Archive for December, 2010

Stevenson’s Poem about Astana WIND!!!

“Happy New Year” for those of you staying up to midnight and beyond. Not sure that will be my goal but I hope to have some resolutions firmly in place and activated by the time January 1, 2011 rolls around.  My thoughts drift to other Eves that I have celebrated with friends and family and what I have done in the past to greet each new year.  I can’t think of anything specific, they all kind of blend into the woodwork because I am usually in a cold place trying to stay warm.  WIND!!!

The following short poem is appropriate for either Astana, Kazakhstan or northwestern MInnesota, how the wind doth blow!!! Hat tip to my 10 year old nephew who wrote it out in his beautiful longhand and was scanned by my Mom. WIND!!!  That’s why I’ll be curled up with a good book to read and plans of having a spicy hot, spaghetti meal with my husband later.  That will be the extent of our celebration, watching yet another DVD movie during this time of “stay-cation.” Not sure we will make it up to midnight but meanwhile, the wind continues to blow…

“Wind” by Robert Louis Stevenson

O you that race so strong and cold,

O blower, are you young or old?

Are you a beast of field and tree?

Or just a stronger child than me?

O wind, a-blowing all day long,

O wind that sings so loud a song.

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My Main Goals for Teaching in KZ (Final part)

To sum up, I will reveal my conclusion to the report I did over a week ago to satisfy the powers that be who make important decisions regarding education in Kazakhstan.  The Ministry of Education has much to do to keep on course with being a part of the 21st century, that is certainly the heartfelt desire of the president of this country.  I appreciate the fact that he knows his history of Kazakhstan and yet wants to be a part of the current global economy.  That can’t happen without having better educated citizens.  Of course, you can’t have well trained patriots of any country without having a good economy. Education and economics go hand in hand. Kazakhstan is oil and mineral rich.  I think of the phrase that I’ve heard a few of my American friends say, “we are house rich but cash poor.”  May it not be said of Kazakhstan that they are “resource rich but technologically poor.”

I would hope my dear blog readers have found the last five parts of my report to the Ministry of Education in Kazakhstan compelling enough.  I’m sure I left out many good points that I could have made to make a stronger case for my existence as a foreigner here in Kazakhstan.  However, I wanted to make it succinct and targeted to what the immediate needs are for now, as I see them.  I can only see them through my expat colored glasses.  I cannot know what an older Kazakh citizen must think about the dying off of the time honored Kazakh traditions and the language.  English is the global language (better that than Chinese, right?) and if there is any future for the young people of Kazakhstan it is knowing English.

Growing up among Americans from the Midwest, we have parents and grandparents who came from the Old Country. They knew the way for them to get ahead was to ditch the language and traditions and to embrace everything English.  That is why my own parents and older people from the Midwest may know a second language because they heard it around the house.  I think we as Americans should not berate ourselves for knowing only English because that was the way we were all on the same page.  If you have many languages that are to be on the ballot, then democracy is in trouble.  The very nature of a democracy is that majority rules.  So, I have my reservations about having the tri-lingual requirement in Kazakhstan (Russian, Kazakh and English).  Young people can absorb many languages and if they are taught that at an early age, they will master it.  However, those that made this rule are only thinking in terms of oral and aural skills.  They do not have in mind about writing and reading in all three languages.  Writing in English is very difficult especially if the students are not given enough material to read in English.

That is why I am hoping that there is a very measured perspective about accomplishing so much so quickly in Kazakhstan.  It all takes time, as it took time in the U.S. to have the educational system we have now.  The complication of having THREE languages given almost equal authority (English for global commerce, Russian for internal affairs and Kazakh for the sake of resurrecting a past culture and traditions), well that is a recipe for a debacle in the kitchen where the home fires are tended.  What are the Kazakh parents and grandparents to think?

I am an optimist like my Dad, I’m not a pessimist.  However, I’m also a realist and I want the best for this great country of Kazakhstan.  I did not add what I just wrote above into my conclusion but maybe I should have.  What do you think?  I’d like to know your views on this issue of education in Kazakhstan.  A very broad but hot topic for sure.  Here’s what I wrote in summary:

VII. Conclusion

I believe that it is very crucial for teachers in the primary and secondary level to be trained and taught how to use modern technology effectively for the sake of their students.  The students themselves are not afraid to make any mistakes and will learn about computers on their own despite the teachers’ fears about not knowing how to use it like an expert.  If given the right attitude and with enough experience, teachers are able to use modern technology which helps lighten their load of finding interesting material for the students to learn.

