Minister of Digital Technologies of Uzbekistan Sherzod Shermatov commented on the issue of Internet connectivity and computer availability in schools during a speech to MPs in the Legislative Chamber on Wednesday.

Schools in Uzbekistan have 0.03 computers per student, with rural areas having 0.04 computers per student, according to experts from the Institute of Macroeconomic and Regional Studies (IMRS). These figures are notably lower compared to other countries worldwide. For instance, Kazakhstan has 0.72 computers per pupil, Azerbaijan and Belarus each have 0.55 computers, Turkey has 0.25 and OECD countries have 0.85 computers per school student.

71.6% of computers in Uzbekistan’s schools are connected to the Internet, while the rate in rural areas is at 69.4%. Domestic schools are behind the foreign ones in this regard. For instance, Turkey leads with 92% of computers connected to the Internet, followed by Azerbaijan with 80% and Belarus with 85%.

Since 2021, fiber-optic and radio-relay lines have been laid to nearly all schools in Uzbekistan to connect to the Internet, fulfilling a directive from the president, Sherzod Shermatov noted. The speed of Internet connectivity depends on the tariff.

“That is the first aspect of the issue. Secondly, although the Internet is wired up to the school door, a challenge of computer availability or lack thereof remains. In the past, the allocation of funds [for purchasing computers] was a hurdle for schools. I can attest to this from my work experience (in 2018−2021 Sherzod Shermatov worked as Minister of Public Education — ed.). This matter falls under the Ministry of Preschool and School Education, but how will they address it? If funds are provided from the budget. Previously, no budget allocation was made for purchasing computers. However, now, following the presidential decree, funds are allocated annually,” he shared.

According to the minister, the funding allocated for these purposes remains insufficient due to the revenue constraints and budget size, which are impacted by the substantial presence of the shadow economy in Uzbekistan.

“The larger the shadow economy, the less revenue flows into the budget. For comparison, our single mobile operator Uztelecom paid 1 trillion soums (approximately $79.8 million, according to CBU rates as of March 13) in taxes in 2023, surpassing the entire catering sector which paid about 900 billion soums ($71.8 million) in taxes. At the same time, one spends more on a meal than on monthly phone use, yet taxes are still not fully paid in the catering sector. In fact, Uztelecom alone paid more taxes than the top 20 construction companies,” he observed.

The minister expressed hope that as budget revenues rise, more funds will be allocated to equip schools with computers.

Sherzod Shermatov also called for consideration of GDP per capita of other countries when comparing Internet connectivity and computer availability in schools with Uzbekistan.

“They are 5−10 times larger than Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan’s 2030 Development Strategy, adopted by the president, specifies a minimum twofold increase in GDP per capita. Once achieved, these issues will also be solved,” the head of the Ministry of Digital Technologies commented.

In 2023, 220 billion soums ($17.5 million) were allocated from the budget for the modernization of computer classrooms.