Archive for January 26, 2008

Kazakh Lawyers’ Thoughts on Education

A 29 year old Kazakh lawyer wrote the following concerning his education in Kazakhstan: “I wanted to have an even deeper understanding and hands-on field experience in a real wild world of corporate sharks…I had to apply all my knowledge and experience at the leading and biggest branch office even though I was not a member of the “Incredible” cartoon family.”  Many of the applicants to the Muskie program had their own ideas about the disparity of their education within the former Soviet Union.  The following was from this same lawyer, a married male, “Hard work, crazy at times, made me stronger and forced me to use everything I knew. It also gave me an understanding of the fact that even the best-written books do not always contain a direct answer to all questions ….Legal education in the US is mostly based on case-studies, it gives more room for creative thinking.” 

A much younger male law graduate at age 22 chimed in with similar thoughts: “I can say that in Kazakhstan we have a quite strong theoretical direction in education.  The practical aspects remain after experienced practical lawyers.  The opposite situation is referred to in American system.  I was impressed by American methods of teaching and was glad to feel the atmosphere of real work … In Kazakhstan such branches or spheres of law such as Internet law, e-commerce, intellectual property law, and dispute resolution are rather new and it is hard to find specialists who can share their knowledge.” 

However, a very articulate young male attorney of 23 would disagree with the two above lawyers (it’s what lawyers DO!) by answering the question of why he applied for a Muskie:  “The answer is very simple:  I don’t want to be ashamed of answering such a question:  “What have I personally done for the state? What contribution have I done for its development?”  I was often asked, “Why do you really need an excellent education, creative and active social life.  You know theory is not practice at all and at work you can forget everything you have been taught.”  But I have an absolutely opposite opinion.  I believe this is exactly what our problem is:  students are taught one thing but do another.  I don’t understand how a person can spend their life aimlessly without striving to be the best and for reaching real success.  Yes, I am an idealist and believe it is impossible to live without faith.” 

A single female who is an experienced educator and NOT a lawyer wrote this as her reason to study in the U.S.  “I want to learn American system from the “inside.” The matter is that we often just formally, mechanically copy the forms and the methods of foreign educational experience, without real deep understanding of its essence.” 

Whether or not the teachers have studied in the U.S. and come back with new and fresh ideas, they are still saddled with an old Soviet mentality that does not seem to grasp the monumental changes which have taken place in the rest of the world.  A 34 year old single female teacher wrote the problems she encounters while teaching English with the two variant methods: “Russian and Kazakh teachers want their students to speak perfect English without any mistakes.  They want their language to be as like that of native speakers as possible.  While in American classes the main goal is to make yourself understood.  And then I had an idea: why not do both things at the same time?  Why not combine the two approaches and make our classes serious and ingenious at the same time?” 

Perhaps this teacher is the idealist while one of our strongest candidates for the Muskie in education was much younger and full of energy as a classroom English teacher.  This 25 year old single female wrote the following: “The so-called “teachers’ associations” are not so widely spread and fully developed in our country.  I would like to learn how teachers can work together: discuss new methods of teaching, new ways of lesson planning (this is a big problem for our teachers too).  This is because we have a lot of new subjects here, but we still don’t know how to teach them because we have old methods of teaching.” 

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Quotes from Ambitious Kazakh Students

The following quotes were culled from 55 applications of the Muskie applicants who we interviewed last week.  The discipline of study most represented by these Kazakhstanis were ten from the business sector, many hoping to get their MBAs in the U.S.  There were also seven lawyers who applied for the masters program with an equal number of journalists and economists and also those from education.  A few applicants each in Public Administration, Public Health and Public Policy along with International Affairs.  Finally, there were two in Library science, one about my age who had been trained in the old Soviet system of cataloging.  Unfortunately, she had a difficult time speaking in English while the other younger applicant was a breath of fresh air, she had learned how to use e-journals on the research databases.

Applicants who used quotes the most in their Project Statements were in International Affairs.  A 26 year old single female wrote about leadership but didn’t give her source: “Have the courage to have a vision greater than yourself, and let that vision sustain you.”  She also used another English proverb, “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” 

These young Kazakhs are ambitious to successfully lead their country, but there will be difficulties.  Yet Kazakhstan has come through so many obstacles already after the Soviets devastated their natural resources.  Another single female aged 23 quoted a Chinese proverb: “The one who wants to move a mountain, should start by moving the little rocks.” This ambition may start with Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbaev who was quoted as saying “I am asking you to look forward to the future.  It’s not possible to stop it but it’s wise to plan it.”  In my cursory search, I was not able to pin down the source for his quote but when the interviewees were asked who they thought was a good leader, President Nazarbaev’s name came up more than once.

The same International Affairs interviewee who quoted Nazarbaev, took a quote from the U.S. founding father, Benjamin Franklin, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” She was a strong candidate at the age of 24, but our strongest one in the whole group of 53 interviewees was an International Affairs applicant who had studied in China and had already published two journal articles.  The future of Kazakhstan is very hopeful with more applicants like her.

 A Kyrgyz proverb was used by one applicant in Environment but the original meaning had been changed.  It should have read “A man without a horse is like a bird without wings.”  Instead the applicant wrote what presumably could have been misquoted from Salvador Dali “A person without a goal is like a bird without wings.”  Dali had earlier written: “Intelligence without ambition…”

Yes, ambition seemed to be the main theme of many of the quotes used and I believe that is healthy for this country of Kazakhstan.  However, there are old, pre-existing attitudes that pervade, such as a quote used by a young single female in business that I was not able to isolate: “It is faintheartedness to be laid up when you can get up.”  Another by a young journalism student who quoted Shakespeare in Measure for Measure: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft may win by fearing to attempt.”  Yet another journalism major used the cynical quote from George Bernard Shaw: Liberty means responsibility.  That is why most men dread it.”

The same journalism student who quoted Shaw also paraphrased Henry Thomas Buckle and his thoughts on liberty when she wrote: “people would never be free if they weren’t trained for freedom.”  I would take issue with this jaded approach since I believe all people are born with an innate sense of desiring freedom.  Another lawyer paraphrased Winston Churchill but I was unable to locate the exact quote:  “Ambition is the major power of a person.  Ambition excites imagination as well as imagination of ambition.”  I was encouraged overall in the strong ambition of our Kazakh students who want to go to the U.S. to study in an MA program.  Those 13 or so who will eventually study in the U.S. will do well and ultimately the country of Kazakhstan will profit by their efforts.


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