An enormous crack is crawling on the wall of the school.

“No, this is not from an earthquake. It’s just an old building,” says Maksuda Kochorova, principal of Turat Arzykulova school No. 52 in the Suzak district of Jalal-Abad Region, shaking her head. “After all, it is already a century old.”

This is one of the oldest schools in Kyrgyzstan. Initially, its first building was a railway station. The building was made into a school in the 1950s. Since then, little has changed here: stove heating, the toilet outside, water from a well... A floor plan of the station is still hanging above the entrance. The building itself had fallen into such disrepair that it was declared dilapidated with the definitive ruling that it “can no longer function.”

Despite this, the school continues to operate.

“Two years ago, the foundation began to crumble. The Ministry of Emergency Situations concluded that the school should be closed. But the parents got involved: they came and poured cement on the stones on their own to strengthen the foundation. And they kept wondering afterwards why it all wasn’t just falling apart,” says the principal.
According to the latest official data, there are 204 schools in Kyrgyzstan that are officially recognized as dilapidated: this is every tenth school in the country. Just being inside and even more so studying in these buildings is life-threatening. Nevertheless, classes are still held there.

We analyzed all available data on the condition and infrastructure of schools in Kyrgyzstan to see the full picture. And it is terrifying. Of the two thousand schools in the country, two hundred are in disrepair, another four hundred are in need of major repairs, and the vast majority of the rest function without running water, central heating, or toilets.
Latest updates are from November 2019. Still, they vividly show the scale of the disaster. The Resolution of the Kyrgyz Republic Government “On Approval of the Program for the Development of Education in the Kyrgyz Republic for 2021-2040” dated May 4, 2021 recognizes the problem and reveals even scarier figures:

“In many schools, the state of the infrastructure threatens the life and health of students, while training continues in them due to the absence of other buildings. In particular, 245 schools are recognized as dilapidated: they must be demolished and rebuilt. Another 457 schools in the republic require major repairs of the roof, foundation, walls, water supply systems, and sewerage.”

And this is a third of all schools in the country! But the situation is probably much worse. A nationwide assessment of the safety of schools and preschool educational institutions in Kyrgyzstan back in 2013 revealed that more than 80% of schools in Kyrgyzstan are “structurally unsafe.”

A deep crack in the wall of an old rural school runs through the entire secondary education system. How did it happen that thousands of children in Kyrgyzstan study in extreme conditions? And what needs to happen for that to change?
A PORTRAIT OF A DILAPIDATED SCHOOL
A typical dilapidated school looks like this: it is literally falling apart, there are cracks on the walls from earthquakes or subsidence of the foundation, rain is dropping from the ceiling, and the planks in the floor have long rotted all the way through. There are schools like this in every region. On average, this is every tenth school in the country. Somewhere, there are more, and somewhere less. In Talas Region, almost every fifth school is in disrepair. Osh Region is the leader in the number of dilapidated school buildings: there are 65 of them.
A PORTRAIT OF A DILAPIDATED SCHOOL
A typical dilapidated school looks like this: it is literally falling apart, there are cracks on the walls from earthquakes or subsidence of the foundation, rain is dropping from the ceiling, and the planks in the floor have long rotted all the way through. There are schools like this in every region. On average, this is every tenth school in the country. Somewhere, there are more, and somewhere less. In Talas Region, almost every fifth school is in disrepair. Osh Region is the leader in the number of dilapidated school buildings: there are 65 of them.
Almost all dilapidated schools—192 out of 204—are in rural areas. Most of them are not built according to a standard design. Many buildings of rural schools, like the Arzykulova school, were originally built for other needs: “a collective farm shed built by the residents themselves”, “used to be a shop and a cooperative office”, “a former administrative building of a state farm”.

Even more schools from the list of dilapidated schools were built based on the ashar method by local residents. Ashar is voluntary collective construction with voluntary donations. This is how residents used to solve the problem of the lack of schools. Researchers confirm that it is the indifference of the government that forces people to resort to extreme measures and build schools themselves. But this is not the answer. 

