Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan (Part III)

If you look at yesterday and the day before, you will see that I have gotten off the track on blogging about human trafficking.  Currently I am in the middle of answering 12 questions about Kazakhstan, from MY perspective.  I enjoyed doing this little assignment and got carried away on the very first question.  In subsequent questions, I am not as knowledgeable about Kazakhstan.  Therefore, I do make more than a “comment” on the educational system and this is the last part of my answer to the first question:

“Again, I have to reiterate I am only going on what I have heard and a couple of things that I observed outside of the two main cities of Astana and Almaty.  What I DID encounter first hand at the university level and it would be no different in the elementary and secondary level is that there is the Asian trait of acquiescing to your superiors no matter how unintelligent they are.  I witnessed first hand how those who had no knowledge in writing of English expected others who were younger and more talented to do the grunt work. They would make their edicts known but had not a clue about how ineffectual they were.  They commanded respect and only surrounded themselves with those who obeyed orders.  Some of the teachers and administrators I worked alongside could not even speak English that well and they were of course embarrassed when students challenged them on that.  There is a Kazakh term for that kind of student, “naglyi” and they are considered brazen and impudent. These smart students are not passively obedient and not subservient to the teacher-centered teacher.

Yes, the Kazakh culture seems to work against itself and favoritism goes on to give jobs to those who have Kazakh background and knowledge of the language so it seems that reverse discrimination is going on against those who are Russian ethnicity.  It seems it is “pay back” time for the people who brought the Soviet way of thinking and educating to the Kazakh nomads 50-70 years ago.

One other thing that is observed with education, those Kazakh or Kazakhstani teachers who had a good command of English in speaking or writing were snapped up right away as translators by the multinational companies.  They made more money translating than teaching.  So, what was broken to begin with back in 1991 became even more broken because the money was NOT in teaching anymore.  Not that it ever was.  Those who couldn’t do anything else remained in the teaching profession. However, some Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers were very dedicated to what they believed would improve their country by teaching their pupils to become future leaders.

However, the “slave mentality” that I saw exist in the one “western” university I taught at in Almaty was enough for me to know that even the best of the Kazakh national universities throughout the city of Almaty had a lot of corruption and nepotism going on which has not improved on educating and preparing young Kazakh students for the 21st century and to be a part of the western world.

I could go on and on with this topic.  I tried to get this down to a capsule after my 3 ½ years of teaching and working alongside dedicated Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers.  One last thing that is important to know.  The Kazakhs inherited the phrase Soviet motto “Initiative is punitive.” This means that if you are at all creative or think outside the box, you will be cut down.  So, you have to go lockstep with the rest of the faculty and not color outside the lines if you want to get ahead.  Therefore, the curriculum is set, do NOT transgress by doing something new or innovative.

Let’s just say that that mentality is very difficult for any westerner to observe when we as children are encouraged to be creative and to think outside of the box.  East meets West and teacher-centered meets student-centered.  It was a very interesting sociological experiment that I saw every day while I lived in Kazakhstan as an American educator.

Oh, one last thing is that plagiarism is rife and that is not a good thing for those students who are preparing to go overseas to learn at western universities.  I had one student who was taking a TOEFL preparation class and apparently her parents had money so she thought she would be able to buy off the exam.  Many of the students from rich families can buy off their Kazakh teachers and receive A grades in their own institutions but they are faced with reality when coming up against western standards of excellence and honesty.”

(to be continued)

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