Archive for March 1, 2008

“Information Explosion” in Kazakhstan

I’m here in Kazakhstan to say that things have changed radically in the last seven years in the U.S. and other western universities. Known as the “Information Explosion.” Also, writing has always been a prerequisite to good scholarship in academia but now the demands of being a foreign student in a western university require competent computer skills as well. No longer does it work to have English grammar exercises and teaching to the test, ETS and other testing institutions are on to this sham. Until the students learn good computer skills and have above average typing skills (no hunt and peck methods) the students’ parents are wasting their money with their children taking an expensive, intensive TOEFL course.

My own experience of teaching in the Former Soviet Union since 1993 supports the fact that miscommunication intensifies problems and it takes strong administration to support the changes that are happening on a global level in the sphere of education. Former Russian speakers who have now become English teachers are not aware of the changes moving away from the deeply entrenched mentality of translation based, grammar based approaches in teaching of English. It has become more communicative based worldwide to the benefit of those students who like to talk and enjoy a student centered environment.

However, now with this new phenomenon called “technology literacy” that involves computers it is combined with writing skills. Not only do students need to learn English but they need to learn computer skills as well, thus the Internet based TOEFL test was designed to that end. We, as westerners, find ourselves in a mildly apathetic environment in Kazakhstan when it comes to REAL learning where students can be very hard on their teachers and have a certain expectation that they should be taught in a prescribed way that will facilitate their learning. Learning happens when the students apply themselves and see the importance of certain skills. I happen to believe strongly in the skill of good, authentic writing (good content with grammar errors and all!!!) whereas the more computers are used in this country, a “cut and paste” mentality seems to prevail. I need the support of administration that writing is very important and the only way students improve their writing is to write not to talk about writing.

This country of Kazakhstan has a disease called plagiarism, it has run rampant in all the former Soviet Union countries and also prevails in China. Communist countries seem to encourage stealing of “intellectual property” because it is considered “all for one and one for all.” Besides, you are supposed to conform to the group think that is handed down from on high. No wonder no one knows much about Kazakhstan in the western world because there have been continual lies perpetuated about what happened these many years ago under the Soviet system which deeply impacts education today. If this country wants to get ahead with its burgeoning economy, it has to keep apace with the changes in education that are happening in the western world. Economy fuels education and vice versa.

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