Back when many Turkmenistan-watchers nurtured hopes of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov becoming a reformist president, modifications to the country’s education system were heralded as evidence of change.
Even before being elected to his first term in early 2007, Berdymukhamedov revealed plans to extend primary schooling to 10 years, from nine years previously.
All these years later, he seems unimpressed by the progress made. In an August 16 cabinet meeting, the president issued one of his trademark warnings to Education Minister Gulshat Mammedov and spoke disparagingly of teaching standards.
For that reason, Berdymukhamedov is now suggesting that primary education could be extended to 11 or 12 years and has insisted on an improvement in teacher skills.
"In some schools, teacher training does not meet the requirements of today," he said during the televised meeting.
For an example, he talked about the ineffectual use of laptops in first grade classes, which he put down to the lack of computer skills among teachers.
As befits an Orwellian state, recent entrance exams for higher education institutes were monitored by security cameras, and the president was unhappy with what that revealed.
“A number of irregularities were detected during exams, and it was clear which invigilators were assisting exam-takers and helped them unreasonably inflate their results," Berdymukhamedov said.
As well as making such stringent demands, Berdymukhamedov has proven something of a priggish Puritan toward students. College students are not allowed to go to class in their own cars or in taxis; frequenting nightclubs, bars and restaurants is definitely out. Dormitories are no-fun islands of discipline.
In April, after a serious car accident involving the children of high-ranking officials studying at the Turkmen Polytechnic Institute, a number of government employees lost their jobs.
Turkmen Polytechnic Institute rector Khydyr Saparlyev and Energy and Industry Minister Yarmukhammet Orazgulyev, whose offspring were allegedly involved in nighttime “Fast and Furious” style races, got the chop.