Education reform continues in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan—which has had to overcome years of regressive policies instituted by post-independence President Niyazov. Niyazov lopped years off the structure of the educational system at all levels; replaced school and higher education curricula with a book of his writings, the “Rukhnama;” and disbanded the Academy of Sciences, which had overseen graduate-level education.
In 1996 the sequence of elementary/secondary schooling was reduced from ten years to nine, while “higher education” was cut from the five-year Soviet model to two years of “theory” followed by two years of work. Only after fulfilling the work requirement could students receive their diplomas. Graduate education was abolished. The official recognition of foreign degrees was revoked, invalidating the qualifications of those who had studied abroad and returned to Turkmenistan to work in government positions.
Restoring the Old Model; Moving Ahead
With Niyazov's death in 2006, changes began. The former educational structure was reinstated. Starting in the academic year 2007-08, the ten-year elementary-secondary sequence was reestablished. The cohort that would have left school in 2007 after nine years stayed on for an additional year and completed the reinstated tenth year in 2008. In higher education, the first cohort to complete the restored five-year structure graduated in May 2012. The Academy of Sciences was restored in 2008.
Additional changes have been instituted since, including the 2011 replacement of Rukhnama knowledge with a computer science examination in the secondary school leaving examination process, the restoration of permission for study abroad, and the reinstatement of the process of official recognition of foreign degrees.
The Next Step for Secondary Education
The next phase of secondary education reform will begin in September 2013, when the system is lengthened from ten to twelve years, creating a 4 + 6 + 2 structure, a move that many of Turkmenistan’s Central Asian neighbors are undertaking. Under the new policy, children will enter elementary school at age six instead of seven. In September 2013, both six- and seven-year olds will enter the first grade in a double class. The first cohort to complete the twelve-year structure will graduate in 2026. Curriculum at all levels of elementary and secondary education is also set to be expanded, to include more science, mathematics, history and social studies, and foreign languages.
EducationUSA in Turkmenistan
Institutions in the United States can learn more about the educational background of students in Turkmenistan through the EducationUSA network. EducationUSA has four advising centers in Turkmenistan, which assist students in learning about and preparing for education opportunities in the United States, as well as helping US institutions interface with students in Turkmenistan.
As of 2009-10, there were approximately 200 students from Turkmenistan on student visas in the United States, in undergraduate, graduate and non-degree programs. Students from Turkmenistan are eligible for Opportunity Grants that pay some of the costs associated with applying for admission to US institutions. See the Web site of the American Councils for International Education in Turkmenistan for more information.
American Councils for International Education, Turkmenistan
Belarus and Turkmenistan, AACRAO Annual Meeting Presentation, 2012
Government of Turkmenistan
Radio Free Liberty, Radio Europe: Turkmenistan
TEMPUS in Turkmenistan
By: AACRAO Connect