Focus on Uzbekistan

With the upcoming launch of new EU support in Central Asia we spoke to Khudaynazar Kurbanov, an independent educational expert from Uzbekistan, about lifelong learning, its current challenges and prospects.

Khudaynazar Kurbanov is a researcher in the field of the International Standard Classification of Education, Classification Framework, and Assessment. He is a founder of the Mahorat and Management organization and an ETF expert. With former senior positions held at the Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Higher and Secondary Special Education he has been actively involved in VET and the retraining of teachers and managers of professional education in Uzbekistan.

Looking back at the last 1.5 years of the global pandemic crisis, how has Covid-19 impacted planned educational reforms and initiatives? What VET reforms are being carried out at the moment?

Pandemic aside, reforms of the VET systems had been planned since 2017. In Uzbekistan the term «lifelong learning» used to refer to non-formal educational institutions. In September 2020 the new law on education was passed and the term «lifelong learning» was legally recognised. The law defines VET for adults and lifelong learning, specifies formal and non-formal systems they cover, and lists educational institutions which conduct relevant training.

Let’s look at the example of the dual education system, which forms part of lifelong learning. This system relies on the active participation of employers and is used both in education for young people and adults. The dual education system is now recognized by law, and recently a special government regulation approved a legislative provision on the implementation of the dual education approach developed in close collaboration with employers.

Out of 6 days of educational training, 2 days are now devoted to theoretical learning in educational institutions and 3-4 days for practical training spent at the workplace together with other employees. This new approach is being actively promoted on all levels. For example, the government has identified a list of companies participating in the dual educational system. The demand is not so high yet but we need to start with something.

Dual education or lifelong learning in general is an innovation for us and presents a challenge.

We used to have standard curriculums based on 9 years at school plus 3 years in college. Now all existing programmes have been revised to achieve flexibility in learning taking into account specific professions.

Given your experience in education, both in public and private sectors, what are the key areas in the development of lifelong learning in Uzbekistan?

In 2018, together with UNESCO and other donors we tried to develop the concept of lifelong learning in Uzbekistan. It was reviewed in the ministry, but did not receive approval at the highest level. Hence at this point the number one priority will be to develop the concept of lifelong learning in Uzbekistan until 2030. Unlike other countries Uzbekistan has three ministries of education: the Ministry of Preschool Education, the Ministry of Public Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. Each ministry has its own development strategy until 2030 but they don’t have a coherent strategy of lifelong learning. The discussions around it have been recently resumed. We have adopted our National Qualifications Framework, which includes the need to develop lifelong learning. In addition, we need to approve mechanisms for the recognition of qualifications, create certification centres that could assess and award qualifications. The creation of such centres is at the starting point. The legislative framework is ready, but the implementation is going slow. This question is urgent, especially since we adopted the National Rank of Qualifications in 2020 and industry councils for qualifications are now being created. All industries will have to develop their own internal standards for training and assessment and awarding qualifications.

Considering Uzbekistan’s large young population, are there programmes stimulating their interest to continue education and look for employment in the country?

For college and technical school graduates who have not entered higher education institutions, there is a Youth Affairs Agency and a Youth Union fund supporting start-ups. Our Head of State actively adopts programmes and allocates large funds to support youth employment.

Lifelong career guidance is also very important. The main problem is that not everyone knows where to find it.

The Ministry of Labour is trying to introduce special career guidance programmes, in particular through its regional branches. For that it has created a separate department, which deals with education, employment and career guidance. This initiative has just been launched so we will have to wait and see if it works.

How relevant is the new VET system to the labour market? Is there a dialogue between its key participants?

Before the reforms all VET elements were developing separately, there was no communication between educational institutions and employers. Currently we are trying to establish a dialogue between them and encourage interaction. The dual educational system is a good example of such dialogue but this is a regulatory mechanism. In practice it doesn’t function well, employers don't always have time for this and educational institutions are forced to chase them. There are no platforms for such cooperation on a systemic level, they exist only as singular initiatives by donors. For example, we have developed a concept of dual education system with GIZ. The proposal suggested that there should be a council coordinating both dual education and the relationship between educational institutions and employers on various levels. The draft of this document has been submitted to the government. If it gets approved it’ll be launched on a systemic level. Such initiatives are emerging but still very sporadically.

In your opinion, should educational initiatives be primarily a state responsibility? Is there a synergy possible between all actors?

Education should be the responsibility of the state but it should involve effective cooperation with NGOs. As of August 1, there have been over 1,200 non-state educational institutions in Uzbekistan. In the system of formal learning (vocational schools, colleges and technical schools) there have been about 700. Non-state educational institutions are becoming popular among people so it is important that the state also recognizes these institutions in some way. As an important part of VET and lifelong learning we need to create mechanisms of formal recognition of the qualifications obtained in such non-formal education, as well as centres for the assessment of qualifications, which provide certificates. There is only one such centre, but very few companies recognize their certificate. These non-formal centres should be established under the sectoral councils, which give permission for their activities. This has been formalized in a presidential decree, but has not been put into practice yet.

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