So-called ashar schools are built, typically, without observing construction norms, without a project, and by non-specialists. Instead of a foundation, there is a layer of stones. Over time, a foundation like this will sag, begin to crumble, and cracks will appear on the walls. Several of these schools have already collapsed.

“At the time, the ashar method was popular, but the consequences are pretty dire,” says Gulnara Satymkulova, principal of one of dilapidated schools in Talas Region.
From documents on dilapidated schools:

The school was built in 1978, using the ashar method, an adapted facility, built according to the OSH-60 version. The walls and partitions are planks, the ceiling is made of plywood, sagging, the floors are wooden, the foundation is rubble trench and concrete and shows subsidence. The slate roof is leaking. The rafter structure is unusable, and there are not enough classrooms. No separate room for faculty. No cafeteria. No library. No gym. No conference hall. No subsidiary premises.
Specialists from the Bulan Institute, a non-governmental organization that works on education projects, in their report “Construction and Safety of Schools in Kyrgyzstan: Dilapidated Schools and Children” even proposed prohibiting on the government level to build schools and other social facilities using the ashar method. “Schools should be built on the initiative and under the control of the government,” the authors write. “If the government had built standard schools according to special projects out of bricks in compliance with all construction norms, such schools would function reliably for a long time.”

But there are many standard schools on the list of dilapidated schools, too. The fact is that the government does not have funds for major repairs. In many schools, there have been no major repairs since the day the buildings were put into operation.
Therefore, despite the fact that the schools were built in the 1960–1970, these buildings have fallen into complete disrepair by today.

“Outdated structure”, “can no longer function due to physical and moral condition,” the documents say. Natural disasters—earthquakes, landslides, and mudflows—finish off schools, but the main reason for accidents is banal physical wear and tear. 172 out of 204 schools can no longer be repaired: there is an urgent need for the construction of new buildings.
Classes at a dilapidated school pose an immediate threat to life. Last year, during a lesson in Talas school No. 7, a piece of ceiling fell on children. The children managed to dodge. In the same ill-fated classroom, a teacher fell under the floor. And classes in it continued: there are not enough classrooms in the school anyway.

“We study relying on the will of God,” the principals say and admit that parents are afraid to let their children go to school. But many have no other options. “Children who study here are those who can’t leave.” Calculations show that about 70 thousand children at least study in these schools every day. But that is not all.

SCHOOLS IN KYRGYZSTAN HINDER LEARNING AND HARM STUDENTS’ HEALTH

Safety is an issue not only in dilapidated schools. Another 400 schools in the country are in need of major repairs and may appear on the list of dilapidated ones any time. According to various estimates, from a quarter to a third of schools in the country are in a deplorable condition. At least three hundred thousand children study in these schools every day.

Most likely, there are even more schools like that because officials rarely update this information. We combined all the available data into a single database and put each school on the map. Today, this is the most complete information on schools in Kyrgyzstan, but it too needs to be specified. We are making this database available for further research and comment. You can also explore the situation or find your school using the interactive map.

SCHOOLS IN KYRGYZSTAN HINDER LEARNING AND HARM STUDENTS’ HEALTH

Safety is an issue not only in dilapidated schools. Another 400 schools in the country are in need of major repairs and may appear on the list of dilapidated ones any time. According to various estimates, from a quarter to a third of schools in the country are in a deplorable condition. At least three hundred thousand children study in these schools every day.

Most likely, there are even more schools like that because officials rarely update this information. We combined all the available data into a single database and put each school on the map. Today, this is the most complete information on schools in Kyrgyzstan, but it too needs to be specified. We are making this database available for further research and comment. You can also explore the situation or find your school using the interactive map.
Almost half of all schools requiring major repairs are located in Jalal-Abad and Osh Regions. But in relative terms, the worst situation is again in Talas Region: almost a third of schools there require major repairs. With dilapidated ones included, it can be said that half of the schools in Talas Region are in distress.

