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As Danger Lurks, Kyrgyz Schools Set To Open In Yurts

As a new schoolyear begins in Kyrgyzstan, thousands of students will be attending classes in tents or ramshackle buildings. (file photo)
As a new schoolyear begins in Kyrgyzstan, thousands of students will be attending classes in tents or ramshackle buildings. (file photo)

Children in Kyzyl-Ozgorush were promised a new school last year when their rundown classrooms were officially deemed too dangerous to use.

But with a new schoolyear set to begin, there are no signs of a new facility in the village in southern Kyrgyzstan. When classes open on September 4, local children will be attending classes in traditional yurts.

"The primary school building was crumbling right before our eyes and we had to move the children to the yurts in April," says Aina Navatkyzy, deputy governor of Toktogul district of Jalal-Abat Province, where the village is located.

Kyzyl-Ozgorush village school No. 36 was built by local residents in 1957.

In 2010, authorities constructed a new school for Kyzyl-Ozgorush children, but the new building was designed for only 120 students, leaving 600 others to continue their schooling in the old place.

"School No. 36 was officially listed as unsafe in 2016 by a special commission that inspected the building," Daiyrbek Karimov, head of Jalal-Abat's provincial Emergency Situations Department, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

But Kyzyl-Ozgorush is far from the only place in Kyrgyzstan that lacks modern and safe learning facilities.

Ahead of the new school year, specialists concluded that 34 school buildings across Jalal-Abat alone didn't meet safety requirements.

Most affected students were moved to temporary buildings or to nearby schools, or were provided with makeshift tents by the Emergency Situations Department.

However, more than 1,200 students across Jalal-Abat will start the new school year in buildings that inspectors determined should no longer be used.

Cracked Walls, Falling Roof

Safety specialists in central Naryn, the administrative center of central Kyrgyzstan's Naryn Province, concluded that some 20 of that region's 141 schools must be closed down due heavy structural damages.

Some of the aging schools, however, remain open.

Among them is a school in the village of Ak Kyia in the Kochkor district that was built in the 1970s and was severely damaged in an earthquake more than a decade ago.

The quake left large cracks on the walls. One student told RFE/RL that he feared that the walls would cave in on him.

"I was afraid that the stove would fall right on me," he said of the wood-burning stove used to heat his classroom. "It's tilting more and more toward the class.

In the southern province of Osh, authorities are constructing a new school in the village of Kashka-Suu after the old one was damaged by an earthquake in recent years.

Despite heavy damage to the roof, floor, and walls, the school has continued to run for more than six years.

Parents say they have been demanding that the government relocate the school to a safer place.

No New School Anytime Soon

Local officials blame delays in constructing or repairing schools on a lack of funds.

In Jalal-Abat, schools are teaching students how to run to safety in emergency situations.

Gulzat Ashirova, a high-ranking government official in Jalal-Abat, says that special civil-defense trainings have been designed for children who study in schools officially considered unsafe.

"We take measures to prepare children for all kinds of unforeseen situations," Ashirova told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on August 28.

"But I can say that there are almost no such school buildings [in Jalal-Abat] nearing collapse," Ashirova added.

The official went on to say that in the cases in which buildings are in such a state, children would have to continue to attend lessons there.

"Despite this issue being raised repeatedly, we are forced to continue teaching children in these schools due to [a lack of funds]," Ashirova said.

The provincial Emergency Situations Department has advised the government to discontinue using all school buildings that fall short of safety requirements.

Karimov, the department head, urged the authorities to shut down such schools during a provincial government meeting in late August.

"The local government is responsible for the lives of the children who attend schools officially recognized as unsafe," Karimov told RFE/RL.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service correspondent Ruslan Kalmatov.
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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