The project continues its journey on a positive trajectory, although from a low starting point and within a challenging environment. It is the third EU project in education, with a three years gap since the second project. While still focusing on TVET, scope and size of the project cover more than 30 activities from the whole education sector and include curricula development to further education of teachers and national IT decisions, such as an Education Management Information System.
The education sector is relatively small with only 43.000 students in TVET education and 7.000 students in higher education. While TVET education is fee-based, higher education is covered by the state and demand outstrips supply by a wide margin.
For the last 8 years, education is on a positive trajectory due to high investment in buildings and equipment (smart boards, computers), but still struggles to recover from previous experiments. There is lack of capacities at all levels, covered through opaque, labour- and time intensive compliance requirements. In part this is the reason that some decision-making in education is outsourced to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that by the nature of its activities does not have competencies and experience in education.
The project represents significant resources for innovations that are under might demand in Turkmenistan’s education sector. The challenge to be addressed is that the capacities for innovation are quite limited, both from current administrative capacities and a mental set that is characterized by thinking patterns that is sceptical of inconvenient facts and alien to ideas that do not reconfirm existing ideas. For example, the Ministry of Education refused to discuss further education for its civil servants, but requested instead selected presentations on global trends in education.
The main problem faced by the Project Team since the start of the project is to gain permission to work with stakeholders, officials and TVET institutions. This situation is common for new projects and business in Turkmenistan and deeply rooted in the pros and cons of Turkmenistan’s current socio-economic development trajectory determined by history, traditions, values, attitudes and preferences. It is expected that communication will continue its current path of very slow, but continuous improvements, reaching soon a critical level of a more appropriate formal arrangement. Based on the Inception and the First Progress report, a Work Plan was prepared that will be submitted for decision-making to the Steering Committee and the Cabinet of Ministers for approval. Needless to say that the expected approval will strengthen legitimacy of action and ownership of the Turkmen side.
A first major project event was a strategic seminar with 47 participants in Turkmenbashi, 26 – 29 January 2017, that introduced the project to the community and addressed the proposed implementation mechanism. A second event, a three-day seminar on technology-enabled education for 50 decision-makers was requested by the Ministry and fully prepared, but postponed for later implementation due to “technical mistakes by the Ministry”. The project’s coordinator apologized.
The project identified and started to implement a bottom-up and portfolio approach to attain project results: the community is requested to generate – with the active help of key experts – to mini-projects. Mini-projects are ToR-compliant activities that should be implemented by education providers and have a value of 5.000 – 20.000 Euro, such as content and curricula development. Decision about the usefulness of such projects, but also their monitoring and evaluation will be done by sector councils and, if not appropriate, by thematic Working groups. Sector councils are positioned as central elements that might strengthen the capacity of the Ministries in an indirect way. Through hands-on consultancy and expertise the project will optimize the emerging portfolio of ToR compliant mini-projects, achieve the objectives of the project and make the learning curve of the education sector steeper, more resilient and better aligned to international standards. In a best-case scenario, during the upcoming 3.5 years sector councils might become centres of cooperation and collaboration that increases the capacities and the resilience of the education sector.
A disadvantage of the proposed approach is that it is frontloaded – significant resources, time and efforts are necessary until first results will become tangible. However, it is expected that the current high workload will pay-off with higher ownership and sustainability of the project’s intervention.
Parallel to the positioning of sector councils as a linchpin of project implementation, the project continues to implement the following activities: functional analysis of three educational providers, the National Institute of Education and regional branches of the Ministry of Labour of Social Protection; a three-days ICT conference and, as a result, the designing of a concept to develop a digital roadmap for selected educational institutes and the education sector; and further education of teachers and principals from TVET schools.
The current planning period covers April to September 2017. It is expected that the Work plan to be approved by the Cabinet of Ministers will lower transaction costs. On the agenda is the seminar on European experience in technology-enhanced learning, a first meeting of the Steering Committee, the approval and implementation of up to 15 mini-projects and more activities in regard to functional analysis, curricula development, reviewing the legal and regulatory framework and first activities to address national ICT – solutions.