BISHKEK -- Kyrgyzstan is fighting radicalism and extremism by reforming its public education and religious education.
"The lack of good religious education in religious institutions is a fundamental problem that ... furthers the spread of radicalism and extremism," State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR) Director Orozbek Moldaliyev told Caravanserai in early September.
This school year, 10 pilot schools in Bishkek, Osh and the seven provinces are teaching ninth-graders History of Religious Culture. The schoolchildren will have 16 hours of instruction per semester in that course.
The effort comes as hundreds of radicalised Kyrgyz fight in Syria alongside militants.
In August, the GKDR and the Education and Science Ministry, supported by a Norwegian NGO, conducted a three-week teacher-training course in Bishkek on the subject.
"All of this is a requirement of the times," Moldaliyev said. "[The course] is designed to provide the younger generation a better knowledge of religion ... It will prevent youth from becoming radicalised."
The course will be compulsory in all schools nationwide starting in September 2017, according to the government's plan.
Modernising Islamic pedagogy and education
The government is eyeing the country's religious schools as well.
The country has 99 Muslim schools, but no licensing system exists for them, according to the GKDR. The country has no standards or common curriculum for religious education.
The government is carrying out a 2015-2020 State Religious Policy that includes sweeping reforms in religious education. No such reform existed in Kyrgyzstan's previous years of independence, dating back to 1991.
"Modernising Islamic pedagogy and education" is one of the key tasks facing the government, according to the GKDR.
"Graduates of religious schools must receive quality religious and secular education both," Akimjan haji Ergeshov, chief of the Education Department within the Spiritual Administration for Muslims of Kyrgyzstan (DUMK), told Caravanserai. "Reforming ... religious education will be our answer to radicalism."
New requirements for religious education
Authorities recognise the need to upgrade religious education.
"Only 20% of imams have basic religious education, according to the national muftiate," Moldaliyev said.
The 2015-2020 State Religious Policy aims to change all that.
It emphasises the need for all imam-khatibs to learn Arabic. It also bars children who have less than the mandatory nine years of public schooling from attending religious schools. That policy is meant to prevent the habit among some provincial families of yanking their children out of public school after fifth or sixth grade and sending them to unregistered seminaries.
The 2015-2020 plan requires transparency from religious schools that previously had no oversight. They must publicise their curriculum and give financial reports that include information on all local and foreign donors.