Posts tagged education

Kazakhstan’s Education (Part II)

Yesterday I wrote what my Kazakhstani friend, Tatyana, had written about her views on the educational system she was a part of during the former Soviet Union and two years into the reforms with Kazakhstan as a new nation. Tatyana was not altogether positive in her perspective.   We were the first PC group and so there was much to learn about a country we all knew so little about.  Tatyana at least had lived in the U.S. for one year and could speak with authority about education when she compared both systems, western with her own.  Here is the rest of what she told the 30 Peace Corps volunteers on what to expect when they went to their respective villages once training was over:

“…Now when Kazakhstan has become an independent state [as of two years before in 1991], schools got an opportunity to experiment with the curriculum, introduce elective courses thus being more flexible.  During the reform, four new subjects were introduced to add to the 22 subjects on the curriculum of the 11-year school:

1)   Acquaintance with the Surrounding World (1st and 2nd grades)

2)   Computer Science and Computer Technology ( 10th– 11th grades)

3)   The Ethics and Psychology of Family Life (9th and 10th grades) but this subject totally failed.  There were no books, no specialists in this area to conduct decent lessons. The subject in our school I remember was taught by whomever agreed to do it.  One teacher simply used to tell the students stories about her family, setting it up as an example of good family relations. She seemed to like it. But by the end of the term, the students knew everything about her family life and stopped going to her class.

4)   Fundamentals of production choice of profession (8th-9th grades)

So in general, most of the point of the new reform could not be implemented and were a complete failure.  Others, such as the introduction of computer science and technology proved to be quite successful with the exception that a lot of schools are still not properly facilitated.

Now when Kazakhstan became an independent state, schools seem to have a broad field for experimenting.  Our government seems to understand now that the essence of a reform is not in dictating from above what, where and how should be done, but in providing favorable conditions for the school development, as Shaisultan Shayahmetov put it.

Having completed one’s secondary education, one can either start working or go on to college. (Institution of Higher Learning). There are universities and so-called “Institutes” in Kazakhstan. Universities are more academically oriented, while institutes are both academic and practice oriented.  There are no degrees here equivalent to those of bachelors (BA) or masters (MA). As a rule, students spent five years in college, institute or university.  To be admitted to an institute or university, you have to pass a series of oral and written tests.

Education in Kazakhstan has, until recently, been free on all levels and subsidized by the government.  Now, when the country is changing to a market place economy, the system of education is also undergoing profound changes.”

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Differences of education between China and America

One of our more astute students in this summer’s orientation program for 38 Chinese students spelled out the differences he saw in education:

“Every country has has its own style of education. In China students study many kinds of subjects from primary school,they study for passing the tests and graduate from school and finding a job. In China, the most important exam is the university entrance exam. It will decide which university you can enter and it will effect your job in the future. “Anybody can get into college in the USA” which was said by Malaysians. It is true and if you want to graduate from the university of USA you should get enough credits, so you must study if you want to graduate. In China,it is hard to enter the college,but it is easier to graduate than the universities of USA.

Students’ reaction in the class are also different between China and America.I have studied in the university for 1 week now and I have found American students are more active than Chinese students. Maybe Chinese students come to a strange situation may be one reason why they are silent in the class. But as being a Chinese student for 14 years, i think it is not the focal point. Because in China when teachers ask a question there will be few students who will answer the question actively. Most students will be silent, just sit there and look at the teacher. Not like the American students will stand up quickly and call out excitedly, “Pick me, pick me.” This kind of situation only appears in Chinese primary school. I think it is because Chinese education focus more on the exam than the students’ ability at ordinary time.

In the USA professors may put more emphasis on the students’ ordinary ability and I feel that American students get on with professors well,they just like friends.They can call professors’ name like we can call Dr._________ only common name of “Tony!” In China there is a estrangement between professors or teachers and students.We are asked to call teacher DR.*** or sir/madam.Maybe this is a reason why Chinese students keep silence in the class,not because of “Silence is golden.”

In China students are always studying in the classroom,there is few social practice and the subjects in senior high school there will be only 4 at last, so it is boring when you always learn these 4 subjects all the day. Students become inanimate, they only know how to pass the exam.It is the disadvantage of Chinese education.

