Leaping into independence and the 21st century, Kazakhstan’s education system has seen rapid change. The country quickly shook off the shackles of the Soviet school structure and ushered in decentralization, privatization, and a policy of internationalism. According to UNESCO, Kazakhstan is now fourth among 129 countries in the Index of Educational Development and 14th among 177 countries in terms of literacy. Change has occurred across the system from a new structure of tertiary education based on the Bologna process, the establishment of private institutions, and the provision of a wider range of tertiary education opportunities. In addition, education provision is being extended to a 12-year compulsory cycle. A unified national test is being implemented for those entering tertiary education, and technology has been given a leading role. Two early reforms on education, in 1992, and higher education, in 1993, gave the impetus to develop the private sector in education, which was effectively banned in the Soviet era. A competitive market quickly formed to provide educational services. Kazakhstan’s current system is made up of 148 higher education institutions, 7,811 primary and secondary schools, and 1,852 pre-schools. Spending on education has increased dramatically. The Minister of Education and Science Bakytzhan Zhumagulov announced that Kazakhstan will spend KZT900 billion in the education sphere in 2011, or some 4.2% of GDP. This would bring the country close to the standards recommended by UNESCO, which is 5%-6% of national GDP. Approximately 71% of the population is aged between 15 and 64 years, and 21% is under the age of 14. The government is working hard to take advantage of the country’s young population and develop a strong, IT literate, and internationally minded source of human capital to diversify the economy.
Reforming the education system has centered on two themes: internationalism and technology. The first to gain the personal attention of the President was internationalism. President Nazarbayev has been credited with launching the widely respected Bolashak program in 1993. The initiative sent young Kazakhstanis to competitive international universities, providing they return to work a five-year stint in Kazakhstan upon receiving their degree. Minister of Education and Science Bakytzhan T. Zhumagulov told TBY the program will “enhance the intellectual potential of our country, accelerating the development of the national economy and make a significant contribution to the development and updating of the education system in line with the best international standards”. As domestic tertiary institutes have improved, the policy has shifted toward sending master’s students abroad, instead of bachelor’s.
The second phase of educational reform came in the late 1990s and targeted two parts of the system. The first was to increase the technological literacy of the secondary schooling system. Kazakhstan was subsequently the first CIS country to provide 100% of its schools with computers in 2001. This technological revolution is embodied by the International Information University (IITU), which is building an innovative and technologically minded generation of students. The university’s mission is to retain close links with the business community and ensure research is both academic and rapidly applicable. IITU Rector Damir Shynybekov told TBY, “If we want to prepare students correctly, we must consult industry leaders to discover their specific needs. We need to know what the research industry needs doing.” In 2011 IITU will hold consultations with representatives of industry, and work with iCarnegie professionals to provide training in IT project management, information security, coding, and programming courses. The second prong of attack was to focus on establishing a network of schools for gifted children—the presidential program set out to promote the best and brightest students. Thousands of these children were put forward for international intellectual competitions and contests to represent Kazakhstan. The Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools are models for the future of Kazakhstani schools, where equal emphasis is placed on speaking Kazakh, Russian, and English.
Work has also been done to make the system more transparent with regards to test scores—an endemic problem throughout countless post-Soviet republics. A system of independent testing was introduced in 1999, ensuring university and grant applicants have equal access. Kazakhstan became a full member of the European Higher Education Area, joining the Bologna Declaration in 2010. Higher education in Kazakhstan has completely shifted to the generally recognized three-tier system.
The third phase began in 2006 and can be characterized by the building of Nazarbayev University. The university seeks to change the outflow of students to international universities, by attracting international students to Kazakhstan. The philosophy of internationalism remains strong, while establishing academia in the country. Another of the founding principles of the university is research. The academic and research policy presumes that each school within the university will have an international academic partner among the leading universities in the world with strong research, clinical and industrial base. This will allow Kazakhstan to integrate education, research, and industries and help to achieve the objectives for the development of the country. Indeed, the university has already partnered with the UK’s University of Cambridge and UCL, as well as US institutions iCarnegie, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Duke University, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab University of Pittsburgh. A partnership has also been forged with the National University of Singapore.
On top of academic development, Kazakhstan has gone to great lengths to promote vocational education. According to the Ministry of Education and Science, compared with 2007, the network of professional schools and colleges increased by 46.
The Ministry is currently building advanced inter-regional centers for the training and retraining of personnel for the oil and gas industry in the city of Atyrau; for the fuel and energy sector in Ekibastuz; for the engineering industry in Ust-Kamenogorsk; and for manufacturing in Shymkent.
In 2011, Kazakhstan became a party to the Turino process, along with 29 European countries. The government of Kazakhstan is considering issuing a corporate governance program and the consolidation of tangible and intangible resources from the public and private sectors to improve the quality of training. The JSC Holding Kasipkor, which was created to manage the vocational education system, is tipped to implement the scheme.
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