Ethnic Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan are grappling with a language quandary. Uzbek-language grammar and secondary schools in the region are under-funded and staffed with a high number of unqualified teachers. In addition, there are limited prospects for higher education for Uzbek speakers in Kyrgyzstan. As a result, many Uzbek parents are opting to dilute the cultural identity of their children in order to provide them with better economic prospects.
"The quality of education services provided by Uzbek schools is going down year by year," complained Mukadas Ruzieva, an ethnic Uzbek nurse from Osh, Kyrgyzstan's second largest city, where the ethnic Uzbeks comprise roughly 40 percent of the population. In 2007, Ruzieva put her children in a Russian-language school. "If my children have good education in Russian, they will have better opportunities either to continue their education at universities or migrate to Russia in search of a better life."
Kyrgyzstan is home to more than 766,000 ethnic Uzbeks out of an overall population of roughly 5 million, according to figures compiled by the State Statistics Committee, making them the largest minority in the country. Though their numbers are slowly growing, today there are just 14 Uzbek language schools in Osh, compared with 21 in 1991.
Kadyrjan Batyrov, an Uzbek community leader, former parliamentarian, and owner of a private college and university in southern Jalalabad, the third largest city in Kyrgyzstan, suggested that keeping children these days in Uzbek-language schools put them at a competitive disadvantage. "Without knowledge of the Kyrgyz and Russian languages, it is difficult for them to enter universities in Kyrgyzstan ? or leave for Russia to work," Batyrov said. "This is why I believe that all subjects [at Uzbek schools] except Uzbek language and literature should be taught in Russian."
The problem facing Uzbek-language schools are multi-faceted. Perhaps the most pressing issue is a lack of teachers. "Due to lack of qualified teachers, we school administrators are compelled to hire third and fourth year university students, who are not quite qualified and do not have proper experience," an Osh secondary school principal said on condition of anonymity.
Osh educators say that migration is another detrimental factor, serving to significantly reduce the number of students at Uzbek primary and secondary schools. "Officials say that about 500,000 Kyrgyz residents have left the country in the last decade, and many of them are ethnic Uzbeks," said Saidakhmat Khalturaev, a former Uzbek school principal. "Most successful ones stay in Russia, and later on their families join them."
A shortage of Uzbek-language textbooks and teaching materials constitutes another large obstacle. Many children in Uzbek-language schools must use textbooks that were published in Uzbekistan during the Soviet era. "The situation [became] complicated after Uzbekistan changed from using Cyrillic and started using the Latin [alphabet] in 1993," explained Erkin Bainzarov, the editor of the Uzbek section of the Osh Shamy ("Evening Osh") newspaper. "As a result, Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek schools were forced to stop using textbooks published by Tashkent," and must rely on antiquated materials. Teachers in Kyrgyzstan have not adapted to the Latin alphabet.
To help, the Kyrgyz-Uzbek University, the only university in the country to provide instruction in Uzbek, established a Textbook Development Center in 1997 with the help of Batyrov's Friendship of Peoples University in Jalalabad.
"Since Uzbekistan switched to Latin, we started developing our own [Uzbek] textbooks [written in Cyrillic]," said Tursunbai Kamilov, the director of the center. "Since 1997, we have developed a set of seven textbooks for the primary school and 20 textbooks for secondary and high schools." Yet more is needed. Kamilov says that due to inadequate financing, Uzbek schools only have 34 percent of the textbooks they need.
Some representatives of the Uzbek community say that if current trends persist, southern Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek-language educational structure could experience a complete collapse. "We have to maintain our schools, and have our children go to Uzbek language schools to preserve our language, culture and identity," said Khalturaev, the school principal.
Chinghiz Umetov is a pseudonym for a Kyrgyz journalist.