Who are you with?
A mysterious ‘source, close to the government’ told istiqlal.az that the Ministers of Education and Health would be dismissed following the Ramazan holiday (i.e. as soon as today). According to the report, the reason for this were the numerous complaints filed to the Presidential Administration. The information hasn’t been verified, and the source seems to be unreliable, but one thing is true: education is really lacking.
In soviet schools everything seemed to be for the most part reliable and stable: brown dresses and black aprons, a five-point academic grading system and exams, conducted once a year. But the 90s turned out to a time for experimentation.
The teachers had to explain to the children why they had been told quite different things about “grandpa Lenin” roughly three years prior. Some of them even apologized.
The children learnt a new national anthem and a new alphabet. The shops cleared out the last of the dull notebooks, with the faded-out inscriptions ‘Writing book on the cover page, from stockrooms .
School uniforms were no longer required and battles between senior girls, dressed provacatively, and their strict teachers, began.
Then, new textbooks came about, which were printed on the cardboard paper. There were no textbooks for some subjects, for example, the history of Azerbaijan. The teachers had to dictate the material.
The notion ‘lyceum’, which actually meant ‘a slightly better school’, appeared alongside with Turkish notebooks with colorful pictures on their covers that, being new, seemed to be a sublime luxury.
As for the educational process, the system was trodding along by inertia for several years, becoming overrun with corruption on its way, with a decrease in the amount of staff, who emigrated to Israel or other warm countries.
How the changes began
“I took an exam paper and sat down to complete the tasks. A woman, the examiner’s assistant, was walking between the desks in the room. She was quietly asking each student: “Who are you with? i.e. who had you interceded for. When she approached me, I named the rector. They believed me and I was enrolled, says a female resident of the Azerbaijani town, Gyanja. That was how things were during the last years of soviet leadership.
A general exam was introduced in 1992 in order to remove corruption from the enrollment process upon entering higher education institutions. All majors were divided into 4 groups, with 4 subjects per major, and you had to answer the test questions in each subject. The entire process was automated and ‘depersonalized. A well-prepared enrollee will not be left out just because of some bribers or the ‘old school network’.
The sweeping reforms began in the early 2000s’. For the higher education institutions that wished to be integrated into the Bologna system and transition to a credit-based evaluation system (after taking various tests, a student would get 50 to 100 points per semester). In schools there were now standardized textbooks, the introduction of a 100-point system instead of the 5-point system, a new testing system and the incomprehensible word ‘curriculum’ was introduced (2007). The Education Ministry presented the new methodology as follows:
“Taking into consideration the extreme importance of every person’s talents and competences that are needed nowadays due to globalization and the unification of public, political, cultural and social life, as well as the increase in the significance of information and communication technologies and toughening of competition, the national curriculum is aimed at developing human resources that are the main motivational forces of social progress and transfer of necessary knowledge and skills in the areas of problem-solving and independent decision-making.
The teachers were given ten days for “reorientation.
How things were planned
Vagif Abasov, a history teacher in secondary school, explains the essence of the curriculum as follows: “As has been stated, a student should participate in the research process which good for him, too. A student’s knowledge and, most importantly, his skills should meet state-developed standards. For example, one of the standards in history may be the ability to determine state borders or to assess the activity of such and such ruler. In other words, a student should be able to draw conclusions from the information given to him.
In contrast to the old evaluation system, the practice of putting down marks in a diary has been abolished. Although a teacher has to record a student’s academic activity, that is no longer done with numbers, but rather in the form of a thesis: “He/she should be able to retell a text that he/she has read through or “he/she can identify the noun cases, this way marks do not cause an inferiority complex in students. It isn’t customary to ask students to come to the blackboard and answer question either. Exams have been replaced by the so-called SSA (Small Summative Assessment) and BSA (Big Summative Assessment). The SSA is done after each unit in the textbook, whereas the BSE is conducted once every 6 months.
Students’ parents did not like these changes. “You may sit twiddling your thumbs for the whole semester, then prepare for the BSA, get a 5 and you will have 5 at the end of the academic term. Or, on the contrary, you will do you best on the SSA, but you get nervous, you don’t feel well or you are confused and a bad mark is guaranteed for you.
“That’s not quite true, explains an Education Ministry official, who preferred to remain anonymous. “It’s the Small Summative Assessment that is of great importance for determing one’s final grade. It is calculated according to a formula: the average mark from the SSA accounts for 40% of the grade, while the results from the BSA counts for 60% and the final mark is then determined.
How things have turned out
Here is what the parents say: “The children aren’t able to digest the information; everything is a complete mess in their heads, two lessons are given for each topic, then they move on to another topic and after some time has passed, go back to the previous one. Children can’t properly remember the material. There is no comprehension involved, and don’t understand why do they need all this stuff either. They are simply learning everything by rote.
Another parent says, the syllabus is easy, but it is organized backwards: “Those endless texts! I, myself, have to read a question five times to understand what I am required to do. Many parents hire private tutors from the first grade in order to ‘catch up’ to the Russian textbooks and the old syllabus.
