Posts tagged digital immigrants

“Iron Rice Bowl” Policy and “Naglyi” Kazakh Students

I’m making a bold confession about myself before I post what the title implies. I used to be into temperament types and figuring out what other peoples’ and my students’ profiles were.  This website finds out, based on what you post on your blogs, what kind of personality you are.  Supposedly I am now a “Thinker.”  An INTP which is the opposite of what I have typically been labeled as according to Myers-Briggs or Kiersey Temperament Sorter. I have always thought of myself as an “I” or introvert but why I didn’t come out as my usual ISTJ, I don’t know. Check this out, see if you think this fits my blog personality, those of you who know who I really am:


The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.


The reason I wrote the above is because I suppose I am perceived by some of my teaching colleagues in Kazakhstan as insensitive or prideful. I apologize to those who think that way, my blog personality is different from who I really am.  I surely hope to be a servant leader who is humble.  However, I will confess that I am impatient with some of my colleagues especially when it comes to not using their computers. (some do NOT know how to scroll up or down!!!)  All of us are blessed with fancy computers on our desks but some computers remain unused as if a fancy, big paperweight.  


This is the reason I think the Chinese communist concept of the “Iron Rice Bowl” comes into play here at our institution of “higher learning.”  It would seem that amongst all the Kazakhstani teachers who have been here for awhile, they do not feel the urgent need to learn how to use these computers, others are fearful of them.  Strangely or sadly enough, these same teachers are guaranteed their jobs semester after semester without any notion of being awarded or demoted based on what they have done to professionally improve themselves.  


When I taught in China, I learned about the Iron Rice Bowl concept where in factories or other places of remedial work, people didn’t have do their job.  Communism seems to breed this strange notion that if the workers were lazy, they would still be paid the same amount as the next person who did all the work.  What is so galling is that these same individuals in our university, not just my department, are habitual complainers but they don’t leave for other jobs elsewhere.  They have never been paid so well or enjoyed so many other perks at our “westernized” university.


Then you have our Naglyi students, a Russian term which means “impudent or brazen”.  These are the choice few who have been abroad and are aware that the Kazakhstani system of education lags far behind.  Their English skills may be better than their Kazakh teachers.  Also, they have computer skills because they are of the generation of “Digital Natives.”  These students have come to our “westernized” institution to learn more about the global economy and the world beyond.  These naglyi students are challenging their “Digital Immigrant” teachers where normally as typical Asian students, they would be respectful of their teachers.  


Our institution may reach an impasse soon, the Kazakh students and their parents will insist on better qualified teachers, those who have taken the computer courses and feel comfortable with using modern technology.  Those older, Kazakh teachers who are used to the “Iron Rice Bowl” policy will either have to retire or seek employment elsewhere if they refuse to keep up with the changing times. OR another scenario would be that our institutional standards that are supposedly based on western ones, will be so lowered with plagiarism and cheating, it will be no different from what is happening in the other institutions of higher learning in Kazakhstan.


Meanwhile, western professors who come as guests to Kazakhstan to teach in whatever their major discipline or speciality is, do not bother with tenure because there is always the “work permit” threat hanging over them. No work permit, no visa!  Just as in China, we as foreign teachers in the late 1980s were disposed of quickly, the old “chew you up and spit you out” phenomenon. We, as foreigners, are here to make ourselves redundant.  If we do our job well enough, we will be dispensed with before we want to go.  Some of us westerners are certainly not here for the money, as least I am not.  However, seeing that the Iron Rice Bowl works for those who live here continues to be a burr under the saddle.  There just is no way to monetarily compensate for the sacrifices we make as foreigners when we are away from family gatherings and our own traditional holidays back home.


My husband and I celebrated last Thursday’s American Thanksgiving festival, just the two of us at the Princess Chinese restaurant.  We ate out of ceramic rice bowls with a can of cranberry sauce sitting on the table to remind us that we were without our family members on this important holiday.  What will it be like when I am away from my family of sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces for Christmas? I hate to think of it.  I am thankful to be here in Kazakhstan for the students, naglyi or no.

