Archive for December 2, 2008

“Iron Rice Bowl” Policy and “Naglyi” Kazakh Students

I’m making a bold confession about myself before I post what the title implies. I used to be into temperament types and figuring out what other peoples’ and my students’ profiles were.  This website finds out, based on what you post on your blogs, what kind of personality you are.  Supposedly I am now a “Thinker.”  An INTP which is the opposite of what I have typically been labeled as according to Myers-Briggs or Kiersey Temperament Sorter. I have always thought of myself as an “I” or introvert but why I didn’t come out as my usual ISTJ, I don’t know. Check this out, see if you think this fits my blog personality, those of you who know who I really am:


The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.


The reason I wrote the above is because I suppose I am perceived by some of my teaching colleagues in Kazakhstan as insensitive or prideful. I apologize to those who think that way, my blog personality is different from who I really am.  I surely hope to be a servant leader who is humble.  However, I will confess that I am impatient with some of my colleagues especially when it comes to not using their computers. (some do NOT know how to scroll up or down!!!)  All of us are blessed with fancy computers on our desks but some computers remain unused as if a fancy, big paperweight.  


This is the reason I think the Chinese communist concept of the “Iron Rice Bowl” comes into play here at our institution of “higher learning.”  It would seem that amongst all the Kazakhstani teachers who have been here for awhile, they do not feel the urgent need to learn how to use these computers, others are fearful of them.  Strangely or sadly enough, these same teachers are guaranteed their jobs semester after semester without any notion of being awarded or demoted based on what they have done to professionally improve themselves.  


When I taught in China, I learned about the Iron Rice Bowl concept where in factories or other places of remedial work, people didn’t have do their job.  Communism seems to breed this strange notion that if the workers were lazy, they would still be paid the same amount as the next person who did all the work.  What is so galling is that these same individuals in our university, not just my department, are habitual complainers but they don’t leave for other jobs elsewhere.  They have never been paid so well or enjoyed so many other perks at our “westernized” university.


Then you have our Naglyi students, a Russian term which means “impudent or brazen”.  These are the choice few who have been abroad and are aware that the Kazakhstani system of education lags far behind.  Their English skills may be better than their Kazakh teachers.  Also, they have computer skills because they are of the generation of “Digital Natives.”  These students have come to our “westernized” institution to learn more about the global economy and the world beyond.  These naglyi students are challenging their “Digital Immigrant” teachers where normally as typical Asian students, they would be respectful of their teachers.  


Our institution may reach an impasse soon, the Kazakh students and their parents will insist on better qualified teachers, those who have taken the computer courses and feel comfortable with using modern technology.  Those older, Kazakh teachers who are used to the “Iron Rice Bowl” policy will either have to retire or seek employment elsewhere if they refuse to keep up with the changing times. OR another scenario would be that our institutional standards that are supposedly based on western ones, will be so lowered with plagiarism and cheating, it will be no different from what is happening in the other institutions of higher learning in Kazakhstan.


Meanwhile, western professors who come as guests to Kazakhstan to teach in whatever their major discipline or speciality is, do not bother with tenure because there is always the “work permit” threat hanging over them. No work permit, no visa!  Just as in China, we as foreign teachers in the late 1980s were disposed of quickly, the old “chew you up and spit you out” phenomenon. We, as foreigners, are here to make ourselves redundant.  If we do our job well enough, we will be dispensed with before we want to go.  Some of us westerners are certainly not here for the money, as least I am not.  However, seeing that the Iron Rice Bowl works for those who live here continues to be a burr under the saddle.  There just is no way to monetarily compensate for the sacrifices we make as foreigners when we are away from family gatherings and our own traditional holidays back home.


My husband and I celebrated last Thursday’s American Thanksgiving festival, just the two of us at the Princess Chinese restaurant.  We ate out of ceramic rice bowls with a can of cranberry sauce sitting on the table to remind us that we were without our family members on this important holiday.  What will it be like when I am away from my family of sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces for Christmas? I hate to think of it.  I am thankful to be here in Kazakhstan for the students, naglyi or no.

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