Posts tagged Bolashak

The Future of “World Class” Slave Mentality

Having lived in Astana, Kazakhstan for one year almost a year ago, I was in the very  bowels of the new university’s glorious start. The university once opened fall of 2010 has since been named after the current president of Kazakhstan.  I witnessed first hand how much was/is being invested into the higher education of young Kazakh students. I had many Bolashak [means “future” in Kazakh] scholars who were my working colleagues and friends. After they had lived in the U.S. or U.K. one or two years, they seemed to empathize with me as the westerner trying to wade my way through the murky politics of the new university.

However, I also saw that for their own protection they had to watch out for themselves while working unswervingly for the concept of the greater good, the future of Kazakhstan.  When I was no longer a part of the game of striving and finding my place, they struggled on without me in their own energy.  I believe the “slave mentality” existed for these young people on the lower end of the pole. Many Bolashak scholars were not paid much. Some of these highly trained individuals fared far worse if they could only secure jobs in the national universities in the old part of Astana or Almaty (former capital in southern Kazakhstan).  Supposedly obedience and slavery to the old order would help them rise to the top.

Astana means “capital” in Kazakh.  It was also known as Akmola and Akmolinsk [white grave] after it had been named during the Soviet era Tselinograd. Watch, there will be a name change soon to reflect the vision of the current president, it will undoubtedly be named after him.  “Astana” is just a place holder name.

This new city on the flat steppe may seem artificial with its strange architecture but it certainly gets your attention since most of the time there is extreme wind and cold to hamper its reputation as a capital city to be admired.  Perhaps the president has done much good in moving the capital from the south of Kazakhstan to the middle of nowhere in the north, but at what cost? Think slavery with the internal migrants (sex slaves from the rural areas of Kazakhstan in the brothels of Almaty and Astana) and the labor force who have been brought in from Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to build these elaborate buildings.

I know for a fact the new university in Astana wants to be considered “world-class” but that can hardly be a reality if most of the people in the western world don’t even know about Kazakhstan.  That has to be infuriating and humbling for those Bolashak scholars who travel to U.K. Canada or U.S.  Yes, to discover people don’t even know their dear country, which they represent and is the ninth largest in the world, actually exists.

I think there is something very artificial about living in such a climate, no different from existing in the summer heat of Arizona where temperatures soar to 100 degrees F or more days on end. You can’t help but admire those who have lived in Astana for over 20-30 years.  The pecking order begins there whether you have any expertise in your field or not, if you have survived this city of wind and cold, you are to be reckoned with.  Note that those who are in the different ministries are the older generation who call the shots. They are to be respected and obeyed. The country will continue to lumber and lurch forward, all the while I wish the best for the Bolashak generation.  Please read this blog that shows photos of Astana and deals with his insights on Bolashak and Astana. “Molapse” was a fellow teaching colleague of mine when we taught at another “world class university” in Almaty. ‘Nuff said.

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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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More Billboard Photos and Survey Results

Tomorrow, I’ll write more about what I’ve been doing since I’m running out of recent photos of my life in Astana, Kazakhstan.  Much to tell and write about but this will have to do for now.  I’ll insert just a portion of what I wrote in a report for top officials to read. It will need to be translated into Russian so I hope this eight page summary adequately reveals what I’ve taught the last four months. I just hope it makes sense to them.

“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 True/False questions.  The following are what I learned from those who have been on the Bolashak program or other exchanges to the U.K. or U.S.  that have exposed them to a different kind of teaching methodology.

  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 working at the new university.  The only two questions that I need to finetune are questions #1 and #8.  Perhaps that is something I can explore further with my 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 makes it obvious that 100% backing is needed from those in authority who want to improve the educational system of Kazakhstan.”

 

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Trust, Tolerance, Traditions and Transparency

Such nice alliterations, impressive words that will be bandied about by very important people from 55 different countries in a couple of weeks in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I’d like to write about the last one concerning “Transparency” based on conversations I have had with Kazakhs in the last several days.  For instance, after showing a movie this weekend Ken and I sat around and talked about a LOT of things not related to the movie with our Kazakh friends. We had just shown “You’ve Got Mail” at American Corner. Simple storyline of guy gets the girl but only after a confusing, non-transparent romance over Internet for the balance of the movie.

