On May 27, Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev proposed a major reshuffle of the nation’s education system as he chaired the third meeting of the National Council of Public Trust focusing on the development of human capital in Kazakhstan.
The 44-member council was established in July 2019 to tackle some of the country’s most acute issues. The first meeting was held in September of 2019 and the second took place in December.
As human capital becomes increasingly important worldwide, Kazakhstan, said Tokayev, is substantially behind developed countries in their international student assessments, and the key reason explaining the country’s relative position to others in the world is “insufficient funds allocated to education and lack of systematic and well-thought-out reforms in this extremely important area.”
“In terms of the insufficiency of funds allocated for education, obviously there are reasons behind it. As people say, we should live within our means. But on average, we spend less than US$1,000 a year per student, while the top ten countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranking spend between US$10,000 to US$14,000 on one student,” said Tokayev.
Kazakhstan’s Education System Needs Reforms
School infrastructure that meets modern standards and that is well-equipped ensures that the quality of learning will be good as well. A Kazakh school, said Tokayev, needs well-equipped and less packed classes, as one of the major issues the country is facing is its overcrowded schools some of which have to work in three shifts to handle the tremendous flow of kids.
To address this pressing issue, Kazakhstan plans to build 800 new schools with more than 650,000 places, 114 boarding schools that will support rural schools, and more than 700 gyms and in doing so, Tokayev urged the government to focus on public-private partnerships, along with budget funding, in a coordinated effort to increase the attractiveness of investing in education.
The gap between urban and rural areas remains high, nearly 1.5 years, said Tokayev referring to the results from the PISA and stressed socioeconomic status should not affect one’s access to quality education.
To reduce the gap, rural areas need quality staff, but not many specialists are eager to move to teach kids in rural areas, despite the national program “Degrees to Villages” that offers financial and social incentives for doing so.
“Currently, in the villages, one teacher teaches three or four subjects. Children of different ages should learn together in one class. The remuneration system of rural teachers does not take this into account, therefore, this situation needs to be gradually solved,” said Tokayev.
Teachers need support and respect, said Tokayev, commenting on a two-fold pay raise for teachers that passed last year. During the meeting, he also said that salaries for university professors would be increased.
To motivate citizens to study for a pedagogical degree, the scholarship will be increased from 26,000 tenge (US$63) to 42,000 tenge (US$102).
“I support the proposal that all our universities be conditionally divided into so-called leagues, similar to football. So, for example, the first, second and third leagues, will all compete with one another. Competition in education, economy or any other sphere is a factor that drives progress,” said Tokayev.
Pre-primary education, which is expected to cover 100 percent of kids between three to six years old, should also be improved.
The pandemic and lockdown measures forced the country to adopt distance learning, said Tokayev.
“Similar crises can happen again in the future. Therefore, distance learning should be defined at both the legislative and at the methodological and organizational levels. Electronic textbooks are one of the most important tools in the transition to distance learning and the Ministry of Education and Science should prepare a plan for the gradual digitization of textbooks,” said the Kazakh President.
As millions of kids switched to distance learning, what Kazakhstan faced is similar to what countries worldwide experienced during the shift, said council member and well-known public figure Murat Abenov.
“What we noticed is that countries with a high level of secondary education showed strong results in fighting the pandemic. Countries like China, Singapore, South Korea, Finland, and Estonia rank high (in education), and they were also quite good at handling the pandemic. Countries that spend more on education, rather than healthcare, end up overcoming the difficulties better,” said Murat Abenov, stressing the country’s big potential.
Bright minds leaving the country, more commonly known as brain drain, is common in Kazakhstan, and though there could be multiple factors motivating young people to go abroad, Tokayev believes lack of competitiveness in the country’s higher education system might be among them.
“In this regard, we decided to increase the average cost of educational grants from 340,000 tenge (US$825) to 420,000 tenge (US$1,019) to one million tenge (US$2,425),” he said.
Kazakhstan’s ten universities should enter the world’s top rankings by 2025.
“For this, it is necessary to develop double degree programs, various forms of external and internal academic mobility for students and university professors. It is important to open branches of leading foreign universities in Kazakhstan’s universities. Centers of excellence should be opened in ten universities. We need to build at least 90,000 rooms in dormitories to ensure a safe and comfortable life for students,” said Tokayev.
Pandemic After Effects
“Coronavirus has changed the way we work. Our country has passed the peak of the pandemic, but the fight against the epidemic is not over yet. This pandemic is very dangerous,” said Tokayev.
“In this regard, fundamental changes are expected in the civil service and in all spheres of public life. The pandemic was a great test for our country. The people of Kazakhstan have never been afraid of difficulties. And this time we have demonstrated our unity,” he said.
Tokayev also brought up the laws on elections and political parties that he recently signed, which includes reducing the threshold for registering political parties from 40,000 to 20,000 members, and introducing a 30 percent quota for women and youth in the country’s Parliament and local executive bodies. This, he hopes, will “contribute to the development of social and political relations in a democratic way.”