Post-Soviet Moral Education: The Case of Kyrgyzstan

Article excerpt

The Republic of Kyrgyzstan became a free and democratic state after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since that time, Kyrgyzstan has redefined and renegotiated what education in its society should be. Although numerous internal and external initiatives have sought to reshape Kyrgyzstan's curriculum and instructional strategies, these projects have paid little attention to moral education and its role in educational reform for democracy. The international moral education study presented here sought a better understanding of curricular gaps, policy alternatives, and unique possibilities and approaches based on different social, cultural, economic, and historical perspectives.

A cross-cultural civic education curriculum development project held at the University of Iowa with Kyrgyz educators offered the opportunity to investigate the problems associated with reinventing moral education in Kyrgyzstan after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. These Kyrgyz educators' perspectives-drawn from interviews, observations, and cognitive mapping tools-provided a picture of the complexities involved in Kyrgyz moral education. This study also provides a foundation for future educational reforms and initiatives, as the findings exposed the challenges and promises of democratically-oriented moral education in post-Soviet states and their relation to other democracies.

INTERNATIONAL MORAL EDUCATION RESEARCH

This study is situated within an established line of inquiry on international moral education. Moral education, as one strand within the greater tangled web of morality, is constituted by seemingly infinite forces that are culturally, politically, and contextually bound. The omnipresence of moral education in schools throughout the world, whether formal or hidden, demands explication and analysis for a better understanding of its role in a democratic society (Jackson, Boostrom, & Hansen, 1998).

This study rests on the normative belief that moral education, while not exclusively the charge of schools, plays an important role in the conscious and deliberate design of the educational experiences, in order to prepare citizens who are able to make informed and reasoned decisions in a pluralistic democracy. Although the exact treatment of morality is rarely agreed upon, schools either consciously or tacitly provide a moral education. Because all education which develops the "power to share effectively in social life is moral" (Dewey, 1916, p. 360), there is a foundational philosophical need to address morality, as well as a need to respond to public demands that schools not abandon the moral development of its future citizenry (Pritchard, 1996). Moral education is therefore central to the charge of creating widening and enlarging school experiences. This widening effect allows students to move beyond sectarian, partisan, ethnic, or private conceptions of morality and instead engage in a common civic morality (Butts, 2006). A common morality is not indoctrinitive but rather an essential skill-based component of citizenship. As students negotiate public and private beliefs, as well as traditional and modern beliefs, they engage in a diverse set of epistemological structures resulting in a set of tentative and evolving moral commitments, both accommodating to private moralities and situated within a nation's civic ideals (Bull, 2006).

Yet given the wide variation of moral education constructs, both ideological and educational, research efforts directed at understanding the effect of moral education in schools is often weak. One model of assessment seeks to disentangle four components of morality as proximal criteria, consisting of moral sensitivity, moral judgment, moral motivation, and moral character (Bebeau, Rest, & Narvaez, 1999). This approach makes the high-inference construct of moral education more palatable, yet each educational setting has its own context, moral goals, and community considerations. …