Schools in Uzbekistan didn’t teach English until around age 10, and little Firdavs Navruzov simply couldn’t wait that long. Whenever his classmates in primary school were at the playground, he could be found in the library hunting for books to learn English. Even at an early age, in a city where few spoke the language, he understood that learning English would open a whole new world for him, one that he was eager to explore.
Two decades later, Firdavs is enabling others to follow in his footsteps by running both an English language training center and an independent primary school in Bukhara, Uzbekistan.
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After Firdavs finished school and graduated college, he found that his true calling in life was enabling others to learn English in the same way that he had.
Winning a Fulbright scholarship to come to the U.S. to attain a master’s degree in teaching English at Minnesota State University helped him get closer to his dream—and being selected for the Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program to work at the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. brought him even closer.
The Edmund S. Muskie Internship Program is a summer internship program funded by the U.S. Department of State that provides emerging leaders from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia with the opportunity to gain real-world experience complementing and enriching their graduate studies in the United States.
The internship’s real-world experience is what helped Firdavs get insights into how the federal government analyzes the educational needs of an area and develops a curriculum to best suit those needs.
“Studying education is great but practical experience—to see how curriculums are developed and implemented—is a game changer for professional development. The Muskie internship was that for me,” recalls Firdavs.
The internship was also a great opportunity to expand his network. Firdavs met many language educators and curriculum developers across different school districts when he visited charter schools in D.C. to see how English was taught to non-native speakers, refugees, and immigrants. These experiences shaped his vision of what he wanted to do after his return to Uzbekistan.
“I always wanted to venture into education but I didn’t know how. Observing the educational process in D.C., meeting professionals working in the sector, building valuable connections, and the lessons that I learnt along the way helped me envision a school with international standards in my country.”
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Upon returning home, Firdavs began working on his dream to enable more people to learn English. As a first step, he founded LTC Leader, an English language tutoring center with excellent results for its students. Today, the center has over 300 alumni.
Working on the language training center also opened Firdavs’ eyes to the larger challenges of education in Uzbekistan. From scarcity of private schools and immense pressure on public education, to lack of training for teachers, the education system in Uzbekistan was craving for a change.
Fortunately, a presidential decree on the development of private education was adopted in September 2017. Previously unrecognized private schools now had their qualifications and degrees officially recognized alongside public schools.
The idea was to create an education system that was not entirely dependent on the government but in competition with it—while also reducing the load on public schools and improving the education system overall.
“I found this a great opportunity to venture into education. The decree came in September 2017 and, within two months, I was meeting relevant government officials, potential funders, and teachers who could all help me establish my school—The Knowledge Academy. During this process, my lessons from the Muskie internship were a guiding force.”
A year later, in June 2018, The Knowledge Academy’s vision became a reality. Now, just another year later, the school already has 80 students pursuing an education in line with international standards without having to leave the country.
The newly established school teaches the state curriculum until 2 pm—which is also the time that public schools end lessons for the day. From 2 to 6 pm, children are taught specific subjects in English and engage in fun learning tasks, as well as sports and activities that help them think critically.
Firdavs believes that his vision and practice have been greatly impacted by his experience at the U.S. Department of Education as a Muskie intern. Visiting different schools in D.C. during his internship helped him understand cohesive learning environments and how programs that advance learning and critical thinking are designed.
In only three years, Firdavs can already see the impact he has made, and in some cases, it would be difficult not to notice. For instance, his influence on young people taking up teaching as a profession is obvious—seven of his fellow teachers at the language institute were once his students!
“Teaching was never the top career choice for young professionals, but if nobody chooses to teach, who will educate our children? Seeing my students take up teaching as full-time careers gives me hope for the teaching profession, the education sector, and for our future generation.”
Firdavs takes pride in seeing the children at his school speaking English fluently, thinking critically, and engaging in extracurricular activities while doing well in their studies.
This impact also gives him motivation to expand further. Over the course of the next year, The Knowledge Academy is going to take in more students, expand its physical space, and begin higher-level classes as it continues to provide children in Bukhara with access to an international standard education.
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