Archive for June, 2014

More Information about THEE university in Astana, Part III

I realize for those who are IN THE KNOW about Kazakhstan, they have probably already read this article and don’t think much of it. However, I think it is a window into what are potential problems that could crop up in Kazakhstan…soon. This new university in Astana is an experiment, a noble one to be sure. Keeping in mind that there were many “sound” theories the former Soviet Union promoted.

Freedom is the key and if you teach students to think outside the box, they need freedom to express that and not fear what they say or think will be used against them. I just wanted to document on this blog what is good and what might possibly go wrong. This is the third and final part of the article written by Joseph Kucera titled “Can a homegrown university in authoritarian Kazakhstan incubate reform?”

For the time being, Nazarbayev University is in little danger of creating radicals. While some students’ eyes are opened by reading critical materials, that’s not always the case. One professor who taught the History of Kazakhstan course says that in class, students presented Nazarbayev’s statements today as evidence of what happened in the 1980s. “I asked them afterward, on the class forum, about the reliability of Nazarbayev’s recollections as a historical source, and they were quite offended. ‘We have to trust the president,’ was the answer they gave me. I tried to push them to think about inherent biases, et cetera, but they were unwilling to engage,” says the professor, who asked not to be identified.

One student interviewed on condition of anonymity says that there isn’t a lot of discussion in the student body about how the country should be run. “Students are less concerned about politics than on their studies,” the student says. The country’s political system has an unfair reputation. “We discussed this with our professors, and they said that the fact that we can talk about this means that human rights are respected here,” adding that at a university-organized meeting with a human rights officer from the U.S. embassy, the diplomat told students that the reports by international human rights organizations are “often exaggerated” and that “the situation isn’t as bad as they describe.”

Most N.U. students are “acquiescent but not apathetic,” says Sam Hirst, a history professor who left N.U. in 2013, in an email interview. “A great number of the students are reliant on the stipends and the support that they receive from what they understand as either the university or the government. Many are thus scared to jeopardize what they have already earned.” And while few are blind to Kazakhstan’s problems, most “turn their eyes in other directions, usually toward their textbooks, to earn the money necessary either to secure themselves a place in the system they are dependent upon or to leave it.”

Hirst, who also taught the History of Kazakhstan course, notes that it can be difficult for students to navigate attending a school where critical thinking is encouraged while living in a country where it’s not. “When I talked to the students about their reticence, I found that many of them were struggling to code-switch as fast as we were asking them to,” he says.

School officials say they’re confident that students will be able to manage this balancing act. “I’m sure that, along the way, our students will have different views on societal organization and so on. And I do hope that they aren’t just buying propaganda, that they are thinking for themselves,” says Katsu. “But one thing that stands out to me at the same time is that our students are very patriotic. They are proud of this country.”

Katsu calls President Nazarbayev’s decision to set up the school “a calculated risk.” “If you were afraid,” he says, “you wouldn’t create Nazarbayev University.”

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More Information about THEE university in Kazakstan

The other day I started an article that was written by Joseph Kucera titled “Can a homegrown university in authoritarian Kazakhstan incubate reform?” Only time will tell but it is something to watch and I believe the rest of the world SHOULD be watching Kazakhstan. Here is the second part of the article:

The government’s original vision for the school aimed to create a new technocratic elite by focusing on science and engineering. But pressure from the foreign partners convinced Nazarbayev to include the school of humanities and social sciences, which is where things get difficult for a country that insists on controlling the public narrative.

Students are required to take a course called the History of Kazakhstan. It uses primary source documents to teach from a critical perspective rather than the government-approved version of history designed to promote patriotism more than stimulate thought. For example, one of the seminal events of the founding of modern Kazakhstan was a wave of protests in 1986, when Kazakhs opposed the Kremlin’s appointment of an ethnic Russian as first secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. The event is now portrayed as the awakening of a Kazakh political identity. But at the time, Nazarbayev, then the second-ranking official in Kazakhstan, publicly condemned the protests, a fact that is glossed over in official hagiographies.

Zbigniew Wojnowski, a Polish-born, British-educated professor who teaches the course, wrote about one student’s reaction to this revelation in an academic association newsletter, “She did not altogether reject what she had believed before, and she refrained from drawing binary distinctions into ‘Western’ and ‘Kazakh’ views on the past. Still, she was visibly excited to learn something new. ‘You know, I have never worked with primary sources before, and I assumed it had all been very simple: People strove for independence, and then they won. That’s what we were taught at school, but now I’m just not sure what to think.’”

By hiring professors accustomed to academic freedom, the authorities have begun a process they can’t control, says Alima Bissenova, an anthropology professor who grew up in Kazakhstan and earned a Ph.D. at Cornell. “You can’t control people, and if you try to control them, they’ll leave. If they started to tell me what to teach, I’ll leave,” she says. While the university does not use the tenure system, the law regulating the university guarantees academic freedom, and so far, “the authorities have fully respected that,” Katsu says.

Bissenova compared Nazarbayev University to the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum, the Russian imperial high school, which in the 19th century brought in French and German teachers to educate the children of the elite and ended up producing liberal rebels like Alexander Pushkin. “So academics are sowing the seeds of liberal education on foreign soil without knowing what will grow out of it,” she says. “And nobody completely controls this process — not academics themselves, not the administration of N.U., not Nazarbayev. Nobody knows what will grow and how these seeds will adapt and what kind of hybrids will emerge. Some people, from all sides, might not like what will grow.”

But this, at least in part, is the idea. “We decided to bring some Western values and see how they can work and if our population and our intellectual circles are ready to accept them,” says Yerbol Orynbayev, an assistant to President Nazarbayev who has been closely involved in the development of the university.

The government has not shown much interest in adopting liberal values, however, at least in the short term. The parliament contains no opposition members, and the country has systematically closed down independent newspapers and jailed opposition activists on spurious charges. Even small protests are quickly shut down and their participants arrested. Kazakhstan’s ratings on political and civic freedom are lower than when it gained independence, according to Washington-based human rights organization Freedom House, which labels the country “not free.”

At the same time, always mindful of its image abroad, Kazakhstan has paid millions to lobbyists, PR companies and think tanks in Washington and European capitals to promote an image of a progressive, modernizing country. Nazarbayev University — whether or not it turns out to be a truly liberalizing force — neatly dovetails with those efforts. And some critics, when the university was set up, noted that a side benefit of educating the country’s youth at home rather than overseas was that it would limit their exposure to possibly dangerously liberal ideas from abroad.

(to be continued)

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More info about Astana’s university, THEE university

The following article dated June 20, 2014 and titled “Can a homegrown university in authoritarian Kazakhstan incubate reform?” was given to me by an American friend who used to teach with me in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Of course, as westerners have all been looking at how NU in Astana has affected the enrollment of students at the “prestigious” and world class university in Almaty. Maybe things are NOT as wonderful as they seem, especially if you read this article written by Joshua Kucera. (Please consider the source and what their motives are)
The first part reads the following:

With its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan inherited a university system in which corruption was ubiquitous and the curriculum focused on memorization rather than critical thinking. Its first solution was to use the country’s growing oil and gas revenues to pay for promising students to study abroad, particularly in the United States, after which they were required to return to work in Kazakhstan. The program, called Bolashak (“future” in Kazakh), has given scholarships to 10,000 students, who now form the core of the country’s young elite.

But Nazarbayev wanted a homegrown university where students would be educated in a Kazakh environment. Rather than attracting an American university to open a local branch (as New York University has done in the United Arab Emirates and Yale in Singapore), Kazakhstan decided to enlist foreign partners in setting up the school but to make it a Kazakhstan-owned enterprise.

The university “will become a national brand of Kazakhstan that will combine the advantages of the national education system and the best of international research and education practice,” Nazarbayev said at the school’s 2010 opening ceremony at the campus on the outskirts of the capital, Astana.

The president is fully aware that this is a much more expensive proposition than continuing the Bolashak program,” de Tray says. “But he also understood that he didn’t want students that were clones of Western institutions. He wanted Kazakhs who could compete in a global world.”

Built around a vast atrium featuring marble floors, palm trees, fountains and a massive flag of Kazakhstan, the school admitted its first students in the fall of 2010. One of its first challenges was operating a competitive admissions process in a country rife with nepotism and corruption. “There was a lot of pressure, especially on my Kazakh colleagues, but I also had to explain why their sons or daughters couldn’t get in,” says Shigeo Katsu, the university’s president, in an interview in his office, where two portraits of Nazarbayev hang.

