Autumn 2004 (12.3)
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.
There are so many problems in our society that relate to education.
Of course, many of them exist because of lack of finances, lack
of access to modern resources and ideas. But there are other
problems, as well, that deeply concern me-especially issues related
to the attitude of true learning.
When I was admitted to my specific university program, only students
who had achieved very high scores on the university entrance
exams were admitted. Traditionally, my faculty is one of the
most prestigious university programs and to be eligible to study
in this field, one's scores have to be very high. The following
year, more students joined our class, transferring in from private
universities. Unfortunately, their scores were much lower than
those from the original class. Note that in Azerbaijan, state
universities are generally considered to be stronger than private
But the great disparity in test scores between these two groups
created enormous difficulties for all of us. The students who
had been admitted that second year had neither the desire, nor
the ability, to study seriously.
Furthermore, they knew that at the end of the semester, they
could bribe most of their teachers. For them, "the rates"
were not so prohibitive as they were for us since their parents
were relatively wealthy.
More troublesome was the impact this situation had upon the original
group of students. As time passed, students who had studied and
tried so hard during the first year became demoralized and lost
their enthusiasm, especially when they realized that many of
their teachers gave the highest grades only to those students
Of course, one can't entirely
fault the teachers for this situation, as their salaries are
far too low. Many of them feel they have to bribe just to survive.
But students must also bear some of the responsibility. Regardless
of where the blame is placed, the result is devastating and demoralizing
for all of us.
Choice of Courses
Another problem is that we don't get a chance to test and apply
our learning in practical ways. During the course of four years
of undergraduate study and two years of graduate school, we are
basically pumped with theory. We have very little chance for
"hands-on" courses where we can get practical experience
to understand and test what we learn.
Many students apply for the Master's program as soon as they
complete their undergraduate degrees. They rarely work during
the interm between the two degrees, as an education without a
Master's degree is viewed as inadequate and incomplete. Many
of us fear that without an advanced degree we will have difficulty
landing a job, though for many of us an advanced degree is a
waste of time, since we just fill our heads with more theoretical,
Students at the Medical University, where one of my friends is
studying, do internships beginning in their sixth year (of seven
years of study). But recently I was shocked to learn that some
of the doctors are refusing to provide instruction during internships,
fearing that the young people will "take their jobs".
Admittance to Grad
Who gets chosen to continue graduate studies? That's another
problem for many of us. Invariably, it's the students who have
the strongest networks and connections. If 20 or 25 positions
are available, perhaps only five or six truly qualified students
will be chosen.
These days teachers complain
that students are lazy, but, perhaps, this passivity is best
explained by the fact that students are so skeptical that they
won't find satisfying work upon graduation despite their efforts.
We look around us and realize that often even the most outstanding
students in the best programs of the country can't find good
jobs. Upon graduation so few of us are able to find work related
to our field of study. In many cases, the only way to get a job
is to have very strong networks, especially in government offices.
Unfortunately, it seems that "who you know" is much
more important than "what you know".
Another serious problem relates to scholarships since they are
still based on the same standard of living of the Soviet period
more than a decade ago. Students with exceptionally high grades
and scores receive additional stipends of about 2,000 manats
more per month (about 40 cents)-a ridiculously low sum. The most
highly qualified undergraduate students receive scholarships
of only 18,500 manats (about $3.70) per month. This sum doesn't
even cover transportation costs to attend school, much less provide
money for purchasing books or food.
As a consequence, students must
rely upon their parents. This, in turn, inhibits their freedom
of activities. Recently by State Decree, scholarships have been
raised. Now the rates range between 70,000 and 90,000 manats
monthly [$14-$18] depending upon the performance and degree of
the student, but still it is incredibly low and far from adequate
to cover even basic needs.
No Elective courses
Unfortunately, students have no chance to choose the courses
they would like to study. Absolutely every course is determined
by the department. All courses are obligatory. Unlike students
in many other countries, Azerbaijani students have no choice
whatsoever to pursue the courses that interest them throughout
all their years of study. There is no such thing as elective
courses-none whatsoever. Nor can students skip classes that they
deem unnecessary, boring or irrelevant. They are obliged to attend
all lectures, apractice that, in itself, contradicts the aim
of study. Students attend classes, not because of their interest,
but primarily because they don't want to deal with the problem
of "absence marks" at the end of the semester. In many
cases, absences become the crucial factor in determining a student's
Libraries are one of the most important institutions of learning.
But here, the process of checking out books is still so cumbersome
and difficult. There's no use even to discuss online catalogs
for our libraries. Students spend so much time searching for
titles only to discover that the books are not on the shelves
or that the relevant pages have been torn out. Lack of funds
makes it impossible for libraries to purchase new books. Modern
texts are too expensive and most universities, with the exception
of private institutions, cannot afford to buy them.
Unfortunately, most of the books in our libraries still date
back to the Soviet period and, consequently they reflect the
ideology and mentality of that period. Even scientific books
express such tendencies. Most of these books really have not
been updated or replaced. It's so difficult for us students to
determine if the material is correct or not, since most of us
have not yet been exposed to alternative ideas.
Further complicating our situation is the fact that Azerbaijan
officially adopted a new alphabet in late 1991 immediately after
we gained our independence from the Soviet Union. Parliament
opted for a modified Latin script, which was very similar to
what we had been using prior to when Cyrillic was imposed on
our country in the 1920s. This new legislation to rid ourselves
of Cyrillic was one of the first laws that was passed by our
National Parliament a few weeks after we gained our independence-December
25, 1991. Many young people, born after about 1990, have not
been formally taught to read the old Cyrillic alphabet. However,
so few books are available in Latin (either for the lower grades
or for higher advanced education) as it takes an enormous amount
of time and money to republish the books in the new alphabet.
Nearly 13 years later, there's still a huge black hole when it
comes to finding relevant, well-written texts available in the
Azeri Latin script.
There's also an enormous gap between students and their teachers
because students don't feel free to express their opinions. They
are not convinced that most teachers are open to listen to them.
During the course of 70 years, the Soviet system totally stifled
the ability of our people to think for themselves and to be independent
and think critically. Even today, young people still hesitate
to express their views in the classroom situation.
Of course, students themselves must bear some of the responsibility
for these difficulties. They still have not learned to build
relationships with their teachers as persons who are eager to
help them solve their education problems. Of course, most teachers
really don't satisfy the requirements and expectations of the
new generation, as their heads are full of Soviet ideology. The
teachers still haven't learned to present fresh, contemporary
ideas, which we can find in modern books. This can be explained
by their inability to access modern books and the Internet. Only
a few teachers have access to computers, and then rarely do they
invite students to dialog with them.
No matter how difficult the times are for Azerbaijani students,
especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most of us
still have great hopes that some of our fellow students who are
studying at universities abroad will come back to our country
to help create a strong and modern educational system-one which
we can all be proud of and which will empower our youth and make
our country strong.
A recent graduate from one of Baku's leading educational institutions
(12.3) Autumn 2004.
© Azerbaijan International 2004. All rights reserved.
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