirrors and reinforces a deepening social and economic gulf in society as a whole.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.