Uzbekistan: Teenager Death Prompts Education Reforms
The death of a young college student earlier this month has shocked Uzbekistan into greater awareness about the scale of bullying in the nation’s schools and energized the agenda for comprehensive reforms to the education system.
Zhasur Ibragimov was savagely beaten on May 3 by fellow pupils at a medical college in Tashkent and died of complications from his injuries several weeks later. The furor sparked by that grim episode is still dominating the public conversation — and in ways unusual for a country where debate about state policy has traditionally been strongly discouraged.
In the days after the 18-year old’s death, which occurred on June 1, members of the public embarked on a petition campaign to press the president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, to take a direct role in bringing the culprits to justice.
The impact has been even greater than many could have expected. As the wave of indignation intensified, the suspected attackers were arrested. Authorities provided bulletins on the progress of their investigations, which is also unusual.
In an even bolder move, the government announced on June 15 that it would shutter the Borovsky medical institute where Ibragimov and his assailants all studied. According to RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Radio Ozodlik, the order to close the institute came from the president himself.
The implications of this case may prove much broader, however.
Under legislation adopted in 1997, Uzbekistan operates what is known by the shorthand of 9+3, which stands for nine years of compulsory general secondary education followed by three years of specialized vocational education. This system was long considered an object of pride by the government run by the late President Islam Karimov.
In practice, this arrangement discriminated against rural communities, since the vocational colleges are typically situated in places more convenient for people living in more densely populated settings. A combination of distance and a poorly developed public transportation system accordingly meant that children in the countryside often suspend their education after only nine years.
On paper though, many young people continued to be recorded as regular attendees to the colleges. While would-be students are often recorded as having attended institutes, they would in reality be off at work, often in Russia.
In other instances, children are accommodated in dormitories and made to live far away from their families — fertile conditions for bullying.
Ibragimov’s death has brought back talk of reverting to the old system of 10- or 11-year mandatory general education. According to one report, a recent survey held among parents of pupils in Tashkent schools showed that most were in favor of the move.
When Mirziyoyev visited School No. 78 in Tashkent last week, he suggested introducing an 11-year syllabus there on an experimental basis.
“In the later classes, children develop their personality, learn to work in a team. It is in this very period that they should not be yanked out of their usual environment. This can negatively effect a young person’s psychological well-being, their attendance and, in the end, the quality of their education and upbringing. That is why it is essential to ensure an uninterrupted educational process,” Mirziyoyev was cited as saying by Uza.uz.
And then on June 17, Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov held a meeting with a group of principals from schools in Tashkent to announce that four schools, in every region of the capital, will create 10th and 11th grade classes as of this September.
Although the evening news bulletin mentioning all these developments and plans make no mention of Ibragimov, it is clear that his tragic death has acted as a spark for yet another aspect of change in Uzbekistan.