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Pupils at several schools in the Turkmen capital have signed pledges not to visit banned websites. The schoolchildren had to promise that they would use the Internet only for their studies. Parents, meanwhile, have had to pledge to educate their children on the importance of wearing face masks, good hand hygiene, and social distancing.
According to the turkmen.news source, the pupils wrote their pledges during a civics lesson. The subject is part of the curriculum for one year in the eighth grade. The source said that the civics lessons are usually a waste of time, as the pupils learn nothing about human rights or how to protect them; instead the teachers talk about the laws in force in Turkmenistan.
However, on September 15 the lesson was more interesting. The pupils had to write out pledges with the following wording:
“I, (surname, first name, patronymic), a pupil in the (such and such) grade at (such and such) school, give my word that I will not, either at or near school, visit websites which should not be visited. I will use the Internet only for the purposes of study.”
Turkmen.news has an original pledge, handwritten in Turkmen.
We found out that teachers were forced to collect the pledges after a phone call to the school’s management. It was announced that a pupil at one of the capital’s schools had been caught “up to something dubious,” and now his teachers and parents are having problems.
“Something dubious” implies either visiting banned websites, or talking about what was written there. It’s not just porn sites and pages encouraging terrorism that are blocked in Turkmenistan, but all popular social networks and all independent media. People can read the news only in state and pro-government media, which write mainly about the work and leisure of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. People caught using a VPN are sometimes summoned to “precautionary chats.”
Pledges are widespread in modern-day Turkmenistan. On September 14, we reported that parents of children at all the capital’s schools had to sign documents on health and hygiene.
Turkmen.news has an unsigned copy of one of these pledges in Turkmen. According to the document, the parents commit “throughout the 2020-21 academic year to undertaking explanatory work with their child in an appropriate manner on the subject of wearing face masks, keeping hands clean, and keeping a safe distance.” Moreover, “should the child’s body temperature rise above 37 degrees, should initial symptoms appear (diarrhea, coughing, sneezing)”, they must “immediately call a family doctor, follow the examinations and treatment prescribed by the doctor at home, and, if the doctor decides, in hospital.”
There is no reference at all in the pledges to COVID-19: the authorities still insist that there is no coronavirus in the country. Various explanations are given for public health measures: either the presence of “harmful dust” in the air, or a campaign against abstract “infectious diseases.” Another term recently coined by state media is the “Aral crisis,” as the “harmful dust” supposedly blows in from the Aral Sea.
Officials use pledges in an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility if there are complaints about their work. For example, if school pupils display symptoms of the “Aral crisis,” the director can always show the pledges, thereby shifting blame on to the parents. If a pupil should attract the attention of the National Security Ministry as an opposition supporter, the teachers will respond that they “took action” and show the written evidence.
Considering teenagers’ passion for forbidden fruit, the young people of Ashgabat can be expected to show heightened interest in “websites which should not be visited.” So, in some respects the civics lesson has at last proved effective.
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