Many rich men like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs….they succeeded in their enterprise but they had not finished their academic studies in college. And it has many examples in USA, but there are few in China. In China people regard degree as more important than one’s real ability, so it is hard to appear a talent who can carve out without graduating from high degree. It will bury many talents and it is a kind of outflow of talents. In USA,there is more free space to learn, that is one reason why many people in China want to study in USA.

It is just my opinion about the difference of education between China and America.And there are many other ways to know the difference between the Chinese and American culture, not only from the education,but also the other culture like food or language.”

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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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Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan (Part II)

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)

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Answers to Questions about Kazakhstan

Today I will take a departure from my usual writing about human trafficking issues. Recently I was asked to answer some questions about Kazakhstan and I felt ill equipped to do so.  I made sure that those who were asking the questions knew that I was an outsider to this complex country and that they would only get answers from my American perspective.  That didn’t seem to dissuade them to ask 11 questions of me despite my disclaimer.  I will parse out my thoughts for my reading audience over the next week so you have something to read over Christmas break if you are fortunate to have a few days off.

The following are my answers off the top of my head, obviously I had MORE than a “comment” about the educational system in Kazakhstan. I have blog material which covers every day I taught in Almaty and Astana from fall of 2007 to March of 2011:

1.      Can you comment on the education system in Kazakhstan?

This question is my favorite and what I mostly blogged about the 3 ½ years I lived in Almaty and Astana. Essentially, if you could put everything I wrote into a bite-sized capsule it would be this:  Kazakhstan, after the fall of the former Soviet Union, inherited a very broken system of education.

However, I am quick to add that the standards the Soviet Union initially had in place were competitive because they did have intellectual integrity yet by the time it trickled down from the centralized system of governance from Moscow to the far reaches of Central Asia, there were different permutations of what “education” looked like. I would also add that what was very broken as of 20 years ago has become even worse under the current system of education in Kazakhstan.  I will elaborate on that later but first I will explain how I define “broken” in terms of what the Soviet Union handed to the Kazakhs.

It did not matter what former republic you looked at whether it was, for example, Estonia, Georgia or Ukraine, all the schools had the same textbooks, curriculum and style of teaching from the top down, from Moscow’s department of education. One size fits all.  How quickly each former republic of the USSR embraced the Soviet style of education depended on how closely they were aligned to a teacher-centered type of classroom and Soviet principles.

But take, for example, what the Kazakh nomads historically had to know about cattle and sheep raising and transform that kind of knowledge to a collective farm where they were supposed to change to become farmers? Well, they were doomed to failure from the beginning because herdsmen and shepherds are not the same as farmers.  In Ukraine, when collectivization happened in the 1930s, it was easier for a peasant Ukrainian farmer to think in terms of farming on a collective.  But for a Kazakh who only knew the freedom of the steppes as grazing lands for sheep, horses and cattle to change over to farming, that was a significantly different story. A very sad story indeed.  Millions of Kazakhs died of starvation when collectivization was enforced.

Therefore, you had Kazakhs who were historically nomadic and who knew where their property lines were for the different seasons to move their livestock but then the Soviet Union came along and prohibited their language and their cultural traditions. As late as the 1970s, the weaving of the dowry carpet of a young Kazakh bride which told her own story was prohibited.  It was considered too cultural and everyone was to think Soviet and not one’s own ethnic heritage.

The Kazakhs learned very quickly after being forced into a starvation period (1930s) that the only way to survive as a people, they needed to learn Russian and NOT speak Kazakh anymore. Those Kazakhs who went through the educational system in the bigger cities forsook their own culture and language but now are called “pretend” Kazakhs.  They are called shala Kazakhs, since they are only Kazakh skin deep and no further. But I get ahead of myself in answering this question since it is a large and comprehensive one to try to answer.

(to be continued)

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Leadership and Education…after a month long hiatus

I didn’t expect I would write on this blog again once home in the U.S. However, I have great quotes that Kazakh students have written saved up on my computer that I just could not ignore.  As an educator for over 30 years, I think it is absolutely important to keep writing on these issues about education that concern Kazakhstan deeply.  Education, according to Sir William Halley, British newspaper editor and broadcasting administrator should reflect this: “Education would be so much more effective if its purpose were to ensure that by the time they leave school, every boy and girl should know how much they do not know, and be imbued with a lifelong desire to know it.”

While I taught in Kazakhstan in the last three and a half years, both in Almaty and Astana, I not only filled my students minds with facts but also hopefully moved their hearts.  I hope that the leaders of the westernized universities in Kazakhstan would understand the following quote attributed to an unknown author: “Outstanding leaders appeal to the hearts of their followers, not their minds.”  However, those administrators in universities throughout Kazakhstan are driven by Soviet practices which they learned in pedagogical institutes many years ago.  Sadly, they are teacher-centered in their approach as administrators and many are sorely outdated to keep up with the speed of the 21st century. I would like to remind them and my former students what Socrates knew:  “In every person there is a sun.  Just let them shine.”  Today’s Kazakh and Kazakhstani students are told over and over again they are the future of Kazakhstan but their own educators are not about letting them shine as individuals with their God-given strengths and talents.

The following is what one Kazakh student wrote, which encouraged me:  “I like reading.  One of my favorite books is “Abai” by Muhtar Auezov.  Abai was a great Kazakh poet, he lived in 1845-1904.  He exposed human vices, such as greediness, covetousness, duplicity, laziness, etc. in his works.  He did a lot for the enlightenment of Kazakh people. In his book Auezov describes Abai’s life, his experiences and difficulties he faced.” I need to find and read this book by Auezov in the U.S. if it has been translated into English, I doubt it though.

Finally, a British parliamentarian, Benjamin Disraeli is quoted as saying the following:  “I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?”  I think the following piece written by an informed Kazakh student about leadership is on the same, right track when she wrote about Olzhas Suleimenov.  If only there would be some champions to push to the public awareness about human trafficking.  That is today’s “nuclear sites” in rural Kazakhstan and other poorer countries in Central Asia:

“I would like to refer to one of the bright examples of leadership from Kazakh history, Olzhas Suleimenov.  He is known in Kazakhstan and other countries for his political activity, poetic works and anti-nuclear activity.  His name became known worldwide in 1989, when he led the movement called Nevada-Semipalatinsk.  It was aimed on closing nuclear sites in the Semipalatinsk area of Kazakhstan. He showed outstanding leadership skills during this movement.  It is really difficult and dangerous to rise against governmental machine of power and defend rights of people, who became victims because of nuclear testings in the region.  People were talking about closing nuclear test sites, but only to each other. 

And only Olzhas Suleimenov called people to fight for their rights.  Olzhas Suleimenov is a person who ideally suits the word “effective leader.”  First of all, he knew what he was going for.  He knew the risks, aims and he know that people would follow him.  At the same time, he worried for the future of his nation, he believed that people should fight for their rights.  He showed responsibility towards people and was brave enough to fight for their rights.  These qualities deserve admiring of this person and striving to follow suit.”



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More Kazakh Teachers’ Writings

I’ve been privileged to read through many Kazakh and Kazakhstani teachers’ essays. They were “tested” and wrote these essays in the time allotment of half hour with an option of writing an answer to one or the other of my two questions.  This essay below answers how they can make a difference for the future of their country of Kazakhstan.  If I have more teachers to test, I will try for a different question because this is on the minds of every person in education in Kazakhstan.  Obviously, they have ready answers and this one from Semey is a very good one:

“I’ve been working as a teacher for more than 30 years and I am convinced that teachers are a special category of citizens who make their own contribution into their country’s future.  We should always stay young otherwise our students won’t follow our ideas.  Our country develops rather quickly, a lot of information gets from TV and Internet practically daily and a teacher should be able to cope with all this.  I see my aim as a teacher to help children grow up with a great load of knowledge on my subject, that is English, so they must be able to speak English fluently and understand grammar.  I remember the time when English was the only purpose of my students, they simply wanted to know the language and dreamt of being a translator.

Nowadays, students want to become specialists in fields other than English but proficiency and fluency in English are regarded highly.  So, the best way is to teach everybody as if for being an interpreter and let him or her chooe their life career themselves.  I think I can make a difference for the future of Kazakhstan by giving my students that level of knowing English that will help them become really useful and necessary for their country.  Society is a rather complicated machine and it works properly only when all the details are in their places.  So, I clearly understand my place among the variety of different details, I am not the main one, but not the least.  I am part of the chain and my responsibility is to provide future generations with the knowledge of English.  This will lead to mutual understanding between people and as a result, to a bigger progress of our country.

In a hundred years from now, nobody will remember me, but I shall live in my students’ ideas, I will be important as I was important in the life of a child.”

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