Education is of the utmost importance in many Asian cultures, and Kazakhstan is no different. For families and for the nation, education has been and remains a priority.
However, after the collapse of the USSR, as many institutions either shuttered or commercialized, a quality education risked becoming a luxury available only to the wealthy. Twenty years into its independence, Kazakhstan is evaluating, updating and changing its education system and probably will be for some time to come.
Kazakhstan inherited a Soviet educational system from the days of the USSR. Today, however, higher education has shifted to the European style and has made the transition to a three-tiered program of bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and Ph.Ds. Schools in Kazakhstan are now ranked and those rankings are public. This is intended to encourage education organizations to improve their quality.
However, some say Kazakhstan can also preserve the best aspects of the old system.
“There were many good things about the Soviet system that we need to be careful not to throw out simply because they’re from the past,” Head of Design Technology at Haileybury Astana Gareth Stamp said. “There was rigor and simplicity, which parents found easy to understand. Today’s education has to be more complex, as we live in a much more technological and global society. Schools need to work with parents to explain [this] change and what it means. For example, a more international examination system will have different assessment criteria and marks schemes. The simplicity of the 1-5 scale of the past does not fit, and so we need to allow time for parents and teachers to adapt to new things.” Haileybury Astana is an example of Kazakhstan’s efforts to introduce Western-style education at lower levels as well. Attending the Haileybury school, however, remains quite expensive and out of reach for many.
“Haileybury is very closely based on the British public school model,” Stamp told EdgeKz.
“I am very excited to have been appointed to work at Haileybury Astana. I have worked in education for over 25 years, mainly in the U.K. but also in Norway and South Africa and for the past two years here in Kazakhstan. I enjoy working here, with very ambitious, dedicated and hard-working students and staff. This means high expectations and standards, a supportive and caring school environment and the desire to develop our pupils’ all around skills. Teaching the whole curriculum in English really challenges our children. We are very conscious that we are in Kazakhstan and also have a large number of nationalities studying with us. We therefore adapt our curriculum to recognize local culture, history and geography. The school is only just in its third year and it has grown from the bottom up, the oldest students being 13. I think this is the right way to start a school, developing and building on what you have achieved.”
Stamp is not the school’s only new member: 10 new international staff have joined the school, including a new headmaster, Colin Callaghan. “Each of us brings new skills and strengths and all of us have a passion to work with students and parents to provide the best education we can. It is an exciting time to be part of Haileybury in Astana,” Stamp said.
The biggest grievance of teachers in modern Kazakhstan is the profession’s low salary. Young high school graduates choosing their professional career paths are generally not interested in a low-income job with long hours.
“Teachers are really important in society and they need to be valued as such,” Stamp said. “It is not just about salaries; it is about working conditions and expectations. In the U.K., teachers have fought with successive governments to improve the conditions of service, including holidays and work life balance. I am amazed at how much time local teachers spend in school and what they are expected to do. I think students see teachers working long hours for limited pay and this can put them off a career in teaching. This is a shame, because we need the brightest and the best to educate the next generation. I hope that the more internationals work in the state education sector, the more the conditions for local teachers will change.”
“Of course no one wants to be a teacher,” the anonymous source said. “We need to raise teacher’s salaries, because they leave schools and don’t want to work. Some stay, but it is because they have no other options, and these people usually don’t have much experience [and] don’t understand their responsibility: to give children basic knowledge that we once had back in the USSR.”
Kazakhstan, at only 20 years old, is still a youngster of a nation and can’t be expected to graduate overnight. The new state program Education 2020 is expected to boost the quality of education in the country and resolve some of the complex financial issues surrounding education reform.
The program is focused on providing equal access to educational services through the introduction of a per capita financing mechanism that is intended to increase the efficiency of budget spending and help improve access to quality education for the whole population.
Teachers would also have per capita financial support for qualification trainings—a voucher-modular system—that would transfer funding for the chosen qualification course directly to the institution offering the course.
“Kazakhstan is still undergoing major educational reform as part of a detailed program set out by President Nursultan Nazarbayev,” Stamp commented.
“From the provision of kindergartens through to the building of top-flight universities, reform in modern Kazakhstan is affecting every level of education. All countries developed and developing have to take a long look at the education they provide and see how it will ensure that individuals are developed as citizens, future leaders and captains of industry, and Kazakhstan is no different. It is growing as a world player in many fields and needs well-educated people to support its high ambitions.”
Primary education lasts for four years, preceded by one year of preschool education. Secondary education consists of three main educational phases: primary education (forms or grades 1-4), basic general education (forms 5-9) and senior level education (forms 10-11 or 12 in schools such as Hailybery) divided into continued general education and professional education. These three levels of education are sometimes housed in one institution, sometimes in different ones (like primary schools and secondary schools). Recently, several specialized secondary schools have been founded, including magnet schools, lyceums and linguistic and technical schools have been founded. Secondary professional education is offered in special professional or technical schools, lyceums or colleges and vocational schools.
Kazakhstan has universities, academies, institutes, conservatories, higher schools and higher colleges. There are three main levels: basic higher education that provides the fundamentals of the chosen field of study and leads to a bachelor’s degree; specialized higher education, after which students are awarded a specialist’s diploma; and scientific-pedagogical higher education, which leads to a master’s degree. Postgraduate education leads to kandidat nauk (candidate of sciences) and doctor of sciences degrees. New laws on education have lead to the development of a private education sector and several private institutions have been licensed.
There are still many schools in Kazakhstan where Russian is spoken as the first language, although with each year since independence, more and more Kazakh-language schools open. According to the Kazakhstan Statistics Agency, in the beginning of 2012 there were 3,843 Kazakh schools and 1,508 Russian schools. Thanks to a multi-ethnic and multicultural policy, Kazakhstan is also home to 58 Uzbek-language schools, 14 Uyghur-language schools, eight English-language schools and two Tajik-language schools.