Many parents in Tajikistan view the start of the school year with a bit of trepidation: while students wrestle with their lessons, adults must reach for their wallets. An increasing number are willing to spend sizable sums to get their kids into Russian-language classes.
Tajikistan’s constitution guarantees access to a free education for children. In reality, not-so-concealed bribery is part of the process. Parents are often required to contribute “voluntary fees” to public schools’ “development funds.” Principals establish their own rates. Though the fees can seem modest enough to be ignored – about $10 per month per child – it is difficult to get an explanation about where the money goes.
“Teachers’ beggarly wages create conditions for corruption in educational institutions, some of which have turned into trade fairs,” said economist Khojimuhammad Umarov. Classes are crowded, teachers often unqualified and – because they are dependent on informal payments from parents to survive – no longer respected, Umarov added.
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Konstantin Parshin is a freelance writer based in Tajikistan.