Azerbaijan International

Autumn 2004 (12.3)
Page 13

Reader's Forum
Education - The Realities

Rethinking Education

Editor: In response to our issue: "Youth-What's On Their Minds" (AI 11.4, Winter 2003); many young people wrote to share their concerns. As might be expected, issues related to education topped their lists. We share some of their ideas here.

Azerbaijan's Constitution guarantees education as an essential right of every citizen and makes classes compulsory to the age of 15, but the reality is that not all children attend school to that age, nor do they have an opportunity to study. Since independence, so many of our youth can't even read and write; others have barely finished primary school.

When I think of the problems we face today in education, it reminds me of the late 1980s when I was in primary school and my parents took care of all of my school supplies-uniform, notebooks, and school satchels. That was the time when we were provided with all necessary textbooks and didn't have to purchase them ourselves. It was a time when we were so carefree and childlike, immersed in a world of our dreams and illusions. We firmly believed in the bright future of our government. We could never imagine that our beliefs could be shattered some day.

Children today face many more problems than we did. I don't mean those who live under the protection of their parents and are quite well off. I'm referring to those who live in poverty, whom fortune has abandoned as refugees, or who were born into large families, or those in which the parents can't find work, or who live with a single parent.

So many of those children spend the day just trying to survive. They beg on the streets and work as porters in the bazaars, trying to earn a few manats for their daily bread. Is it possible to study on an empty stomach, consumed with thoughts of your starving family? Is it possible to study when you are taunted by other children, laughing as they point to your worn-out shoes or patched trousers?

During the Soviet period, schools used to help the disadvantaged children financially. I remember that some of my classmates who had lost their fathers received financial aid from school. No one had a right to offend those children.

Nowadays all of our problems, including those related to education stem from the lack of finances. Everyone tries to justify the situation by saying that Azerbaijan is passing through a transitional period to its radiant future.

The problems today are much more complicated than what we faced yesterday. The ties between community and parents have been weakened. There is so little financial support for orphans and children living in poverty. Add to this that school children are made to contribute monthly for classroom maintenance and cleaning, for text books, for teachers' and director's birthdays, for Novruz Celebrations (Spring Holiday-March 21) and various other important holidays. Where can poor students get the money if their parents are not working? No doubt, such pressures contribute to the long list of why so many of them drop out of school.

The situation is hardly different in higher academic institutions where education is not aimed at inspiring students with the desire to learn, but rather with the sense of urgency to finish and graduate as soon as possible.

The curriculum and the books seem to have changed so little from our parents' time. Students are given no choice in their subjects or teachers. They just study to take a diploma in their hands. They're lucky if they can find any job upon graduation, as a university diploma cannot guarantee a job in one's specialization. Most of the graduates have to find casual jobs just to be able to earn minimum wage. Others live at their parents' expense.

We are stuffing our educational institutions with students with little prospects for the future and, thus, creating armies of educated, but unemployed, people. Students themselves take so little active role in the life of their universities. They don't seem to realize that their future is in their hands, and that nothing comes from just complaining and being passive.

I don't mean to sound so pessimistic. As the expression goes: "The devil is not as black as he is made out to be". I just wanted to highlight some of the most general, burning problems, without going into detail and without blaming anyone. I hope-no, I am sure-that the day will come when we speak of the strengths of our education system, not just the problems. I, for one, am ready to do my part to contribute to my country's development and prosperity.

Farida Aghamammadova

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