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“Digital Natives” Comments in KZ – Part II

The following is a continuation with ten more comments made by my Academic Reading and Writing students after they heard me read my article about “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy” off the screen.  The last several responses show that there are definite limitations in being too wired in to the techie world.


N.K. In Kazakhstan, we have a serious and unsolved problem in education even nowadays.  But we are a developing country, we hope that all will be all right.  I support the project of our President Nazarbaev.  Project related to the building of “Information Technology Park” in Alatau IT City.  It will work before 2011…We lack information literacy at our schools.  Especially teachers should know how to use different programs in computer.  By using it, they can do their subjects more interesting and more productive.  Information literacy, it is what we need nowadays.


N.B. We are living in the 21 st century, Digital World.  I agree that nowadays we have digital inequality.  Teenagers and children, they are digital natives.  From the small ages they started to use computers, playing different kinds of games, doing homework on Internet, browsing Internet to search for different kinds of information.  They were born in that time where computers play an important part in our lives.  People who are much older (I think from 40 years old) they are digital immigrants.  When they were teenagers, they didn’t have computers and now it is difficult for them to understand how it works and difficult to use it.


K.V. I watched TV and heard that also there are some places where teachers taught the old generation how to use computers, they are very glad that they can use e-mail and can send these mails to relatives that are very far from them, they said that it is more better than letter which is sent very slow.  Technologies helps society to write faster or they can find an online book, which is faster than to go to library.


M.K. I think that our schools should change the methods of teaching to newer ones using more technologies, rather than just oral method we used before.  There are much more possibilities for that nowadays than there were even 5-10 years ago.  We can use powerpoints, Moviemaker, Excel, Photoshop, and other things on the Internet.


S.O. The literacy of ancient Kazakhs is oral, but only few is written.  Nowadays everything has changed.  Everyone started to use computers, Internet.  But there are some people who don’t know how to use the computers.  Next generation, our little brothers and sisters will live in a more improved and developed world.


A.A. But the main point is how to use and understand this information, in order to be a literacy person.  If we, our country, will leave all these things and will stay at the same level all the time, it would be a great problem.  All the world developing all the time, and we should follow it step by step and maybe be in the lead.


V.S.  Kazakhstan is a poorly developed country in digital aspect.  Internet began widely spread about two years ago and still we have slow Internet.  In Japan 4G is available but we don’t even have 3G.  Also, Kazakhstan doesn’t invent any gadgets.  So, I think we need to produce and invent technological devices.


L.J. We are living in a Global Village and we have all innovations that the world has approved.  But the difference between us and Europe, for instance, is in the amount of these innovations.  The problem is that we are not producing digital things yet, so we buy them from abroad.  And they are expensive, so not everyone can afford the latest I-phone or something.  But particularly, in every family there is at least one computer, t.v. dvd player, so our citizens, young people know the basics of how to deal with digital things.


G.M. With a great level of technological progress that exists now, it is very hard but from the other side is very useful to follow it.  We can’t live now without computers and we must be information literacied, in order to get any job or study at university.  In some cases, I think it is really helpful and made some people’s lives easier and sometimes it saves our time.  However, now people are always in a hurry, we always have lots to do and sometimes don’t pay attention on something that is very meaningful in our live.  Our ancestors weren’t literacied, but they were really happy.


A.Y. On the one hand, it is useful to master computer programs, Internet, even games for children.  But on the other hand, virtual life will become inevitable part of peoples’ lives and it can replace the real friends, parents and teachers.  A person who will use only computer and life with the life of this thing, just can be lost in this technological world.  And his life will be fulfilled only by programs and unreal games.  In my opinion, using computers, people shouldn’t forget about personal, real life and balance these two things.

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“Digital Natives” Comments on IT in Kazakhstan

The following 10 comments are from my Academic Reading and Writing students after they heard me read my article about “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy” off the screen.  (Read yesterday blog entry to find out what they read and responded to.)