And there are towns and districts where all or almost all schools are practically on the verge of destruction. For example, in Sulukta, all 9 schools in the town require major repairs. Among the districts, the Chuy district became the absolute leader in this unfortunate ranking: 5 out of 6 schools there are in need of major repairs, and one is dilapidated. Using an interactive table, you can find your area or town and check the situation in it.
Studying in these schools is also dangerous for students’ health. The wooden floors are rotting, the roof is leaking, the ceilings and walls are black with damp. “Water stood at about two meters here. Many teachers are ill, and students too,” say faculty members of the Usenbaev school in the village of Mirmakhmudov, Osh Region.

It can be especially difficult in winter. “In winter, we try not to have classes in this classroom: if it is heated, we suffocate. There’s smoke all over the school, and you can’t see anything in the hallway. We have to choose: it’s either warm but not enough air or enough air but cold. We usually choose the latter. Both the children and we ourselves often get sick,” say faculty members of the Yusup Abdrakhmanov secondary school in the village of Ananyevo, Issyk-Kul Region.

Of course, the quality of education suffers from all this. Due to illness, children miss lessons, and during classes, they complain about smoke and cold. Not enough light comes in through the windows, so children have eye pain. At the same time, almost every school is overcrowded: children study in three shifts, and three people sit at one desk. The link between school infrastructure and children’s academic success is confirmed by research.

These problems exist in almost all schools in Kyrgyzstan. As of 2011, only 13% of schools had central heating. The rest were heated mainly by coal or electricity; 16% of schools had no heating system at all. More than 86% of schools did not have a fire alarm system installed.

Only 183 schools had indoor toilets, and most of these schools were in the capital. A lot of data on the physical and technical condition of schools have not been updated since then, which also shows the government’s indifference toward the issue.

According to the law “On Education,” the government guarantees citizens the right to free general secondary education and must create “the necessary socio-economic conditions” for this: that is, among other things, undertake obligations for the construction and renovation of schools. But in fact, this does not happen.
​​In 2009, teachers from the Karasuu district of Osh Region addressed themselves to the then head of state, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, demanding that he take urgent measures to address the problems of primary and secondary education. The teachers said that most of the school buildings in rural areas do not meet construction standards or fire safety and sanitation requirements. In their address, Karasuu teachers wrote: “Every day, our children study in unsuitable rooms, where it is cold and damp. Today, we are the most disadvantaged and humiliated citizens in society. We are forced to solve our problems ourselves because we are being ignored. The government has long forgotten about us, and society turns a blind eye to our deplorable situation.”

Three years ago, the Bulan Institute sent an appeal to the then president of Kyrgyzstan Sooronbay Jeenbekov. In it, the Institute called for urgent action to solve problems in schools because “otherwise, the school education system may collapse within 10–15 years.”

The Ministry of Education and Science of the Kyrgyz Republic recognizes that “specialized, modern, renovated buildings for the educational process” affect the quality of education and that it is the objective of the state education policy. However, the action plan for the implementation of the Education Development Program in the Kyrgyz Republic for 2021–2040 does not include the improvement of infrastructure.

Why does it happen?

«WRITE LETTERS»

“Yesterday, when it rained, I thought it would collapse here,” Dinara Kasymalieva, principal of the Mansur Ibraimov school No. 41 in the Uzgen district of Osh Region, points at the rickety school building. “There is no point in hiding it. On the contrary, we need to show it. Let everyone see.”

But dilapidated schools are not new information for the government. This issue arises at every meeting between candidates and voters, especially in districts and villages where the local authorities or school principals show dilapidation documents and ask to build a new school. They send written requests, too. The government has a routine answer to these requests: you are raising an important, daunting issue; when we have the opportunity, we will definitely examine it.

