While being a part of Soviet Union, Kyrgyzstan like its neighboring Central Asian states underwent through several Alphabet reforms. In 1938, the Latin alphabet was eliminated for written Kyrgyz and replaced by the Cyrillic script, which is a Kyrgyz written script up to date.
In 1989 a total of 35.2% of all ethnic Kyrgyz in the republic reported fluency in Russian (ibid, 2003). In 1989, only 7% of all schools in the capital (Frunze at that time) were Kyrgyz language medium, while 54% were Russian language medium. The rest were mixed medium schools. Approximately 42% of ethnic Kyrgyz who were not in a Kyrgyz medium track were also not studying Kyrgyz as a second language (Fierman, 1991). After independence Russian language medium schools in the republic declined from 234 to 142. The number of Kyrgyz language schools increased from 1,018 to 1,122. However, without the total enrollment numbers for each group it is difficult to determine the actual proportion of change in enrollment in the Kyrgyz and Russian language tracks. That is because many Russian schools did not in fact close but instead became mixed medium schools by opening parallel Kyrgyz language groups.
Overall, representatives of over 100 natsional’nosti (nationalities) reside in the republic. It is possible to receive an education from kindergarten to the completion of an advanced degree in three languages of instruction - Kyrgyz, the state language, Russian, an official language since 2000, Uzbek, the language of the most numerically predominant minority in the republic. There are also four Tajik language schools in the Batken Oblast.
While it is perhaps common for an ethnic Kyrgyz person (in the post-Soviet period) to identify their “native language” as Kyrgyz, this does not necessarily indicate that they have functional ability in the Kyrgyz language, especially in urban areas where many non-Russians know and speak primarily (sometimes almost exclusively) in Russian. The second languages known differ by region. In Osh city for example, where 49% the population is ethnic Uzbek, 33% of bi-linguals report their second language as Kyrgyz while twice that amount report their second language as Russian. Tri-lingualism is also common in places like the city of Osh.
By any measure however, ethnic Kyrgyz in Kyrgyz schools are more likely to have command of at least basic Russian than non-Kyrgyz in Russian schools are to have command of Kyrgyz (Korth, 2005).
The text is adapted from Drummond, T. 2011.