Vodka smooths way to success;Briefing;International

18th June 1999 at 01:00

The fate of students in the central Asian state of Uzbekistan preparing for examinations this month may be decided as much by backhanders as performance, according to evidence given to The TES.

A teacher at a secondary school may be offered inducements such as vodka and cigarettes to pass pupils through to the next year. A degree may cost up to pound;250, the equivalent of a teacher's annual salary.

If an approach to a teacher is turned down then the head may be bribed to put pressure on those marking exams.

Ravshan Aminov (not his real name) is a teacher at School Number 158, in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent. "This sort of thing is normal here," he said. "Last year my principal told me that several pupils in one of my classes must pass their final exams with good grades. It is clear what she wanted me to do."

Good education is as vital in Uzbekistan as elsewhere. A degree is required to escape the subsistence wages of manual labour and many families are prepared to pay to achieve "results" .

President Islam Karimov has vowed to take action against corruption but as yet nothing has changed in education.

There has been one prosecution, against a university rector, who in a high-profile case last year, was convicted of extortion. He approached parents of law students and demanded money for good results. He received a 12-year sentence.

"I know it is bad but what can you do?" Mr Aminov said. "It makes me angry when you see people in good jobs and you know they haven't worked for them."

Uzbekistan, despite independence from Soviet rule, still remains a tightly controlled country. There is no legal opposition to Mr Karimov and the media is essentially his mouth-piece. Though many teachers and students agree that educational corruption is endemic it is difficult to find anyone to speak out against it.

"It will be a big problem for my country in the future," said Mr Aminov. "I feel sorry for those who are from poor families - but if you are bright you can still make it."

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