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Trading or Teaching: Dilemmas of Everyday Life Economy in Central Asia

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The paper discusses the effects of the collapse of the Soviet Union on teachers’ life and work in Badakhshan and Osh provinces of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Challenging some of the assumptions of the Soviet studies about the interaction between teaching and other sources of moneymaking by teachers, the paper illustrates continuities and changes in the pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet times in terms of role, nature, forms, and ethics of trading and commercial activities in the life of the teachers in the two countries. The paper draws from the two ethnographic case studies carried out in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan between 1999 and 2005. The drastic actual changes in the status and work of the teachers in post- Soviet Central Asia has presented teachers with tough choices. One of such choices was whether to become involved in trading and commerce. Teachers’ experience of trading and commercialisation has been contradictory: necessary, possible, rewarding; yet challenging and often disgusting and contrary to the very morality of the teaching profession. The teachers’ life and work serves as windows to the larger issues that have both local and global ramifications. The challenges teachers face in the paper speak to basic issues of human experience: dignity, justice, hope, equity, care and humanity. The paper’s major argument is that while teachers are increasingly gaining from their involvement in trading, it is the societies that are losing, both by loss of the best teachers and by the implications of trading and commercial activities on the education systems in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The policy makers must make decisions about how teachers could be provided with conditions that enable them to focus on the major priority of their work for the benefit of the future generations of Central Asia.


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