The first days of September are very important for children and parents around the world. It is the time when the new school year begins for millions of pupils. There will be excitement for many at seeing their friends again and a few tears as well for parents as they see their children starting school for the first time. All these emotions will also be on display in Kazakhstan – a country where education and children have always had a special priority.
From our earliest days as an independent country, education of our children and young people has been seen as critical for our success. This remains the case today through increased investment and reform.
Pupils this term will be learning in 13 new schools built under the Nurly Zhol state programme. Eight new kindergartens are also opening their doors for the first time to help give our youngest children the best possible start in life.
Kazakhstan is also continuing to witness important reforms to our education system aimed at ensuring our young people are prepared for the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. Not all these reforms are without controversy.
Among those which has caused concern is the introduction of the trilingual education model in the 2017-2018 academic year which will see pupils from the fifth grade studying and being taught in English five times each week. Teachers have been given training to ensure that they can teach subjects like history, geography, chemistry and physics in English.
There is no doubt that this is a radical reform and it is understandable why some parents are resistant. But it will help give our young people a solid knowledge of what has now become the world’s main international language. Around one billion people are estimated to speak English either as a native speaker or additional language.
If Kazakhstan is to continue to develop its global economic, business and cultural ties, it is essential that our future generations are able to communicate freely in English. Not only will it improve their career prospects, but will also benefit our country as a whole, as Kazakhstan will be able to attract more foreign investors, businesses and tourists.
This is, of course, why Bolashak Scholarship Programme was initiated by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1993. The decision to support the most talented Kazakhs in pursuing higher education at leading universities around the world was seen as a bold, even radical step. But it has paid off not only for the young people themselves, but for our country. Since the programme began, more than 6,500 students have been awarded the scholarship, with most choosing to study in the United States and the United Kingdom. As well as receiving a top-class education, the students return to Kazakhstan speaking fluently in English with new and creative ideas on how to improve our nation.
Kazakhstan has also worked hard to improve its own universities. Nazarbayev University, established in 2010, is the flagship of our national education. It is also the only university in Astana where everything is taught in English. Thanks to its principles of autonomy and academic freedom, it is one of the few universities in Central Asia that reaches international academic standards.
There is, of course, still room for improvement in Kazakhstan’s education system. No major reforms can take place overnight. For example, as was stated by Minster of Education and Science Yerlan Sagadiyev, it will take schools in Kazakhstan four years starting from this September to adopt the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries’ education system. But Kazakhstan is already reaping the benefits of its reforms. Earlier this summer, a student from Kazakhstan took first place at the International Mathematical Olympiad, beating the best students from the U.S., France, China, Russia and other countries.
It is not only our young people who are continuing to learn. As our schoolchildren and students begin a new academic year, our government will also continue to study how best to develop and improve Kazakhstan’s education system. There is, as teachers might say about a pupil, more to do but there is plenty of reason for confidence in the future.