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Teachers Face Unusual Exam

A new government initiative in Turkmenistan appears designed to cut teachers’ salaries by setting them standards which many will fail to meet.
Under a new set of rules imposed by the education ministry, teachers will get a pay cut unless they can show they have written articles and had them published. Another move is designed to make it more difficult for them to be promoted into a higher salary range, which can almost double the average teaching wage of 40 or 50 US dollars a month.

The education ministry rules are likely to have been introduced as a result of a July speech by President Saparmurat Niazov, who complained that teachers were “eating up” almost the entire government budget.

An anonymous source in the education system said teachers who have not published material face having their salaries reduced to eight dollars a month. The argument seems to run that if they have not produced published work, they are not interested in improving themselves and thus should receive less money.

According to teachers, school staff are in a panic to write articles and get them published. The catch is that the only topic they can write on is the Ruhnama, Niazov’s spiritual guide for the nations, and they have to eulogise the “Great Turkmenbashi”, as the president is known.

There are not many newspapers left to carry such articles. Of the ten or so national titles, only two are dailies, and all except Neytralny Turkmenistan are Turkmen-language only. Things are worse in the regions: Lebap, for example, has only one paper, Turkmen Gundogary, which comes out three times a week in Turkmen. Staff at the paper say they just won’t have the space to carry articles by every teacher in Lebap region.

The education ministry has also brought in new criteria to be used when testing applicants for promotion. A source in Lebap regional education department said the ministry accompanied its instructions with orders to reduce to a minimum the number of teachers in categories one and two – the highest pay ranges.

A local headmaster explained that under the new system it is the regional education department, not senior teaching staff in the schools, who make the selections for promotions. The only teachers now eligible for higher salary ranges are those whose pupils have competed successfully in regional- or town-level “olympiads” – educational competitions.

Teachers complain that this is a wrong-headed approach since it will lead to a focus on grooming star pupils to win competitions, and not on educating the rest of the class.

The government’s central selection commission has also prepared a questionnaire to be used by promotion boards that dwells mainly on President Niazov’s works – in other words it is a test of memory rather than professional skills, teachers say

One junior-school teacher recalled how she failed the selection process because she was not able to answer a question about Turkmenistan’s annual production of natural gas.

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