For some reason we got on the subject about corruption. I brought up how Ken, my economist husband, had been given a bribe in Ukraine from a Nigerian woman who wanted to pass his MBA course.  She had slipped two one hundred dollar bills in a book that she gave back to him. When he went to the rector to complain about it, the rector didn’t believe him. Also, this woman named Caroline, denied doing it.  Unfortunately, she was out her $200 bribe money and she also did not pass the course. She was abysmally slow and perhaps in Ukraine on false pretenses on a student visa. Ken gave the two bills to a deserving American couple who work with orphans.

I told this story to my Kazakh audience with the same aghast feelings that we both felt back five years ago when this happened.  The Kazakhs knowingly smiled at me and admitted, “happens all the time here in Kazakhstan…nothing surprising about that.”  Wow, Ken and I come from a world at the grass roots level, where nothing like bribing and corruption happens. Garden variety Americans like us don’t have to worry about paying someone off or being cheated out of something due to nepotism.  I know there is a Transparency Index and Kazakhstan is not illuminated as high on that chart, nor are any of the former Soviet Union countries, for that matter.

As a result of this topic that was brought up on corruption, I found out about two women who had applied for the Bolashak program and had taken the requisite IELTS exam.  (This is the British form of the TOEFL exam that checks their English level of reading, speaking, listening and writing skills).  The one woman who explained what had happened to her back in 2003 claimed that she never did find out her IELTS scores. Two years later she found out that she had indeed passed and she was supposed to have been awarded the Bolashak scholarship.  Her parents hadn’t pursued it and when the police came by to investigate the charges, they didn’t sign the paper for her to seek retribution.  This had happened to another person, exact same time.  Out of seven people, this had happened to two of them?  Not good!

Apparently now, to rectify this problem of weak candidates buying off the grades of other people’s passing scores for the IELTS exam, they assure the test takers that their scores will be sent to them within two weeks, directly to their home address.  So, whoever was in charge of the tests over five years ago preyed upon those who didn’t pursue what the test results were. Apparently they gave those good, passing scores to someone else who was able to pay for this prestigious award.  Believe me, I have seen a few of those returning Bolashak “scholars” who went to the U.K. and were awarded a masters degree after only one year of study who clearly still have trouble with their English grammar and writing.  How they were able to cobble together a paper for their final project is baffling to me. There needs to be more transparency in the Bolashak program and perhaps they are working on that. The existing environment in Kazakhstan is so strong that works against people who have integrity and want to reward those of merit.  Corruption abounds in the education sector yet we hold out hope that the new university in Astana will be different, transparent and corruption free.

Another example of bribes came up in class yesterday with one of the teachers who hails from the south of Kazakhstan where nepotism and corruption apparently is much more rampant than in the northern part of Kazakhstan.  She somehow landed a job in the north and when she got her first paycheck that was a significant increase, she and her husband fretted for weeks about how much money they were supposed to pay to whomever for this gift of a better salary.  She was so used to “oiling the skids” in order to get things done where she came from, she was incredulous that she didn’t have to slip money to anyone.  When she told her boss about her fears three or four months later, the boss just laughed as we all did in the classroom.  She admitted that that is the way things are accomplished in Kazakhstan, you pay your way to get the better grade or better position or better title.

So, it goes with traditions, if this is the Kazakh way, how are they going to convince outside investors from the West that they are transparent in all their actions? What are we as westerners to trust in the way of contracts that are written in English words that are not clearly understood by those people whose first language is either Kazakh or Russian.  Are we as westerners supposed to tolerate what we deem as dishonest? Kazakhs who have worked hard should be given their due, but instead they are elbowed out of their rightful positions because they don’t have enough money to pay off those in power.  How are these incidents that work against Kazakh people going to be discussed at the upcoming meeting?  I’d love to be a fly on the wall to hear all that will be said or NOT said about trust, tolerance, traditions and transparency.

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Too busy to write that I’m too busy

Oops, missing my daily blog two times in one week must mean that I am “up to my ears” in work. Yes, it’s true, not only am I doing the usual teaching and other self-assigned expat duties, but I am reading through apps for a scholarship grant to the U.S. I enjoy this process as I’ve read apps for the past five or six years.  I started this in Kyiv, Ukraine, then Almaty and now here in Astana, Kazakhstan.  I always like to see the perspective of the eager and nervous applicants about what their purpose would be to go to the U.S. to obtain a masters degree if they won in the competition.  They have to show they are worthy of doing volunteer service for the good of their country, prove they have high academic standards, great references and most important to me, that they can write well.

Here’s what I have observed with several of the recent applicants I have judged on.  One person was obviously wealthy, this person’s parents were able to pay for tuition at Miras school.  In Astana that would mean about $18,000 a year. (I’m not sure about the true amount of tuition, I’ve been told $8,000???)  Plus this person had already been to the U.S. or U.K. I can’t remember which.  However, when I put the Statement of Purpose in the good pile, I found out a different story when reviewing the academic transcripts and the references. This app went to my “No” pile which is a red file folder.  The person was a plagiarist, no doubt, because nothing rang true in the essay answers.  Interesting what you can detect from what is written or NOT written.

Another example was a young woman who had gotten her bachelors degree from the U.K. which meant she had studied for four years and was successful.  She was also a beauty queen from her area of Kazakhstan and seeing her photo on her c.v. she looked stunning.  However, her statement of purpose lacked heart.  She had all the head knowledge, she was articulate in all that she wrote but again it didn’t seem like she was the type to help her own people or to volunteer. No, her app went to the red file too. This particular grant is meant for those people outside of Astana and Almaty who need a “leg up” or an advantage they normally wouldn’t get.  Of course, there is always Kazakhstan’s Bolashak program that has helped 1,000s of young people in Kazakhstan. But I’m concerned with our American funded program that helps about 10-12 candidates per year.  A modest number yet there is GREAT interest in going to the U.S. on a full-ride scholarship by many aspiring Kazakh youth.

Another applicant whose proposal I looked at who is memorable in what she wrote was that she wanted to help young Kazakh people with disabilities.  They are the neglected group of people in this country and in some cases parents can no longer afford medical care or raise them.  Therefore, they are placed in orphanages.  (Her app went to my green folder, a possible candidate to interview in Almaty) What is very sad is that if these children don’t get some kind of life-long learning skills to live on their own, they will be put in an insane asylym at age 18.  I know some American friends of mine who personally know heart breaking stories about those children they have gotten to know at a special needs orphanage and when the time for them to leave the orphanage happens, well, some commit suicide or worse stories…

I have a third pile that is my “neutral” pile which means there is nothing that stands out in my mind after reading the “Statement of Purpose” essays.  Vanilla apps goes into my manila file folder. These students have perhaps been trained to not write anything too “edgy” or provocative. Just play it safe and write 1,000 words that are repetitive and says almost nothing. Obvious to me as a writing teacher, some students have not found their “voice” in writing. I pity them because they have not had teachers in school who knew about “voice” and “audience.” Others may plagiarize things but that will show up in the interview.  One applicant that I read last year, not in Education, had copied something off the Internet and it was really different and interesting but it was almost too good, too creative, too outside the box.

What I want to see in the application essays is a person’s heart but also their intellect.  I want to see anecdotes and quotes that show they are thinking about this a long time. The best applications have a tight storyline that helps the reader (me) see that they DO have a purpose and want to help their country prosper and grow by whatever they propose to study and implement once back in Kazakhstan.  Some people write and you can see they are out for “Number #1.” That is sad because if they don’t know where they have come from and they go to the U.S. on a scholarship, they will clearly get sucked into thinking and parroting what their American professors tell them.  I’ve seen this happen over and over again.

That is why critical thinking is absolutely necessary for the students to grasp here in Kazakhstan.  They should be able to decipher what is truth from what PC propaganda is.  That is why I blanched at reading in the app that I blogged about several days ago about “great leaders create great followers.” There are a great many followers here in this country of Kazakhstan, no one dares to raise their head among the rest because they might get clobbered by someone above them. Sadly, those Kazakh students who go overseas on whatever program but when they come back must acquiese to those who don’t know as much, especially about the information revolution we are in.  But since age is deemed to haveultimate wisdom, these Central Asian students have to capitulate to people who don’t really know or understand the West. Such is the struggle that continues here in education, the Old School will not give up their powers to those young people who come back with a western education. All this will take time to sort out but in the meantime, you have Kazakh students who want to help their country improve but are under the thumbs of bureaucrats who don’t know anything different from the way the Soviet five year plans operated.

I guess I’m not too busy to write about this, but there are soooooo many other things on my heart right now that I dare not share on this blog. Something big is coming up in the next two weeks and it will impact all of us in Astana, our schedules, our plans.  The rest of Kazakhstan will carry on with “business as usual” but not us.  Maybe it will be a good thing for me because I will have a chance to catch up on life, something I need to do ASAP.

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Young Kazakh Teachers Making a Difference (Part II)

Yesterday I featured a talented writer who is Kazakh but wrote with passion about what she wants to achieve to make a difference for her home country of Kazakhstan.  Today I am showcasing a second teacher, fresh out of pedagogical training.  She is clearly showing her “teacher-centered” ways by what she writes.  I’m not saying that is bad or good but I AM saying that there is a very heavy burden put on very poorly paid Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers.  

The other day I met a young Kazakh man who had just returned from doing his Bolashak scholarship work in chemistry. The best salary they could offer him at a national university in Astana was $200 a month to teach in his field he had researched in.  To me, that is shocking because he was paid so much more with Bolashak but is expected to come back to his homeland to work for five years.  

How dismal what Kazakh teachers have to put up with, those who know so much and have even more to offer their compliant students.  Yet some old-style teachers also mistreat their students and expect bribes from them to help compensate for the inequity in pay.  I suppose this is no different from the poorly paid Kazakh cop who stops motorists willy nilly on the highway and expects them to pay a bribe so they can continue on their merry way.  

For the most part though, the Kazakh teachers I have had contact with over the three years I have been in Kazakhstan are born teachers and want the best for their students.  See what you think about what Teacher #2 wrote in a half hour time:

“The republic of Kazakhstan is a young and developing country.  Bright future awaits our country in the future.  It is easy to prove just looking at the world around you, visiting industrial cities of our country or just comparing today’s Kazakhstan with that country when nearly 20 years ago it got is Independence.  At that time it was like a “child” which needed to grow, to develop, to know.

Of course, the future of Kazakhstan is closely connected with us, the youth of modern country.  On my part, I dare say that I am ready to make a noticeable difference for its future.  As I graduated from a pedagogical institute, I am responsible for the (children) today’s children, their development, mental and physical, who are the future elite of our country.  I think, if you want to make something or somebody better, you need to pay attention to the character, development and formation.  That’s why the great responsibility is on teachers.

First of all, they are responsible to bring a clever generation up.  It is precisely a teacher, who controls the bringing up and educational processes in their life.  That’s why our work is hard and requires special skills, patience and love.

Secondly, the future of Kazakhstan is a clever, talented and competable [?competitive or compatible?] generation.  They shouldn’t go with the flow of the life, but they should struggle with it, obtain new and new positions, reach new and new destinations, search for unknown things.  Only on that case we can make a great turn in the future of our republic.

However, it doesn’t mean, that nowadays everything is not so good.  Actually, it is, it is very good, but we needn’t stop.  We should try to be as close as possible to the perfection in bringing up and education.  As we know, new achievements motivate us to the second one, the second opens a door to the third one, so develops the world around us.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the future of Kazakhstan depends on teachers.  And we should do our best to make a large step ahead in the future development of our country.  Then the future generation will say: “We are proud of US!”*

[*she didn’t mean the U.S. of A. but rather her motherland of Kazakhstan]

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Photos from “The Land of Enchanted Horizons”

A young Kazakh woman from work gave me some beautiful photo postcards of Kazakhstan’s landscapes published by “Perfect Gift.”  She just came back from Michigan on a Bolashak grant and wanted to send some of these postcards to her professors and friends back in Michigan.   I think these photos are beautiful!!! The photographer’s name is V. Yokushkin.  The fine print on each card is very difficult to read the names of each of these places, fortunately they are in three languages, Kazakh, Russian and English.

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