26 Jun Why Lie to Blind Children?
Photo by Bakhodir Kurbanov
Despite many promises made by the officials, music education for blind and visually impaired children remains paid. I wrote a short piece about this at a popular online media UzNews.uz to understand why the question still remains open.
Last year, several articles were already written about financial barriers to music education of blind children in specialized boarding schools, and video reports were made with a request to provide them with free music education. In November, the former Minister of Culture, Bakhtiyor Sayfullaev, officially announced that starting in 2020, children with visual impairments will study at music schools for free.
In late May, the new Minister of Culture Ozodbek Nazarbekov said that this problem has already been solved by exempting 25% of children from low-income families, as well as children with disabilities from tuition fees. The minister added that ‘if they have problems with payment, this can only be related to the mistake of the school director.’
The amount of parental fees for teaching children in children’s music and art schools is regulated by a presidential decree of December 4, 2014. According to the document, parents in the capital city Tashkent are forced to pay 75% of the basic calculation value (BCV), while in the regional centres – half of the BCV, and in Karakalpakstan and other localities – 30% of the BCV.
In order to create favourable conditions for receiving education in the field of music and arts, children who won international (1 – 3 places) and republican (1 place) competitions in the fields of music and arts during one calendar year, as well as children from low-income families study for free at the expense of the state budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan within no more than 25% of the total number of students.
Moreover, if 2 or more children from the same family are studying at children’s music and art schools, then each of them should pay at a rate of 70% of the established fee. Cash income from parents is the main source of financing costs for the maintenance of music and art schools, with the exception of wages and equivalent payments, as well as a single social payment. If there are not enough funds, expenses are covered by the state budget.
The President’s decree of May 26, 2020 amended and supplemented the previous decree and included children with disabilities in the category of children who won at music competitions, as well as children from low-income families, who, as an exception, can be included in the category of students of no more 25% of the total number of students who can claim free music education.
However, teachers of specialized boarding schools, as well as the parents of blind and visually impaired children themselves, were not completely satisfied with this decision and would like to be completely exempted from the fee for teaching their children music and art.
Firstly, the inclusion of some students with disabilities in 25% of children who can count on free tuition in music and art is not a tangible change for parents of blind children. Let’s look at the situation with the example of children from the specialized boarding school No. 77 for blind and visually impaired children who study at the children’s music and art school No. 17.
The total number of students at this music school is 280, of which 133 are children with visual impairments. This means that 47.5% of all students in the school are blind or partially sighted. Nevertheless, all laws and decrees stipulate that only 25% of the total number of students can count on free tuition in case if there are no other applicants from among the winners of the competitions and those from low-income families.
As a result, it turns out that 22.5% of blind students will have to continue music education for a fee. A similar picture is observed in other regions of the country – about 40-50% of students in music schools are children with visual impairments. What if their parents do not have such financial opportunities but they really want their children to go to music and art school?
Secondly, if in the capital for the parent of a blind child last year it was necessary to pay 152,047 soums per month (75% of BCV), then from February 1, based on the size of the base estimated value, this amount is 167,250 soums per month (about $16). Considering that at present, the disability allowance since childhood is 466,680 soums per month (about $45), and parents themselves often have visual impairments or are classified as low-income, additional musical education for their children places a heavy burden on the already limited family budget.
For blind children, music education is not a hobby or a mere interest. For them, musical creativity is the most important means of inclusion. Due to visual impairment, their hearing is usually better developed since from an early age they learn to perceive our world only through sounds – they see through music.
In addition, in Uzbekistan, blind people have an extremely limited choice of occupation, which is associated with discrimination on the basis of disability in the open labour market. Therefore, blind children and their parents have high hopes for the profession of a professional musician, which later can at least somehow feed them.
On June 20, the Ministry of Culture announced that ‘from now on, after amending the decrees, free education for children with disabilities, including the blind, in children’s music and art schools is provided for.’ According to the Ministry, this year 355 students with disabilities studied in children’s music and art schools across the country, of which 320 are blind and partially sighted children. By the 2020/2021 school year, the Ministry plans to enrol up to 650 students with disabilities who have expressed a desire to study music and art.
Given the past unfulfilled promises of senior officials, the next statement by the Ministry of Culture no longer inspires hope for parents and their blind children. The problem can be considered resolved only if the Ministry of Finance allocates the necessary budgetary funds for the maintenance of music schools for children with visual impairments.
In this regard, parents of blind and visually impaired children are requesting new amendments to section 4, clause 18 of the provision ‘On the procedure for making and using the parental fee for children in music and art schools’ and include the right to free music education for students with disabilities.
A video message from parents of blind and visually impaired children: