Yesterday I wrote about Kazakhstan’s education, as *I* know it. Today I will continue to answer the BIG question about education which I feel I know something about but from a westerner’s perspective. In upcoming days I will answer more questions of the 12 that were sent to me by someone who is curious about Kazakhstan. More than a comment on education, I wrote three pages in answering his first question. 8)
“Currently the reports I heard was that Kazakh teachers were hardly paid anything (about $100 a month in the elementary rural schools) At the western university in Almaty where I taught, some were paid $1,000 a month which was very competitive and very much the exception to the rule in the other national universities in the city. No wonder bribery and corruption exists among teachers and administrators alike. Sadly, these teachers had very little in terms of resources to teach with as well.
As of only two-three years ago, according to Kazakh laws, it is mandatory for all children in Kazakhstan to know THREE languages (Russian, Kazakh and English) and unfortunately the teachers hired are hardly qualified to know all three languages proficiently. Especially this is true of the Kazakhstanis (ethnic Russians, Ukrainians, Germans) and even of those Kazakhs who were forced to not learn their own language if they wanted to get ahead as a Soviet.
Picture this, if you have unhappy, underpaid teachers who are forced to teach a curriculum they don’t want to teach, then you have very unhappy children who are locked into a kind of prison to master so much material. The schools are filled to capacity and the way to work around that is to have morning sessions and then afternoon sessions. One family with two children might have to escort their one child to the first session in the morning while the second child might be scheduled for the second half of the day in the same school. Who can have a full time, demanding job with having to pick up your youngsters at varying times of day? That’s how they work around the scarcity of school buildings.
The school children I would see with their uniforms and who attended the Orken [Kazakh word for “intellectual”] schools looked so tired and worn out. They would have big backpacks on their back and all they did was study and study or play chess in their free time. I thought they looked like they were pressured in the intellectual schools because they had high stakes from their parents to perform and do well. Needless to say, the suicide rate in Kazakhstan among young people has surpassed that of Russia according to an international survey that was taken.
In the rural schools, which I did not have the pleasure to visit except for one visit an hour outside of Astana, the school looked clean and immaculate. There were huge plants in every window which was common to see in any old style Soviet school. However, there was no indoor plumbing, the children had to go outside to an outhouse to go to the bathroom. In the dead of winter, that would prove a challenge when temps drop to 20 below zero F. The library had old, yellowed books that were from vintage Moscow publishing houses. The money that should have been funneled to the rural areas was being pumped into the fancy new schools in the big cities. Regrettably the money went to the Orken schools and to Nazarbayev University in Astana.
My question of why more money from the centralized educational system in Astana was not going to where it was needed most was answered with one word: corruption. The money allocated to administrators in the “sticks” would not get to the teachers or to improve the schools. Lack of trust went against those in the far reaches of the country by those administrators in the Department of Education housed in Astana. That’s not to say that administrators in schools in the big cities can be trusted, some were probably lining their pockets and taking bribes as well.
Also, I had heard reported that if computer centers were set up in the rural areas, there were not enough skilled people with know-how on how to run them or to fix whatever problems there might be. Maybe in some places there was no electricity, maybe in other places no Internet connection. The teachers suffered for lack of knowledge and as a result the students suffered. A typical vicious circle downward in any developing nation when trying to keep pace with twenty-first century technology. Kazakhstan is no exception.”
(To be continued)