Eight Facts About Education in Turkmenistan
As a post-Soviet nation, Turkmenistan has taken strides over the last few decades in building autonomy and developing its social service sectors like public education. Here are eight facts about education in Turkmenistan today.

8 Facts About Education in Turkmenistan

  1. Turkmenistan has an impressively high literacy rate. Within the last few years, UNICEF has tallied Turkmenistan’s literacy rate at about 99.8 percent for both males and females ages 15-24.
  2. Public school is only compulsory through 10th grade in Turkmenistan. At this point, students take tests to determine whether they should go to a trade school or enter the workforce immediately. Well-scoring students may continue on for further schooling that is paid for by the state.
  3. Turkmenistan faces a severe shortage of qualified teachers, especially at the higher education level. This is a result of inadequate educational resources and unrealistic expectations like double shifts and Saturday classes. Of course, as poor conditions drive teachers away from the field, the issue only compounds. The lack of educated teachers is probably the largest threat to Turkmenistan’s education system right now. The government is cognizant of this issue and the last two Presidents have made significant efforts to absolve it with relatively little success. In 2007, President Berdimuhamedow reformed teacher working conditions by raising salaries by 40 percent, reducing class sizes and decreasing number of hours worked. The state also introduced competitions for Teacher of the Year and Educator of the Year to promote quality teaching. Unfortunately, the increase in incentives has found little success. Berdimuhamedow claimed in 2009 that the country would continue to rely on sending graduates to foreign universities until “the country gets fully staffed with specialists with high qualifications.”
  4. The process for admission into higher education institutions is extremely difficult. With a severe shortage of teachers, universities have room for less than 10 percent of high school graduates. Not only do students need remarkably high scores on entrance exams, but bribery on acceptance decisions is commonplace, which crowds out spots for deserving, lower-income students.
  5. Turkmenistan now requires that Turkmen be the standard language of instruction in all of its schools although at least four primary languages are spoken across the country. This has led to increased challenges for schools in regions where the traditional language is Russian or a local dialect. Many adults are also pursuing further education to become fluent in the national language, which takes up valuable teacher time.
  6. Women experience social pressure to start families instead of pursuing higher education. Many girls have become discouraged from finishing higher education due to the cultural expectation that they marry by their 20th or 21st birthday. The percentage of female students in higher education has actually gone down in the last decade, despite rises in female enrollment nearly everywhere else in the world. In 2009, the proportion of higher education students that were female was only 35 percent, a two percent decrease from the prior year.
  7. There are no private universities in Turkmenistan; all higher education is state-run and strictly monitored. Researchers Victoria Clement, from the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and Zumrad Kataeva, from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, posit that this may be an attempt to control the information nationals acquire as a form of protecting the current political regime.
  8. There is an unequal regional distribution of higher education with all but three institutions located in the country’s capital city. This contributes to cyclical lower income levels for those living in the more rural regions, who have fewer opportunities to attend a higher education institute due to a long commute.

These eight facts about education in Turkmenistan reveal that while access to quality education in Turkmenistan is significantly better than in other areas of the world, it is not free of flaws. Opening up higher education to more people through increasing admissions, encouraging women to stay in school longer and providing more opportunities to those living in rural parts of Turkmenistan are goals to move toward in the future. Moreover, the addition of private schools would inspire more free thinking within the country that could result in citizens pushing for a more democratic society.

– Olivia Heale
Photo: Flickr