Officials in Uzbekistan’s Andijan region have been forced to apologize after making teachers at a local school beg parents for forgiveness after their children failed to pass university entrance exams.
A photo from the offending teacher-parent meeting, which took place at a school in the region’s Marhamat district on February 4, shows a row of teachers with their heads bowed. A correspondent for the news website Kun.uz reported that the principal and a group of teachers pleaded for forgiveness and told the attending parents: “We are to blame.”
“As the teachers were being criticized, some of the parents stood up and said that they should take the place of teachers,” the website cited an eyewitness as saying.
Images of the incident quickly circulated across social media and sparked indignation.
Public Education Minister Bakhtiyor Saidov wrote on his Telegram account that what happened was not only an insult to the dignity of teachers, but also “an action going against the government.” Teachers should “not allow their dignity to be trampled” and nobody should force them to bow their heads, Saidov said.
On February 9, it was the turn of the head of the district, Boburjon Yuldashev, to beg for forgiveness.
“If what happened at the parent-teacher meeting in the Marhamat district has affected the mental wellbeing of teachers, I as the hokim of the district apologize to all the teachers and educators,” he said on his Telegram account.
This was not an isolated incident, however.
A similar struggle session-type public apology was organized in three other schools in the district. Educators involved have expressed extreme consternation at being made to endure the humiliation.
“The teachers worked hard, but they really broke us. There are young teachers who are really regretting getting into this line of work. Even experienced teachers were made to bow their heads. I would give up this job, but I have no other training,” one person involved in the collective apology ordeal told Kun.uz.
As Uzbekistan struggles to upgrade an education system hollowed out by decades of mismanagement, classroom workers are feeling much of the pressure. The stress has been compounded by a hint of competition injected by the government.
In November 2020, the authorities introduced a rating system that evaluates schools on the basis of how many students they manage to get into universities. The system of accountability is engineered in such a way that heads of underperforming regions are required to answer to the president for low scores.
Getting into university is no easy feat, however. In 2021, more than 450,000 young people graduated from 11th grade, after which they were eligible to apply for university spots. The current academic year’s intake of students at higher education institutions amounted to almost 158,000 young people.
The teaching profession is one of the most widespread in Uzbekistan – there were more than 480,000 teachers across the country as of 2020 – but the job is badly paid. An average monthly salary in the education sector is $230.
In a speech in November, though, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev promised that teacher salaries would be increased to $1,000 by 2025. In January, he declared during a videoconference meeting dedicated to educational reforms that the development of schools was “a matter of life and death.”