Vagif Abasov, a history teacher, also confirms that: “The syllabus has become more complicated. The material that had been previously taught in the 5th and 6th grades is now taught in the 2nd and 3rd grades.
In fact, Azerbaijani parents are turning to private tutors earlier than ever before.
Sevda, a parent of a 3rd grade student:
“Once I began to talk with another parent at a school celebration. Her son is an excellent student, and he is taking classes in every subject. He returns home from school, has dinner and then the so-called ‘second series’ of school begins for the child. The teachers help him with homework and explain the materials to him. My daughter says that all excellent students, without exception, do the same thing. Meanwhile, the school’s position is this–teach your children and we will check on how you have done.
What has gone wrong?
First of all, implementation of a nice idea about “individual approach to students and other stuff rests “on the conscience of each particular school or higher education institution. For example, home tasks are given as it was done before, at SSA the teachers fill in the answer sheets instead of students. In some Baku-based higher education institutions the exams are conducted the same old way–with the exam papers, containing the questions that a student has to answer to a teacher; the answers are assessed are assessed based on a 5-score system and they are simply ‘converted’ into a 100-score system for the documents and reports.
Secondly, even if formally there are certain novelties, some educational institutions resemble a Muslim, who zealously performs namaz, keeps a fast and donates alms, whereas at home he beats his wife and children. As a matter of fact, the essence of the reforms has somehow slipped away from them.
Nigyar, 10, a student of one of the central schools:
“Before the BSA, the teacher tells us: ‘All of you have cell phones, don’t you? So, make a snapshot of the textbook and rewrite.’ We have had two ‘freebie’ lessons today. The teacher has gone on her business and we have watched cartoons.
Firangiz khanum, a lecturer at one of the oldest higher education institutions in the city (a name has been changed): “I take a record list from the dean’s office for a colloquium and put zeros to students, who know nothing. Later they come and I add a hook, turning it either into 6 or 9, depending on how much money they will bring or who will intercede for them.
It’s a common knowledge that people will cheat any control system and will still work badly if there is no motivation.
The reforms were implemented under Minister Misir Mardanov, who, so to say, wasn’t much loved by the people. The point is that neither the corruption, nor the teachers’ incompetence, mistakes in the textbooks or some other problems, did disappear anywhere as a result of changing the knowledge assessment system. And naturally, the minister was blamed for that.
Then a new Education Minister was appointed in 2013. By that time, Mikayil Jabbarov had managed to hold different posts, ranging from the Adviser to the Minister of Economic Development, his deputy, to the Head of the Administration of the State Historical-Architectural Reserve “Incherisheher. Many people were delighted: ‘a young reformer has come.’ What Baku’s intelligentsia liked very much was that the newly appointed minister once had headed the intellectual games club “Ateshgah.
At that time, Baku Facebook users had stormy debates on whether Jabbarov managed to change anything or not. Three years have passed and there are still fierce discussions on the same topic: is there any progress or it has got worse? And the minister’s each new step is discussed from the same perspective.
So, what has the new minister done?
- He has elaborated the Action Plan of the National Strategy for the Development of Education;
- he has dismissed 20 school principals (amidst the public’s delighted applauses);
- extended the academic year, so we now learn till June 15. The parents, who have to take their children to schools in an infernal heat, cursing Jabbarov and calling him ‘all the names under the sun’;
- 40% of country’s teachers have been increased their salaries up to the ‘average salary level’, which, in turn, has been accompanied by 1,5-time increase in teaching load;
- he has merged 14 colleges and, as a result, has got 7.
- The pre-school training courses have been opened in 140 Baku-based schools; even the fee-paying students of the higher education institutions are now eligible to get a scholarship;
- he has introduced an electronic format for discussing the textbook projects, that are being prepared for publication in 2017;
- created a hot line for reporting the cases of corruption.
The minister told about the aforesaid in his interview, in which he also touched upon the reason for still existing problems: that’s the human factor. Everyone has got used to live and work in the old manner, be it the students’ parents or the university rectors. If a teacher collects US$50 per parent, it may not cross one’s mind to call the ministry and complain about it. Simply, it’s easier to give the money.
Vagif Sadreddinov doesn’t think that way. After he had posted on WhatsApp the parents’ messages, in which they discussed the issue of collecting money for a teacher, he was first attacked by the parents and later, by the school staff. The school staff threatened to ‘plant drugs on him and put him into prison, one of the teachers filed an application with the police, claiming Vagif had allegedly beaten her. The Education Ministry inspectors threw a damper upon Vagif’s complaints, but he insistently applied to all possible instances, including the President’s Administration. Finally, the ministry sent some other officials to conduct an inspection. According to Vagif, they took up the investigation seriously. Now, he is looking forward to the results.
P.S. Firangiz khanum, that very woman who had added hooks to turn zero into 6 or 9, resigned one year ago, fortunately, she was of the pension age. “The Head of our Department has ventured too far, say she. “He has told us to take money from the students, who do study. In all my conscience, I can’t work so.
Published on 08.07.2016