“When I get a message about dilapidated schools, I go to the prime minister,” says Janar Akayev, member of parliament and deputy chairman of the committee on social issues, education, science, culture, and health. “The prime minister says, ‘Okay, okay, leave the letter here, we will examine it.’ I say, ‘No, put a visa on it. Give me this letter right away.’ So the prime minister puts a visa on it, and I immediately take it and go to the minister of finance. He says, ‘Okay, we will examine it.’ I say, ‘No, let me bring the letter to the executor.’ And the executor there is the head of the department or the expert. I go there. They tell me that members of parliament do not come to them, but give us your letter. Now, if you work like that, you can find the money. But many members of parliament or school principals simply write letters, and these letters may not be examined.”

“There are no high-ranking officials in our village. Where a member of parliament comes from, a new school is being built, and we don’t have schools like that, that’s why nothing is built here,” says Akbarali Ajimamatov, principal of the Aral dilapidated school in the village of Mirmakhmudov, Nookat district, Osh Region.

Unfortunately, he is absolutely right. “In some areas, where there are many members of parliament, they demand. And they build! And some districts of Chuy Region, for example, where not a single member of parliament was elected, are ignored by the government,” says Janar Akayev, confirming the words of the principal. In the village where he comes from, a new school was built. Other villages, it appears, are not so lucky.

In 2015, the Kanybek Abdyldaev secondary school No. 60 in the village of Tash-Aryk, Kara-Suu district, Osh Region, was promised a new building. They allocated money, dug a pit, and laid the foundation. Then they ran out of money.

«WRITE LETTERS»

“Yesterday, when it rained, I thought it would collapse here,” Dinara Kasymalieva, principal of the Mansur Ibraimov school No. 41 in the Uzgen district of Osh Region, points at the rickety school building. “There is no point in hiding it. On the contrary, we need to show it. Let everyone see.”

But dilapidated schools are not new information for the government. This issue arises at every meeting between candidates and voters, especially in districts and villages where the local authorities or school principals show dilapidation documents and ask to build a new school. They send written requests, too. The government has a routine answer to these requests: you are raising an important, daunting issue; when we have the opportunity, we will definitely examine it.

“When I get a message about dilapidated schools, I go to the prime minister,” says Janar Akayev, member of parliament and deputy chairman of the committee on social issues, education, science, culture, and health. “The prime minister says, ‘Okay, okay, leave the letter here, we will examine it.’ I say, ‘No, put a visa on it. Give me this letter right away.’ So the prime minister puts a visa on it, and I immediately take it and go to the minister of finance. He says, ‘Okay, we will examine it.’ I say, ‘No, let me bring the letter to the executor.’ And the executor there is the head of the department or the expert. I go there. They tell me that members of parliament do not come to them, but give us your letter. Now, if you work like that, you can find the money. But many members of parliament or school principals simply write letters, and these letters may not be examined.”

“There are no high-ranking officials in our village. Where a member of parliament comes from, a new school is being built, and we don’t have schools like that, that’s why nothing is built here,” says Akbarali Ajimamatov, principal of the Aral dilapidated school in the village of Mirmakhmudov, Nookat district, Osh Region.

Unfortunately, he is absolutely right. “In some areas, where there are many members of parliament, they demand. And they build! And some districts of Chuy Region, for example, where not a single member of parliament was elected, are ignored by the government,” says Janar Akayev, confirming the words of the principal. In the village where he comes from, a new school was built. Other villages, it appears, are not so lucky.

In 2015, the Kanybek Abdyldaev secondary school No. 60 in the village of Tash-Aryk, Kara-Suu district, Osh Region, was promised a new building. They allocated money, dug a pit, and laid the foundation. Then they ran out of money.
The government has this method: to allocate 3 million soms for the foundation pit. You could see these pits in some areas; sometimes, the walls will be raised, too. And then winter comes, and it all stands in the rain and snow and deteriorates because there’s no more money. This is just a waste, money down the drain, because everything has to be rebuilt later. They love to allocate 3 million and that’s it. They want everyone to leave them alone, so they pay off with this amount and create an illusion of work, but nothing is brought to the end.

