Russia and Europe vie for clout with Uzbek educators
Russian and European officials are apparently vying to regain influence in Uzbekistan with an eye on having a ready labor force. In an attempt to assure that Russian is taught in schools, Russian educators held a conference in Khorezm for local educators. A similar conference, focusing on European languages and culture, was held in Urgench.
At the Khorezm conference, the theme for the event was, "Teaching professional communications in the Russian language in the Central Asian socio-cultural milieu". Scientists from Moscow State University and officials from Russkoye Slovo [Russian Word] Publishers management and authors of textbooks presented lectures and discussions about modern teaching methods. Uzbeki Russian language and literature teachers were reportedly impressed by the professionalism of Russian lecturers. Numerous speakers stressed that learning the Russian language guarantees Uzbeks a link to world culture, an instrument of survival in the workforce and future success in their professional activities.
Those Uzbeki citizens who either are, or have, worked in Russia and Kazakhstan can attest to the problems of not speaking the language. Poor knowledge of the Russian language is a hindrance for landing a well-paid job. Moreover, not speaking the language can displease some of the population of a host country.
The importance of working outside Uzbekistan can be grasped when considering that so-called ‘Gastarbeiters’, builders, street-sweepers, vendors, drivers, and others, who send $100 million to their families in Khorezm every year. This is nearly as much as cotton fiber sales earn the region. This accounts for the attention the regional administration is paying to teaching the Russian language. Local officials even sponsored the establishment of a branch of the Russian Culture Center in the region.
"The regional Directorate of Justice registered us in no time at all. The local administration, known as the khokimijat, provided the premises and furniture. What really counts is that they leave us alone and do not interfere," Venera Salunina, of the Khorezm subsidiary of the Russian Culture Center, told Ferghana.Ru. "Nobody questions the importance of the Russian culture and language anymore. We established close contacts with the Khorezm Center of Russian Language and Literature Teachers within the framework of the regional Pedagogical Re-training and Development Institute."
Labor immigrants from Khorezm mostly seek employment within the Commonwealth, but there is a tendency to also look for opportunities in more distant foreign countries as well. Having worked in South Korea in the past, laborers from Khorezm are now looking for employment in EU countries. Officials at the local embassies report being besieged by seekers of visas to the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Poland, Baltic states and the United States. While there are no exact numbers, police estimate the number of potential ‘Gastarbeiters’ in foreign countries has increased tenfold. This means thousands of Uzbeki men may be working abroad.
Employment officials note that both menial workers and people with university and college diplomas seek employment in the West. With this in mind, European officials held their own seminar in Urgench entitled, "Application of European experience to the design of rating systems for Uzbek universities" was organized in Urgench. The seminar was organized with assistance from the European Union's Tempus program and the Uzbek Ministry of Higher and Specialized Secondary Education.
Twenty-five Uzbek universities and colleges participate in 22 projects sponsored by Tempus. In 2005, the European Commission provided 2.6 million euros for the project. The overall Tempus program budget amounts to 15.4 million euros.
Emissaries of the Austrian Quality Evaluation Agency and some Spanish and Dutch universities visited Urgench to explain different rating systems that determine tutors' skills and students' knowledge.
"The Uzbeks will turn up in Europe soon," scientists from Khorezm State University said off the record. A lack of opportunities may be the largest reason for Uzbekis seeking careers in Europe.
While foreign language proficiency makes progress in Uzbekistan, it remains an uphill battle in many countries, as Georgia has already left the cultural community centered around Russian. Teaching in the Russian language is also banned in Armenia. While this list may, in fact lengthen, foreign countries will continue to be attracted to the skilled and unskilled labor force offered in Uzbekistan.