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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