T/F “All Kazakh schools and universities should encourage students to think for themselves”

Don’t all teachers worth their salt, the world over, encourage their students to think for themselves, isn’t that a given? Apparently not, because I received some interesting results from the above T/F question. Over the weekend I got about ten more survey responses from my 24 items asking True or False about certain aspects of education I have observed in Kazakhstan.

Believe it or not, I had six Kazakhs who thought students should NOT be taught or be encouraged to think for themselves. However, 24 believed that they should think for themselves. Surprisingly there was almost a balanced split, on the question “All schools and universities throughout Kazakhstan should use more drill and memorization off facts.” Seventeen believed this prior sentence to be false while 13 agreed that there should be more drill and memorization in the Kazakh schools. I’m not sure how you can do both (thinking creatively while encouraging rote memorization) without wearing the poor, Kazakh students down. More memory work coupled with more thinking “outside the box” might be difficult for a teacher to pull off.

Recently I had a seasoned Kazakh teacher ask that I teach a course in “critical thinking.” However, I responded that I don’t think critical thinking should ever be a stand alone course.  It should be encouraged in every class no matter what the content or discipline, no matter what age level. Critical thinking and understanding what logical fallacies are seems to be sorely needed in Kazakhstan.

I am happy to teach critical thinking through writing, thus my next question: “All schools and universities throughout Kazakhstan should nurture students’ self-expression by expanding their writing skills.” Twenty-six Kazakhs agreed with this statement but four Kazakhs disagreed. How does one “expand” their writing skills in English? The students need to be instructed on how to write more and not do the easy way out and kidnap other people’s words (i.e. plagiarism) However, the four who disagreed maybe think that writing in the Soviet past, especially if you are expressing your own views or feelings could get you into trouble. I know for sure that my words on this blog have gotten me into trouble, but that’s another story.

Here’s an interesting one “All schools and universities throughout Kazakhstan should ensure the predictability of one’s vocation and future path in life.” If you were involved in finance and business, it would be drilled into you that there is always risk and unpredictability in a market economy. However, if you are accustomed to being granted a job after you went to school for x number of years, then the job security issue is important. Twenty people said true to this question and what surprised me was that four were those who had studied in the West and had at least a masters degree. However, there were nine people who believed this statement to be false and four of them also had been to study in the U.S. in finance, economics or politics, a fifth had studied at a Turkish school and the sixth was the British person who graduated from Oxford. The other three Kazakhs who answered in the negative, hopefully understood the question.

What about job security for the Kazakh teachers who were trained under a Soviet pedagogy of teaching? I tried to get to the bottom of this issue about their job security by asking the following question: “All schools and universities should provide better job security for all teachers in Kazakhstan.” Seven people said false to this statement while 22 marked “T.” This does not seem to line up with the other question I asked about loyalty and compliance to the teacher. I asked: “All schools and universities should instill loyalty and compliance to the teacher’s wishes and demands.” Sixteen who answered this put down “FALSE” while 13 others agreed.

Finally, what I was trying to find out about if the “iron rice bowl” policy in employing teachers and if it still existed in the educational system where all teachers are guaranteed their jobs. What seems to be agreed by the majority is that everyone in Kazakhstan should be assured of their jobs and the future should be predictable which to me smacks of old Soviet Union reliability. Whereas, the current Kazakh students are not so excited about being loyal or compliant to today’ Kazakh teachers. So, what is needed is to have continuing education courses for those Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers who are already teaching where they can learn to reach the generation of this 21st century. Hopefully that is where I come in…I’ll keep you posted. (to be continued)

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