Impoverished Tajikistan will be ringing in the new academic year this September without seven well-regarded schools belonging to the controversial Turkish Islamic scholar and educator Muhammed Fethullah Gülen.
Seemingly encouraged by Gülen's enemies in the Turkish government and never needing too much of an excuse to shut something down, the Tajik government has closed the schools in favour of publicly-run “schools for gifted children”.
Tajikistan's education system is regarded by education specialists that work in the region as the worst in the former Soviet Union. Although the country is not part of the PISA rankings system run by the 34-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and based on evaluations of fifteen-year-old students, neighbouring Kyrgyzstan regularly finishes bottom of those rankings. Tajikistan's schools are even worse.
In a dim educational environment, the Gülen Schools — private schools that taught a secular curricula in English and Turkish and cost roughly $1,300 per year in tuition — were a flickering candle. Now Tajik President Emomali Rahmon has extinguished the flame, signing off last week on a government decision to take over the schools run by the Gülen-affiliated Shalola Educational Institution.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who accuses the influential Gülen of trying to set up a “parallel state” in Turkey, and who shut down his Turkish schools in 2013, almost certainly had something to do with the decision.
As the pro-government Turkish outlet the Daily Sabah reported in May:
[Erdoğan] has drawn attention to the alleged illegal activities carried out by the Gülen Movement, which range from conducting unlawful wiretapping to infiltrating key government institutions in an apparent attempt to oust the elected government … [Erdoğan] has been telling foreign leaders that the movement aims to topple the Turkish government and that Turkey no longer approves of its existence.
But as noted by Bakyt Beshimov, an educator and former lawmaker from Kyrgyzstan, the move may be counter-productive. Students of the region's so-called ‘Turkish lyceums’ tend to develop strong sympathies for Turkey and go on to have further dealings with the country:
Will Erdogan end up destroying the key component of the Turkish soft power in Central Asia?
— Bakyt Beshimov (@bakytbeshimov) 7 августа 2015
For Tajikistan, the damage will be more immediate. In 2013, Shalola paid close to $1 million in taxes. In their first decade of functioning in Tajikistan, students of Tajik-Turkish schools brought home 484 medals from the Turkish-language Olympiads held by the movement.
Meanwhile the Tajik state educational system prepares citizens for little besides seasonal migration to Russia.
Among commenters on Tajik news websites positions on the government's decision varied.
While few dispute that the schools were an improvement on Tajik state schools, many believed the schools encouraged Pan-Turkism, or the unification of Turkic peoples.
Ironically, this is a vision close to President Erdoğan's heart, but one Tajiks — a non-Turkic people that share a country with Turkic minorities such as Uzbeks, Kyrgyz and Uighurs — tend to be ambivalent about.
A reader of Asia-Plus, who calls himself Mr. declared:
давно пора закрыть эти рассадники пантюркизма
The closure of these seminaries of pan-Turkism is long overdue.
A dissatisfied parent shared her experience of applying to the Tajik-Turkish lyceums in one of the world's most corrupt countries:
…Короче говоря, бардак и коррупция с этими вступительными экзаменами в турецкий лицей. Есть конкретные факты когда дети с вообще не проходными баллами все равно проходили, а те у кого были баллы больше но не крутые родители оставались за бортом – тогда о какой прозрачности и честности вы говорите… Да еще когда подаешь апелляцию долго тянуть и не дают результаты сравнить с тестами… Короче манипуляция результатами тестов там всюду и везде… Позор этим лицеям пантуркистов!
Shortly speaking, admission exams to Turkish lyceums are messy and corrupt. There are concrete facts of children who did not receive a passing score getting admitted. And those who scored higher but did not have rich parents were left out… In short, manipulation of test results is rampant. Shame on these Pan-Turkic lyceums!
Dana, another commenter at Asia-Plus highlighted the quality of education available at the Gülen schools:
Ochen jal. Moi deti zakonchili atot litcei,poluchili horoshee obrazovanie ,ih druzay takje horosho obrazovany. U nih horoshie manery.Oni govoryat na tajik ,russian,turcish,english. Prichem na tajik govoryat namnogo luchshe chem nashi vysoko ….. postavlennye ludi. Drugie ne smogut bsego atogo poluchit . esli nashi zapustat svoi pravila.Moi deti uchilis i obsshalis s uchitelyami inteligentnymi,kulturnymi. V nashih shkolah u mnogih uchitelei nizkii uroven kultury,intelekta.
So unfortunate. My children graduated from one of these schools, received a good education — their friends are educated too. They have good manners. They speak Tajik, Russian, Turkish, and English languages. Besides, they speak Tajik a lot better than our high-level officials. Other children will not get this education, if [the schools] are run by local rules. My children studied and communicated with intelligent and civilized teachers. But in our local schools, most teachers have low intelligence levels.
While Azick, another supporter of the Gülen schools wrote:
Да жалко конечно, почти 90% выпускники этих школ не едут в Рф на гастарбайтерство а работают в хороших местах не только в РТ но и по всему миру. Опять политикой как-то пахнет
It is unfortunate, of course. Almost 90% of the graduates of these schools do not go to Russia as labour migrants but work in good places not only in Tajikistan but throughout the world. This smells of politics again.
According to some estimates there are Gülen-inspired educational institutions in over a hundred countries in the world. The schools typically allocate no more than 80 minutes of class time per week to religious instruction, adapt to education regulations in the countries where they operate and prioritise teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
Seemingly few governments have responded to Erdoğan's calls to shut the schools.
In Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, where there are roughly 15 and 30 respectively, Gülen is a significant force in the local market for education. There is even talk of emergent ‘clans’ within both governments consisting of Gülen-school graduates aged between 25 and 35.