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Uzbek Teachers Get Another Extracurricular Activity

Ensuring constant 24-hour monitoring of school heating systems now seems to be part of an Uzbek teacher's duties. (file photo)
Uzbek schoolteachers have grown accustomed to being ordered to do things not mentioned in their job description.

They have been known to help pick cotton during harvest season, knock on doors to collect utility bills, and prevent youngsters from throwing Halloween parties.

But the latest instructions handed down to Tashkent teachers take such extracurricular activities a few grades higher.

Educators in the Uzbek capital are now required to work overnight to make sure school heating systems don't break down.

RFE/RL's Uzbek Service has obtained a copy of an official order issued by a Tashkent school director who informs teachers that they are being called upon to ensure winter passes "without any casualties."

To guarantee vigilance, according to the order, teachers on overnight duty will be required to call school authorities at least twice during their shift to report on the state of schools' heating systems.

One unidentified teacher told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that schools and kindergartens in the Uzbek capital have set up special groups of up to four teachers each to monitor heating systems.

"I have two nightshifts a month," says one female teacher privately. "I and other teachers on duty check every pipe to make sure everything is functioning normally."

Teachers do not receive compensation for the extra work, although there do appear to be some perks.

"We have everything we need during the shift," the female teacher says. "We have been given a Tefal kettle to boil water. We also received teapots and cups."

A Tashkent Department of Education official told RFE/RL that this is the first time educators have been asked to serve as heat monitors.

"Every winter there were incidents in which the pipes would burst and cause damages and casualties," the official explains.

Like many government officials in Uzbekistan, he was reluctant to speak with Western media, and declined to give his name.

"Authorities wanted to prevent such incidents and therefore they issued a written instruction to all Tashkent schools and kindergartens to set up groups to control the heating systems on school premises," the official said.

Similar measures are being taken at Tashkent hospitals, where doctors on overnight duty have been tasked with keeping an eye not only on patients, but on heating pipes as well.

Unlike schools, hospitals have added plumbers to their staffs to help maintain heating systems.

The Uzbek capital's decaying Soviet-era centralized heating system is in dire condition, prompting the desperate measures.

Not that village life is any better. In some remote areas, the duty of heating classrooms has been handed over to students.

In the western Khorazm Province, it has become compulsory for students to bring firewood to burn in iron stoves installed in classrooms.

The parents in Khorazm have been given an option to pay for firewood to exempt their children from carrying twigs and tree branches to school.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent Mekhribon Bekieva