Tajikistan has come a long way since the civil war of the 1990s that had left the country at a state of socioeconomic ruin. The GDP has risen eightfold since 2000, poverty has fallen from 83% in 2000 to 31% in 2016, child mortality has decreased threefold, and life expectancy has reached the global average.
However, chronic challenges are still present across all fronts - from economics to education. Today, Tajikistan remains the poorest country in Central Asia, its economy continues to be dependent on migrant remittances from abroad, and its education system has inherited disadvantages of the Soviet-era model.
To tackle existing issues and develop new initiatives, we look to the youth of our country - the high school and university student demographic that forms a fifth of the population. We believe that students who are able to think critically - that is, those who question assumptions, engage in evidence- and data-based analysis, and seek out diversity of viewpoints prior to making inferential judgment - become the most effective leaders and agents of change in their communities.
A recent World Economic Forum report identified critical thinking as the second most important skill necessary for success in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the United States, critical thinking has been emphasized as one of four key skills for educators to prioritize in the public school curriculum by the National Education Association. In Europe, development of critical thinking has been identified as one of primary goals of the higher education system as part of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA).
Empirical research has reaffirmed positive correlation of critical thinking with outcomes in a variety of fields - from greater research utilization among nurse educators, to reduction in student biases. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of 117 studies on critical thinking in education with over 20,000 participants concluded the following: "These findings make it clear that improvement in students' critical thinking skills and dispositions cannot be a matter of implicit expectation. As important as the development of critical thinking skills is considered to be, educators must take steps to make critical thinking objectives explicit in courses."
TajRupt was launched in 2016 with a goal of disrupting Tajikistan's educational landscape that is methodically deficient of critical thinking development. We became the first NGO from Central Asia to receive funding from the European Endowment for Democracy in May 2017. Subsequently, we launched the Extracurricular Resource Center (ERC) located in Khujand - the administrative center of Tajikistan's northern Sughd region - as a pioneering space for youth activism in the area.
In a year of operations, the ERC has enabled hundreds of students to gain critical thinking skills while learning about democracy, global affairs, gender equality, and innovation. Moreover, students have become civically engaged through volunteerism, community service projects, and social impact campaigns - leading change at a grassroots level. Now, we are expanding our efforts in civic education to encompass technology and its growing impact on education. Scroll down to learn more about these initiatives.
The opening ceremony was attended by the United Kingdom's Ambassador to Tajikistan Hugh Philpott. At the ceremony, Ambassador Philpott delivered the following remarks to TajRupt's students:
According to Freedom House, less than half of the world's population now live in countries classified as free - a trend that some scholars have described as a global democratic recession. Meanwhile, Tajikistan was ranked in the bottom-10 among 167 countries in terms of its state of democracy on the Economist Intelligence Unit's 2017 Democracy Index.
TajRupt's civic education initiative tackles the issue of low civic participation of the youth in Tajikistan by providing high school and university students access to a curriculum of activism courses. The courses aim at nurturing critical thinking skills among participants by combining theoretical learning with practical activities. The curriculum is delivered in English language in order to stimulate student exposure to alternative sources of information in a region where the news sphere is dominated by Russia's state-run media. Activism courses are structured into 10-week sessions at the ERC, with competitive enrollment open to students in an after-school setting free of charge.
There are dozens of students from rural areas who travel for several hours, multiple times a week to attend activism courses at the ERC in Khujand.
Anvarjon Hotamov, pictured on the right, was one of them. A recent high school graduate from Istaravshan, a town located 80 kilometers away from Khujand, he used to travel for two and a half hours per day, four days per week to participate in Model UN and Innovation Incubator courses after school. Due to the distance and advent of school exams, he could no longer attend courses at the ERC.
The goal of our technology initiative is to expand the impact of our ERC curriculum into rural areas of Tajikistan through digital learning in order to provide students like Anvarjon access to civic education. Building upon the second cohort of Innovation Incubator that was conducted virtually, we seek to connect students to activism courses taking place at our ERC in Khujand through partnering with local public high schools in rural areas.
The ERC in Khujand – that includes classrooms equipped with internet connection – would serve as virtual headquarters of the initiative. Portal ERCs with internet connection would be opened in select public schools in rural areas, allowing students in those districts to virtually join courses taking place at the ERC in Khujand.