Janar Akaev
member of parliament

Janar Akayev
member of parliament
The government has this method: to allocate 3 million soms for the foundation pit. You could see these pits in some areas; sometimes, the walls will be raised, too. And then winter comes, and it all stands in the rain and snow and deteriorates because there’s no more money. This is just a waste, money down the drain, because everything has to be rebuilt later. They love to allocate 3 million and that’s it. They want everyone to leave them alone, so they pay off with this amount and create an illusion of work, but nothing is brought to the end.
Millions are needed to build new schools, and the budget doesn’t have them. The construction of each school is estimated at about 60 million soms. According to the most conservative estimates, we need 7 and a half to 10 billion soms to solve the problem of dilapidated schools. The annual budget of the Ministry of Education is about 27 billion soms. But the lion's share of these funds, more than 80%, goes to salaries. It is the republican budget that should cover the costs of major repairs, but this money is simply not there.

“Our members of parliament are queuing up to Arab funds and asking to build a school in the village,” says Akayev. “When Jeenbekov was president, I went to him and said that a rural school needs to be built in the Alai region, so let’s put this into the plan. He replied that he could not promise funds from the budget but would talk to the Arabs. That is, even the president in our country expected foreign funds to build schools.”

Some principals no longer rely on the government: they have learned how to draw up applications and send them to international projects. But this is rather an exception to the rule.

30 THOUSAND SOMS FOR REPAIRS

School No. 69 in the village of Domor, Suzak district, Jalal-Abad Region, built in 1963, originally a collective farm shed, built by the residents themselves. According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, it can no longer function. According to official data, the construction of a new building requires 25 million soms. But only 20–30 thousand soms are allocated from the budget every year “for repairs.” This is enough only to fill the cracks with putty.

This happens all over the country. Back in 2011, capital investments in education across the regions of Kyrgyzstan amounted to about 1 percent of the required sum. Since then, nothing has changed. Until this day, principals and teachers themselves putty up the cracks in the crumbling walls of schools. But some cracks are simply impossible to putty up.

30 THOUSAND SOMS FOR REPAIRS

School No. 69 in the village of Domor, Suzak district, Jalal-Abad Region, built in 1963, originally a collective farm shed, built by the residents themselves. According to the Ministry of Emergency Situations, it can no longer function. According to official data, the construction of a new building requires 25 million soms. But only 20–30 thousand soms are allocated from the budget every year “for repairs.” This is enough only to fill the cracks with putty.

This happens all over the country. Back in 2011, capital investments in education across the regions of Kyrgyzstan amounted to about 1 percent of the required sum. Since then, nothing has changed. Until this day, principals and teachers themselves putty up the cracks in the crumbling walls of schools. But some cracks are simply impossible to putty up.
“This crack is dangerous because it’s on the load-bearing wall. Everything holds on to this slab, do you understand? Next year, they say, will be earthquake-prone. If there is a magnitude 4 or higher earthquake, the school building will collapse. It’s good if it happens at night.”
“This crack is dangerous because it’s on the load-bearing wall. Everything holds on to this slab, do you understand? Next year, they say, will be earthquake-prone. If there is a magnitude 4 or higher earthquake, the school building will collapse. It’s good if it happens at night.”
Landscapes, portraits, and other works by students are hung in the Nookat district Sadykov art school. They are not only pleasing to the eye but also cover the huge cracks that run all over the building. “This is us covering our wounds. You put it there, and it’s hidden. But all this will one day collapse, and then, it will be too late."

“Is it when everything collapses that the issue will perhaps budge?” ask the principals of dilapidated schools.

“For the government to allocate money and build new schools, something terrible must happen: an accident, God forbid. Then, they will panic,” Janar Akaev agrees.

Many principals, tired of waiting, go to politics. Gulnara Satymkulova has been a member of the local council for several years. She is used to yelling over others when discussing the budget:

“It’s there where these issues get resolved. They need sporting events or some anniversary celebrations. I say, ‘I don't care, spend money on our children. Why do they have to study in dampness, in places where the floors collapse? Tomorrow, we will have a sick generation—what about your sporting events then? Let's think about the next generation.’”
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