Turkmenistan's switch to a 12-year educational system is the clearest sign to date of the cataclysmic lack of intellectual capital created by poor and often erratic policy.The change, which is to take effect on September 1, will see the period of mandatory education increased from the current 10 years.A presidential decree published in newspapers Saturday talks about wanting to bring up "deeply educated, broad-minded and talented individuals" in the era of "might and happiness."If those qualities have been wanting, the causes go back to 1991, when the late President Saparmurat Niyazov introduced a nine-year curriculum, flying in the face of pedagogical practice the world round. It was a short step from that to abolishing the Academy of Sciences and reducing the minimum period of theoretical instruction in higher education institutes, a holdover of the Soviet system, from five to two years.Niyazov was instead fond of more practical, or "hands-on," approaches to education that would, for instance, lead to budding agriculture specialists spending their time laboring in the field instead of studying in the classroom.In the reading of U.S. diplomats, the sinister intent was to engineer the population into a state of stupefied passivity: "Niyazov's decisions are not surprising, given his determination to keep the Turkmen population ignorant,” reads one Wikileaked U.S. diplomatic cable from early 2006. When President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov became president at the end of 2006 he began reversing these often-destructive measures.Under new guidelines presented at a government meeting on March 1 by Education Minister Gulshat Mammedova, pupils will be enrolled in schools from the age of six. Both six- and seven-year olds will be enrolled this autumn, which means first-year classes will be doubled in size. The older children will have to cram 12 years of study into 11 years.Along with more detailed study of chemistry, biology, math, physics, history, social science, Turkmen and foreign languages, pupils will also have the option to pursue other new subjects: the cultural legacy of Turkmenistan, economics, environmental studies, world culture, IT and graphic design.The study of Niyazov's much-ridiculed Rukhnama holy book will also remain on the curriculum. Under the late president, study of that tome was mandatory in government offices and even to pass driving tests.Mammedova said the new system will necessitate pay rises for more than 5,000 teachers and the overhaul of textbooks.So, will any of this work? "The conditions have been created in Turkmenistan for young people to receive a world-class education and for companies and organizations to be furnished with highly qualified cadres," Berdymukhamedov said at the government meeting.The president instructed the deputy minister for finance to consider how to raise salaries for primary and middle school educators.Teachers themselves speak of the dismal quality of students now coming out of schools."Where are we supposed to get highly qualified specialists when teachers are endlessly being corralled into attended mass cultural events to mark national holidays," said apprentice teacher Guldakhan. "And students in higher education spend huge amounts of their time at all these events and senseless gatherings to show their support for Berdymukhamedov's policies."