The school will graduate its first class of roughly 420 undergraduates in the spring of 2015. There are three schools for undergraduates — engineering, science and technology, and humanities and social sciences — and graduate programs in business, education and public policy, with plans for schools of mining and medicine. Asked what the school’s budget is, Katsu declined to comment, saying, “It’s a sensitive topic.”

(to be continued)

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Heart wrenching news about Ukraine

Difficult to passively sit back and watch the events unfold in Ukraine as they are moving forward. The Ukrainians have taken three steps forward with their newly elected president but several steps back with what is happening in eastern Ukraine. Possibly the separatists are employing terrifying tactics of their own volition but I think the guy in charge in Moscow is not only encouraging it but aiding them. How do you get sophisticated missiles into the country to take down a Ukrainian plane that is landing at the airport, 49 dead as a result? Where do the tanks come from that are infiltrating Ukraine? Why do they not have their insignias on the armored vehicles or why do the agitator men NOT wear symbols on their clothes to show who they represent? This is an undeclared war that is going on and yet supposedly it is NOT happening because they are simply Russians who are dissatisfied with the Ukrainian government and want Russia to take over.

Meanwhile, the tourist trade is not faring very well in Crimea and that is a beautiful place to be at this time. The Tatars were aggressively moved out when Stalin wanted it for his own Soviet headquarters and now people who are catching on are leaving…that is, if they are able to now. I don’t know if they have the electricity or fuel or food they need. I believe they are living on ration cards now. So sad.

What I know from one of my friends currently living in western Ukraine is that some of the far eastern cities in Ukraine are without food, electricity or a means of transportation. Some people are hiding out in basements of apartment complexes because it is not safe for them to be in their homes or apartments. This means dire straits for those who do NOT want to be in this chaos. However, there are heroes who are doing what they can to help these people who want OUT!

My heart goes out to those who ARE helping people who have no means, Ukrainian unfortunates who are caught in the cross fire. I also know of brave, young men who are involved in the fight to help Ukraine return to order and peace. That is all anyone wants who LOVES their own country.

This makes me think of what would happen in the U.S. if it were to happen like that. Would we have people who would cave in and do whatever they are told by the “government?” Probably so, those who watch tv and are passive because they believe everything they are told by the media. Would we have others though, who would fight for our country to become what it used to be? I would hope so…for our grandchildren’s sake.

Freedom is important and so many people do not have that in their lives. That is the heart wrenching news from around the world. I continue to think about Ukraine…and Kazakhstan.

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June Busy-Ness and other things of note

Well, I guess we are INTO June already and I haven’t posted anything for about a week. Time to put down my thoughts as they come to me. This was a VERY busy day, I accomplished quite a bit in the morning, went home and had help with picking asparagus and then a meeting tonight with gals, talking over finger food. Yes, a good day but all the people I talked with from different areas of my life means I feel fatigued now. I know I must not overdo it.

I found out more from someone who witnessed the aftermath of my accident over a month ago. I was obviously in shock and wanting to be in control and acted as if nothing was wrong with me. Something was VERY wrong and the others as first responders knew it. Well, without going into detail, I am healing and in recovery but have to go slow physically. That is hard to do because there is SOOOOO much work to do around our place with gardening and weeding. I can mow the lawn, rake the grass clippings but that is about it. I walked a mile the other day on the treadmill, the week before I felt like I had done a marathon with walking a mile on the gravel road in search of asparagus.

The lilacs are blooming, as are all the other trees like plum, chokecherry and apple. Early June is a wonderful time to be outside to enjoy the cooler temps before summer really sets in. As we relish our life, I’m thinking of those in east Ukraine who are fighting for their lives and for their country. I think the Ukrainians from the west are making steady progress but not without cost of human life. I have friends who are helping out with the Ukrainian children who have come to stay with them during this time of chaos.

So many other places in the world do not have the solace and peace we enjoy in our corner of the world. Of course, they have not survived an utterly, horrible winter like we went through with the cold, etc. We complain about it but when June comes we seem to have a memory lapse about what we just endured for six months. I know there are colder places like Astana, Kazakhstan because I have lived there, but survived.

I don’t have much to report, especially about Kazakhstan but I wanted to keep you updated about my doings. I am glad I am alive, I’m finally hearing stories about my accident and it could have been a different ending. My husband is good to me, I’m grateful for him and his patience and understanding. Also, God is good, ALL the time!

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