Teachers these days are competing with computer games and special effects in movies.  The least that can be done with the most amount of impact for the future of this nation is to equip those teachers who have a good IELTS score and who have an aptitude for experimenting with new things they learn.  They need to have curiosity and a desire to learn along with the rest of their students.  That is why the teaching methodology classes and the educational classes are so needed for such a time as this.  I will do everything I can to make learning fun and make teaching fun for the teachers and the students.  I wish great success for the nation of Kazakhstan and I know that I am touching the future when I am dealing with young people in the classrooms.

 

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My Main Goals for Teaching in KZ (Part V)

Just a year ago I taught academic English courses in Almaty at a westernized university.  I had the rare privilege of teaching 100 Kazakh students in five different classes. I was dedicated to teaching to the best of my abilities in the given environment.  However, a few of the Kazakh or Kazakhstani teachers at this university were hostile to what I was attempting to do as a foreigner.  Yes, I would even say some of the Kazakh administrators didn’t want their boat to be rocked that they were comfortably sitting in.  They were of the camp of “this is the way we have always done it.”  However, in some cases they made up their own rules to maintain power that they had scratched and clawed to achieve over the worker bees. (I left behind some very good Kazakh teachers and students)  All are hurt by these extreme politics where the supposed “winners,” who are paid very well, are those still in control. They are clueless to the changes going on in the rest of the world through modern technology. THEY DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY DON’T KNOW!!!

I can’t even imagine the rancor and animosity that exists in my former place of employment in Almaty.  I feel very blessed to be a part of this new vision at the new university in Astana.  I am surrounded by Kazakh teachers who are very teachable. Therefore, I think that their testimonies to what is innovative and of modern technology is my best advocate for why I  continue to teach in Kazakhstan.  Please read on what the Ministry of Education people are reading of my year end report translated into Russian. I want my hopeful tone of change to ring true for them. The best is for them to read what their own Kazakh teachers think and what they have experienced this past fall semester.

VI. My PDP students comments on a range of things they have learned over the last ten weeks:

Student #1 “Edusoft is a new software program which helps us teach our students.  We can add new units, different topics for our students.  Mainly, we will be able to control our students’ achievement and progress with the help of this program.  When I was a student, I used this program.  But it was very old version. Compared with old version, new one is convenient and more useful for us (for teachers) and also for students.”

Student #2 “I especially liked the product from EduSoft as I was familiar with this program beforehand at Orken school.  All our teachers liked it and sent their thoughts on this program to the management company of Orken.  But no attention was given to that program….So EduSoft gives us lots of opportunities to supervise the students’ progress.  At the same time making the content of the program on our own, which really encourages the students to learn real English.  In general, it would be better to set this program up especially for schools in Kazakhstan. I’m sure it will affect the students’ progress and increase their interests to learn English.”

Student #3 “It is always interesting to go through different kinds of courses and studying something new is of course challenging. However, teachers must always study something new in order to keep up to date with new generation and to be always interesting for the students, otherwise, it won’t motivate students from someone who is behind.  Nowadays our new generation is very computerized and of course, we, as the teachers, have to bring new technologies in our classes and create new methods of teaching.  And here at the university [in our PDP classes] we are learning so many useful things that will help me to gradually create new method of teaching. And, of course, there are still so many things for me to learn and I don’t want to stop learning them.”

Student #4 “I want to use everything I learnt here.  I didn’t know about the power of Internet before, now I appreciate it so much!  We have interactive boards at our schools and an access to internet (though not to all the sites) so I can show everything to them [students]. I like especially blogging – it can develop our students’ cognitive skills, writing skills, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, everything. We can achieve several aims by blogging – educational, cultural, upbringing.  Educational means grammar, vocabulary, spelling.  Upbringing – learn to hear other people’s opinions and respect them but at the same time defend your own.  Cultural – you learn more about some new things, culture, traditions of other countries. It’s great!!!

Student #5 “www:whenever, whatever, wherever”

As you may have guessed already, this is about opportunities with access to Internet

“Whenever” is the convenience I had and have: I can accomplish my assignments whenever I am free and want to.  Just have to finish till due time. Yay!!! To NU Public Wi-fi

“Whatever” is the opportunities to be heard and to be paid attention throughout the world with Internet access.  The most important right now for me is my blog and my surveys.  I pity one thing, that I was not introduced to Survey Monkey or Web Master Survey long before when I wrote my paper for Pedagogical Institute.

“Wherever” is the dimension I got with blogging.  Wherever you go and wherever you could be, if  you just click you URL for your blog, you will be again have followers to your blogsite. Dimension is that anyone from any corner of the universe no matter Spaniard, English or German can read about things happening here in Kazakhstan, know something about Kazakhstan.”