A.K. Not only children and teenagers should learn computer skills as our President said but I think adults should learn computer literacy, because they teach us (children), but if they don’t know, how will the new generation develop in this sphere?  Nowadays presentations, work and all spheres of our life are connected with computers; Internet is very popular.  Lots of people use Internet for knowing news about the world, different countries and so on.  And information technologies are deeply connected with Internet, meaning computer literacy.


R.S. I believe that the division mentioned in the article is present.  From my own experience I can tell when speaking about digital technology with my parents is rather difficult because they basically don’t understand a word of my sayings.  Sometimes it makes me annoyed to explain the same things about how to use this and that over and over again for hundred times.  I wonder what will be in the future.  Will we, digital natives, be digital immigrants for our kids as the progress goes on and on and new inventions are still being made?


Z.S. We have to be surrounded by Information Technology in our globalized economy.  We must be the digital native, we must speak digital language.  It would be easier to communicate and get every information we want and need.  By using IT, we can get useful information to be beneficial in all situations.  As we know, all the job vacancies need us to be “Digital Natives.”  If we are, we’ll get more payment, we’ll earn more money.


A.A. Today is century of Information Technology (IT) and we can study with the help of IT.  I think, from the five kind of literacies, the best one is digital information literacy and it is most popular today.  All books we can find on Internet in digital format, all documents converted to digital format.  Education – we use a lot of digital technologies.  We have a lot of advantages of this.  We can economize our time by making wonderful presentations (Powerpoint).  Use Internet to find information and use electronic libraries to find electronic articles and books.  All of this increases our productivity and quality of education.


N.P. Digital inequality in Kazakhstani societies is one of the important problems for older generation.  It’s not only a problem for the global economy, but also a problem of the local society.  The seriousness of this problem mostly is reflected in the teacher-student relations.  For instance, even at our university, the most modernized university in KZ, there are some difficulties among the teachers who are above 50 years old.  Because they are digital immigrants in IT, on the contrary, students are born with “computers in hands.”


Y.K. IT is a part of our life, we cannot live without it.  I totally support that idea about “Digital Natives and “Digital Immigrants.”  Our president sees that Kazakhstan, having almost all culture is oral tradition, has difficulties with transferring to the “Digital World.”


D.D. Nowadays information literacy is very important in everyday life.  We face with digital technologies everywhere, when we go to the shop, there are cashier machines and we should know how does it work, in order not to be in delusion.  Our mobile phones, we can’t live without them, it became a part of our life.  Internet is another thing, where we should know Digital literacy.  For example, my Mom, she has her own small business, but before it, she didn’t know at all how to even turn on the computer, we presented her a mobile phone and it took her a lot of time to teach herself how to use it.  It is an example about digital natives and digital immigrants.  For her generation, it is strange, something new about these things.


A.Y. On the one hand, it is useful to master computer programs, Internet, even games for children.  But on the other hand, virtual life will become inevitable part of peoples’ lives and it can replace the real friends, parents and teachers.  A person who will use only computer and life with the life of this thing, just can be lost in this technological world.  And his life will be fulfilled only by programs and unreal games.  In my opinion, using computers, people shouldn’t forget about personal, real life and balance these two things.


Z.B. I think that our country is developing like many others in Europe and we have to use new innovations and new technologies because it is our future.  Also, I am agree that we are just developing country and our President is very aware of surrounding globalized economy.  Nowadays, we have some problems with teaching, not all the teachers want to use computers or have computer skills.  That is why first of all we have to change teaching strategies in schools because everything begins from school.  For example, include computers classes, three language classes with high qualified teachers.  Because nowadays more and more young children don’t know their native language.  It is a great problem.  And we have to know how to use new technologies, like computers in order to find a good job and to be in the same level as European countries.


A.K. Nowadays a lot of people have problems with new technology, and most of them are older people, for example, my mother.  And I think our schools should give all this technological knowledge because technology is the future and WE ARE THE FUTURE!

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Paper Presented in Karaganda – “Kazakhstan’s Orality vs. InfoLiteracy”

 The Kyrgyz proverb “Getting education is like digging a well with a needle.” [Bilim iyne menen kuduk kazghandai] is a familiar saying shared by the Kazakh culture as well. When exploring how to successfully teach Information Literacy, it would seem a very deep well to dig indeed.  This paper will use the proverbial “needle” to define terms such as Orality and Info literacy, as well as explain my own experience teaching composition and how writing relates to the oral traditions of Kazakhstan.


What is Orality?

All cultures learn to communicate orally, in fact, according to Walter Ong’s (1982), a 1971 study showed there were 3,000 languages and only 78 had a written literature. Given those same odds in today’s volatile age, it is necessary for diplomacy between nations to better understand oral cultures rather than vice versa.  Ong argues that “many of the contrasts often made between ‘western’ and other views seem reducible to contrasts between deeply interiorized literacy and more or less residually oral states of consciousness” (p. 29).


Obviously Walter Ong’s seminal work in 1982 needs to be unpacked in greater detail, yet the focus of this paper is to look beyond his research to the present technology age of computers.  However, before I proceed, I am intrigued by the work done by Lev Vygotsky’s devotee, Aleksandr Romanovich Luria.  In 1931-32, Dr. Luria researched the oral cultures of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as a neuropsychologist.  He did extensive fieldwork comparing oral and literate subjects in remote areas which will shed some light on Walter Ong’s life work concerning the term he coined of “Orality.” 


What is Information Literacy?

According to Caroline Stern as cited by Christine Bruce (2002) there are at least five different kinds of literacies: 1) Alphabetic – write name; 2) Functional – read and write; 3) Social literacy – communication in cultural context: 4) Information literacy – critical location, evaluation and use of information; 5) Digital information literacy – application of information’s literacy in the digital environment.  In the same powerpoint produced by Bruce, Patricia Breivik (2000) defines “info literacy IS NOT…teaching a set of skills but rather a process that should transform both learning and the culture of communities for the better.”


Kazakhstan’s Digital Inequality and Digital Divide

President Nazarbayev is no doubt very aware of the tension between his own Kazakh culture of oral traditions and the technological world he is surrounded by in our globalized economy.  He ordered by Presidential Decree on September 15, 2006 to build the “Information Technology Park” in Alatau IT City, near Almaty with completion sometime in 2011. A quote taken by Nurlan Zhagipavov may exemplify the President’s thinking:


“It seems to me that the intelligent people and business elite of the country must join and create joint educational projects so as to restore and save the High School.  Liquidation of ‘digital inequality’ has to start from this” (p. 35).


A year before in 2005, UNESCO gave funding for a grant titled “Kazakhstan: Electronic Library in Rural Areas for Reducing Digital Divide.”  Strides are being made at the university I teach at, to help our incoming first year students to understand the power of the electronic library right on our university campus.


What are Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants?
The two phrases “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants” were coined by Marc Prensky (2001) in an article he wrote by that title.  According to Prensky, the definition for “digital natives” is what my typical university students are in today’s classroom, “they are all native speakers of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet.”  The quandary most older teachers who fit the “digital immigrant” category are facing, according to Prensky, is they “speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.”


According to Prensky (2001) Digital Natives are used to receiving information very quickly, they like to parallel process and multi-task.  However, Digital Immigrants have little appreciation for these new skills the “digital natives” use because they are totally foreign to them.  Digital Immigrants prefer to teach the way they learned, “slowly, step-by-step, one thing at a time, individually and above all, seriously.”  When I heard Marc Prensky speak at a tech conference in 2002, sadly he quoted an American high school student complain, “Every time I go to school, I have to power down.”  Despite oral traditions still being extremely important in Central Asian countries, I believe writing teachers of the 21 st century, the world over, need to keep pace with “Info Literacy.”




Bruce, C. (2002). Seven faces of information literacy: Towards inviting students into new experiences,, retrieved on Oct. 25, 2008


Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. New York: Routledge.


“Purchases on the Internet? Reality!” (2008). World Monitor, Kazakhstan, 3(14), 34-35.


Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, NCB University Press, 9(5).


“Special Economic Zone – Information Technology Park.” (2008). World Monitor, Kazakhstan, 4(15), 46-47.





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