Now, lacking access to high-skill jobs and public servant posts, Uzbeks appear to be rapidly losing interest in education. Manzura Aslanova, the principal of Osh secondary school # 9 named after Rudaki, has noticed a sharp decline in the number of Uzbek students moving on to high school. Uzbek is the language of instruction at school #9 and most of the students are minority Uzbeks.
“Last year, 28 ninth graders out of 102 [at school #9] continued their education at upper secondary schools, passing to grade 10,” Aslanova told EurasiaNet.org. “So, if we had four groups of ninth graders, then we have only one group of 10th grade school students. Others don’t want to stay at school.”
Officials at the Osh city Education Department told EurasiaNet.org they do not compile statistics on the number of students passing from ninth to 10th grade. But multiple educators at Uzbek-language schools in the area interviewed by EurasiaNet.org seemed to confirm the trend.
According to Aslanova, financial pressures are the main reason why children are dropping out of school: most households, given the widespread unemployment, are struggling to make ends meet, and need youngsters to start contributing what they can to family finances. Many Uzbeks also believe their children should learn a trade, rather than pursue their studies.
“My 15-year-old younger son Azim spends a few hours at school every day, and then he joins me in my shop,” says a 44-year-old, slightly plump automobile mechanic, who introduced himself as Rustam. A father of four, Rustam runs his own repair shop in Osh. He says his son does not pay much attention to homework, and instead assists him most afternoons at the shop.
“His school educators blame us [parents] for not having our children properly study at school, but here I train my son, and in an year or so he will start earning more money than his school teachers do,” Rustam said with a smile. “He is learning pretty fast.”
Another factor behind the rising drop-out rate is the lack job prospects for Uzbek college graduates. Many families now wonder: why spend so much time and energy on studies, if there is little chance it will pay off?
“Competition for state-paid higher education is high, and university tuition fees for most families are not affordable,” said Aslanova, the school principal. “In addition, their parents say that even if they [kids] manage to study well and get university diplomas, nowadays there are not enough jobs for high-skill specialists.”
Mukhabat, a 37-year-old Uzbek woman, who works as a trader at the Osh market, is like any mother -- she wants the best for her children. But, she adds, her family will be better off if her three children don’t get a higher education.
“I don’t want our elder daughter to study at a university. What’s the point if she can’t get a well-paid job after spending two years at upper classes and five years more at a university?” Mukhabat said. “We can’t keep all of them [her children] studying for seven years more. When they are 16, they can start making their bread. I know many Uzbeks with university diplomas who have ended up leaving for Russia, or doing unskilled work”.
According to school principal Aslanova, interest in education among ethnic Uzbeks started declining about 10 years ago, amid the steady economic decline in the post-Soviet era. The trend accelerated in recent years
Under Kyrgyz law, children are required to attend school for at least nine years. “If we did not have this law, I believe about 40 percent of kids at Uzbek schools would stop attending,” Aslanova said.
Kutman Kamchiyev, the head of the school sector of the Osh city Education Department, said officials have limited options when it comes to addressing the challenge of keeping Uzbek kids in school. “By law, we have nine years of compulsory education, and training at school for 10th and 11th graders is voluntary, therefore we have no right to tell parents what to do,” he said.
Education officials aren’t completely powerless, however. They could devote more resources to Uzbek-language schools, some observers contend, adding that scarce state funds tend to be disproportionately allocated to Kyrgyz-language schools.
“Support from the government [for Uzbek-language instruction] is insufficient,” said Tatyana Matokhina, the educational programs coordinator from the Foundation for Education Initiatives, a Bishkek-based non-governmental organization.
The unfortunate reality is that an Uzbek student in southern Kyrgyzstan who seeks a meaningful higher education feels pressure to go abroad. “I do not think that desire of young ethnic Uzbeks to acquire higher education has declined,” Matokhina said. Ethnic Uzbeks have no choice but to “consider studying and living in Russia, Kazakhstan and or in Western countries.”