Student #6 “I like the idea of using blogging to develop learners’ writing and what’s more essential, decision making abilities.  Sure, it won’t be easy to start a new trend in Kazakh schools. We face the problems of schools not sufficiently provided with computers and of course, not every student has access to the Internet both at school and at home…Using blogging on the writing lessons has many advantages, the students write willingly; they enlarge their vocabulary and learn to work independently.”

(to be continued)

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My Main Goals for Teaching in KZ (Part IV)

“What AM I doing in Kazakhstan?” My husband and I think aloud on that question often, but we continue to prevail when the doubts assail.  We survived when we lived and taught in Kyiv, Ukraine for a total of about seven or eight years.  That former Soviet country was good training ground for what we hope to accomplish while living in Astana, Kazakhstan.  The following is more of the report that I worked on last week that has been translated into Russian for the benefit of those working for the Ministry of Education. Perhaps my future goals seem a bit outlandish, even for my American or British friends.  I realize not everyone is enamored by computers or modern technology, they prefer old school methods and sticking to the textbooks.  However, I think that Kazakhstan was created for such a time as this Information Explosion and to capitalize on it because it can join the global competition electronically. Well, read on, I get carried away on this and I think should go out and cross country ski.  The down side of technology is that it can mean a LOT of sitting at the computer and not as much exercise.

“One last note after looking at the Global Competitiveness Report which is relevant to the goal of achieving the 2030 mandate of being in the top 50 of nations in the world.  There are 130 indicators when measuring whether a country is actually in the upper percentiles with the following nine pillars:

  1. institutions
  2. infrastructures
  3. macroeconomics
  4. health and primary education
  5. higher education and training
  6. market efficiency
  7. technological readiness
  8. business sophistication
  9. innovation

As a teacher and designer of the PDP classes, I am concerned with at least four of these indicators: institutions, primary education, higher education and training, technological readiness and innovation.  I know the President of Kazakhstan wants the future students of his university to be using nanotechnologies.  This can only happen if computer technology is brought to all parts of Kazakhstan even to the rural areas.  I can envision teachers using Kindle readers or Nook readers that have “ginormous” libraries to support them.  This avoids the transportation costs of bringing expensive books and textbooks to the farthest reaches of Kazakhstan.

I also can see distance learning being used from the center of Astana to where students have access to video conferencing and using Moodle where they are living in Kazakhstan. The teachers or guest speakers are viewed on screens and these videotapings can be used over again. Communication is handled through forums or chatrooms between teacher and students on the Moodle platform. I can also predict that something like Edusoft with its pre-packaged instructional programs will help teachers who are computer savvy enough to use the lessons and the quizzes. There are custom made tests that are standardized so that the different levels can be accomplished from beginner to advanced.  Fortunately, there is IT support in Russian for all these lessons in English. Also this Edusoft can be modified where the Kazakh language can be used and learned simultaneously alongside the English lessons.”

(to be continued)

 

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My Main Goals for Teaching in KZ (Part III)

If you have been tracking with me the last several days, I am all about teaching. Being an educator in Kazakhstan can be a bit tricky.  Those Kazakhs who are dedicated teachers receive a low salary but teach on just the same. I’m humbled by those I have been in contact with the three and half years I’ve lived in Kazakhstan.  Unfortunately, those teachers who have very good English skills have been wooed away by large corporations that can pay a much better salary for their translation of English to Russian or Kazakh.  While others are BORN teachers and know they belong in the elementary or secondary classrooms of Kazakhstan whether urban or rural settings.  In some cases, a few teachers do not raise their own young children as their parents take care of the grandchildren while they are living in the capital city of Astana to educate other Kazakh’s children.

Teachers are a dedicated lot and they clearly are not in this profession for the money, at least that is true for me.  I’m not in Kazakhstan for the money but rather the rewards of making a difference in the lives of a few who can make a major impact on others.  My husband and I feel we are “called” to be here in Astana, Kazakhstan and thus the word “vocation” has a special meaning for us.  Teaching is my vocation and my calling.  See what this dedicated Kazakh teacher wrote about creativity and her own teaching and raising her daughter:

“Let me give you an example from a hard working Kazakh teacher who admits that the kind of teaching she has done in the past may need to change, she sees it with bringing up her own daughter.  Here’s what she wrote when I had her respond to a talk on Ted.com given by Sir Ken Robinson titled “Schools Kill Creativity”:

“I mostly  liked  the speaker, who  spoke  about  schools  killing  students’  creativity, really  less  attention  is paid on students’  creativity  and  their own growth in my country.  I’m saying this with great confidence,  because   as being  a mother and  a teacher  I focus  my students’  attention  on  the main subjects, namely,  mathematics  and   languages, nothing  more. In this way I absolutely agree with  Sir Robinson , who  gave  the audience  true  examples  how   parents and teachers  both   kill   kids’  creativity, making them learn mathematics  and  English more than other subjects. After his speech I understood my own mistake, for example, my daughter is only  seven years  and  she  draws  very  amazing   pictures. Unfortunately, I don’t allow her to keep on drawing, because I hate drawing myself   and  want  her to  be brilliant at Mathematics and English.  So, I notice, how I am slowly  killing her creativity.  Sir Robinson proved  everything  with great  facts, which  appear  in the  worldwide  and needs  to  be supervised  much  by the government.”

I conducted an initial survey that I called “Education in a Modernizing Society” and I got a total of 30 respondents who are Kazakh. Then I did another online survey with only ten questions, I got 19 people to answer my ten True/False questions.  The following are what I learned from those who have been on the Bolashak program or other exchanges that have exposed them to education in U.K. or U.S.

  1. All Kazakh schools and universities should employ teachers who are strict, authoritative figures:  T=47.4% F=52.6%
  2. All Kazakh teachers should be very easygoing and less dogmatic in their teaching. T=89.5% F=10.5%
  3. All Kazakh teachers should enable their students to tolerate uncertainty and handle risk. T=94.7% F=5.3%
  4. All schools and universities throughout Kazakhstan should inspire obedience to the collective rather than academic achievement. T=5.6% F=94.4%
  5. All Kazakh schools and universities should reform quickly by re-educating Soviet trained teachers in new kinds of pedagogies. T=84.2% F=15.8%
  6. Kazakh teachers should be rewarded if they are committed to learning along with their students and coloring “outside the lines.” T=94.4% F=5.6%
  7. All schools and universities throughout Kazakhstan should suppress initiative and independent thought: T=26.3% F=73.7%
  8. All schools and universities should instill loyalty and compliance to the teachers wishes and demands. T=42.1% F=57.9%
  9. Kazakh students should be encouraged and allowed to think for themselves. T=94.7% F=5.3%

10. All Kazakh schools and universities should nurture their students self-expression by expanding and improving their writing skills in English T=89.5% F=10.5%

The responses are representative of those former graduate students who are now employed as former Bolashak scholars and now working at the new university.  The only two questions that I need to research and finetune are questions #1 and #8.  Perhaps that is something I can explore further with my Orken teachers and PDP students. Maybe the re-wording of these two questions will make it less ambiguous.  The rest of the questions with their answers begs for this PDP program to continue and to have 100% backing from those in authority who want to improve the educational system of this country.

(to be continued)

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My Main Goals for Teaching in KZ (Part II)

The following is a continuation of what I wrote in yesterday’s blog about my mail goals for teaching in Kazakhstan.  Hopefully my logic will be convincing and compelling enough for those in the Ministry of Education and to help justify what exactly I am doing here in Kazakhstan.  (If you have read my most recent posts, you will see I used data I gathered from my on-line surveys that I conducted with my expat friends but also with my Kazakh colleagues.)

“The President of Kazakhstan stated in a December 7, 2010 address to the New University student body that even at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, it was already behind the rest of the western world by 50 years.  Twenty years have passed since Kazakhstan became its own independent nation and the catching up to become one of the top 50 nations in the competitive world of business and trade will take much hard work and wise decisions in the area of education.  However, to achieve this goal by 2030 is only twenty years away and significant progress must be made at the teacher’s level in primary and secondary levels.  Unfortunately, the pedagogical institutes have not been equipped to keep up and are still working on an outdated template.

Of course, it is clearly understood that all this takes time. Those in power  to make weighty decisions need to concede to the changing of times and acquiesce to the use of modern technology.  I did an online survey with 26 of my expat friends.  12% have lived in KZ for less than half a year, 23% for one year, 23% for 2-3 years, 8% for 4-5 years, 12% for over 5 years and 8% over 10 years and another 14% had various answers.  One person stated the following:

“Kazakhstan has wonderful people and a great deal of potential.  Still the process of establishing a nation is a great task.  Most Kazakhs are unaware of all the challenges that the U.S. has overcome to be where it is today.  It did not happen in 50, 100 or ever 150 years.”

Most of my friends of the 26 surveyed are from the U.S. but several were from Canada, U.K. Netherlands, Germany, and other places.  Of these people, they answered my anonymous online survey in the following way to this question: “Kazakhstan will reach its goal to be one of the top countries by the year 2030.”

15% – most definitely

38% – maybe

19% – no

4% – never heard of this goal

Another 24% had their own comments to this question:

“Will depend on how the current government handles issues such as bribery and disparity of incomes.”

“I hope they will manage to spread the wealth among all citizens and not just a few well-connected people.”

“Depends all on the economic situation of the country, Kazakhstan is too dependent on oil and gas, if prices drop, this can hit the country as a whole.”

“Many changes are needed to achieve this goal.”

I believe the changes that are needed are those in education. That is why an achievable goal is to eventually have a Masters degree program for the Kazakh teachers so they are better equipped to teach modern technologies to their students.  These four courses are merely a certificate program that can be thought of as a pilot project to eventually turn into an MA degree program.  Some Kazakh teachers are very much prepared to make the necessary changes in order to fulfill the goals of Kazakhstan’s President and the Ministry of Education.  I believe from the caliber that I’ve seen, that the teachers I have taught and worked with are very capable. Once they learn some different teaching methods, it will have a tremendous ripple effect with the Kazakh students, hopefully throughout this country.”

(to be continued)

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My Main Goals for Teaching in Kazakhstan

While on Christmas vacation I did a year end report for the Ministry of Education to hopefully READ and make some important decisions for the future of education in Kazakhstan. As a western educator, I needed to justify what I am doing in Kazakhstan.  Teachers typically are not trained to defend their position on why they exist or negotiate for better pay or a different job title with a description of their work.  But this is Kazakhstan and there have been so many rapid changes that as an American, I have to roll with it.  All the other Kazakh teachers are having to roll with the changes as well. What I wrote for the first part of my report has been translated into Russian, it was the year’s schedule of activities I had my PDP (Professional Development program) students do and then the course descriptions for two semesters.  The following will help explain my western logic and rationale for my teaching in Kazakhstan, I hope it makes sense and that it translates well into Russian.

III. Main Goals for the four courses of blended learning

Targeted Students – Orken [means “intellectual” in Kazakh] teachers and recent graduates of pedagogical institutes from throughout Kazakshtan

A Kazakh proverb “Hard in learning, easy on war” means that the struggle in education is worth it in the end.  If I understand this proverb correctly, if we continue the fight long enough we will achieve much. Another Chinese proverb provokes the kind of thought I want to encourage in all my classes: “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.” As a western style teacher who has been a student in many student-centered classrooms but has taught in teacher-centered environments, the freedom for today’s Kazakh students to be autonomous in their learning is important with the advent of the computer and living in the Information Revolution.

Secondary schools in Kazakhstan need to be integrated with higher education goals and objectives, sadly many secondary school graduates are not adequately prepared for the rigors of university studies in a western setting.  The secondary education curriculum needs to support the goals of  the new university for future success of the students.  Those goals as stated by the President of Kazakhstan are the use of creative solutions to problems by innovation and effective use of modern technologies.

This goal can only be accelerated and managed if the Kazakh teachers are given adequate instruction on how to use multimedia programs, teacher-student communication tools and social networking programs.  By doing so, the Kazakh teachers can efficiently teach English in all skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening more effectively to young students who are receptive to this form of instruction that uses the self-access approach.

Unfortunately, primary and secondary education teachers have been confused by the chaos of the huge educational reforms that have been necessary to keep up to the 21st century.  When there is a vague curriculum concerning technologies that is still “under construction” and when there are no specific standards or benchmarks by which a teacher can know that they are knowledgeable enough to disseminate information via computers to their young students, it eventually impedes on the progress of the nation of Kazakhstan.  That is why all teachers throughout Kazakhstan should be equipped with the highest standards of information literacy.

Kazakh teachers need the extra training and instruction in information literacy and the use of modern technology especially as begun at the new university. These courses are targeted to help facilitate the teaching of English in a meaningful manner where the burden is taken off the teacher to “know-all” and placed squarely on the students’ to have intrinsic motivation to learn on their own independently.  Because we are living in the information age, students will have to take more responsibility for their own learning autonomously while the teacher becomes less teacher-centered and by necessity allows the classroom to be more student-centered.

However, the Kazakh and Kazakhstani parents need to become more involved in this process as well so that the learning community is not only with teachers and students.  As one Orken teacher claimed: “Sometimes the parents may expect teachers to be wizards and to make their children geniuses.” Teachers in Kazakhstan need to be given higher status by learning and knowing more, especially with computer technology. Otherwise it will be impossible for the public to be open or ready to have trained specialists in the field of technology. If the teachers are not first given adequate training and continuing education courses as the President of Kazakhstan knows is important in any western company, the singular goal for 2030 will fall woefully short.  To say, “This is the way we have always done it” will not work anymore.

(to be continued)

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