Kazakhstan has one of the fastest growing economies in the region of Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS). A number of economic, social and political reforms have contributed to improving the quality of life in Kazakhstan and to laying the foun- dation for an education system that aims to keep stride with those of its neighbors in the EU.
In education, many reforms have taken place to improve the status, quality and structure of schooling. Some of the most notable are as follows:
- Total state expenditure on education increased in 2005 to about 3%, which is an improvement over the 2006 allocation of 2.5%. However, this remains among the lowest in the CEE/CIS region and the second lowest in Central Asia after Tajikistan.
- A revised version of the Law on Education was adopted in 2007. The new law aims at developing a competitive education structure and improving national regulatory systems in education.
- As part of the new education legislation, compulsory schooling was increased to 12 years, vocational training systems were restructured, a three-stage model of higher graduate and post graduate education was established and plans for development of a national system of quality assessment were made.
- The government approved an Integrated National Program on Healthy Life Promotion for 2008-2017, which provides for the expansion of youth friendly services and incorporation of life skills in the secondary school curriculum. The life skills curriculum was piloted and is now ready to be introduced into the national curriculum.
- Indicators were developed to assess the quality of the Child Friendly Schools.
- On September 1, 2008, the government opened 80 new schools and is set to open 245 new schools over the next five years.
- In 2007, the government developed state wide standards for education.
Access to primary and secondary education is high in Kazakhstan. In 2005, the net enrolment rate (NER) was 81% with a net attendance ratio of 98%, as reported by MICS 2015. In secondary school the NER is 92% with a net attendance ratio of 95%, as reported by MICS 2016. About 9,000 children remain out of school, which is the lowest figure in the region.
Participation in early childhood education is significantly lower. Only 33% of children are enrolled in preschool, yet this remains above the average for Central Asia. During Soviet times, access to early childhood care and education (ECCE) was high because the government wanted to create incentives for all parents to work. Although during Soviet times, access to ECCE in what are now the Central Asian states was lower than elsewhere in the Soviet Union, it was still fairly widespread. Today more than 95% of the pre-schools in ser- vice are state run, indicating that the access to pre-school that exists may well be leftover from the Soviet days. Yet Kazakhstan’s low pre-school coverage ‘means fewer children have access to school meals, health checks and immunisations during their early years and that fewer children are ‘school-ready’ at the start of primary school. Additionally, low pre-school attendance rates in- crease the risk that children’s disabilities and special learning needs will not be identified before starting primary school.
Parity across genders, regions and income levels in terms of educational access is generally very high in Kazakhstan all the way through secondary school, which echoes the Soviet system. In primary school, there is less than one percentage point difference in attendance ratios between boys and girls, between children living in rural and urban areas and between the highest and lowest income brackets. In secondary school, these trends continue except for children from the lowest income bracket. A small gap appears between children from the richest and the poorest income brackets, with the poorest children being less likely to attend by 2.7 percentage points.
There is serious concern in Kazakhstan about the access to education for children with special needs, whom are estimated to number about 153,000, which is most likely an underestimate. Thus far, children with disabilities have largely not been mainstreamed in the public education system be- cause of varying factors. First, because of low pre-school enrolment rates, many children’s special needs go undiagnosed or unnoticed until primary school. Second, there is a severe lack of services to address disabilities before or during schools; there are very few education professionals trained to work with children with disabilities, technol- ogy is not available to schools to support children with special needs, and medical services are not available for children with severe developmental problems. Lastly, there are no legislative systems to insist that special needs children be included in the public education system nor are there any reg- ulatory processes to hold the system accountable.
While Kazakhstan has made progress in maintaining a low student-teacher ratio – currently 11:1 – many obstacles still remain with regard to education quality. The major challenges facing Kazakhstan are in the area of learning outcomes and school quality.
Evidence of learning outcomes in Kazakhstan is extremely limited. The Monitoring Learning As- sessments (MLA) survey, which was conducted in 2005 with confirmed methodological flaws, is one of the only available measures of the outputs of the country’s school system. The results show that about 75% of students show proficiency on the standards set by the assessment in both literacy and mathematics. However, students in rural areas perform significantly worse than students in urban areas, which reinforces the known problems of poor teacher quality in the rural areas. Furthermore, students attending Russian language schools out perform students attending Kazakh schools.
Teachers, who are central to improving learning outcomes, are underpaid and overworked in Ka- zakhstan. Education sector salaries make up only 60% of the average national wage, which is the third lowest proportion in the region (for countries where data was available). Moreover, teachers’ salaries, as a proportion of the average national wage, have actually decreased since 1993, when education sector wages were about 63%. With increasingly poor working condi- tions, little in-service support and salaries that are declining in value, teachers have little incentive to invest themselves in improving students’ learning outcomes
The major challenges with regard to quality are as follows:
- There is a shortage of schools in Kazakhstan.
- Crumbling Soviet school infrastructure due to poor maintenance leaves many schools unusable. Additionally, poor heating and sanitation facilities make still more schools unsafe for classes. The poor state of school infrastructure impedes access to education but also the quality of learning. When the government is spend- ing the bulk of its resources on repairing school buildings, spending on learning materials suffers.
- While compulsory education is free by law, in practice parents and communities often bare a portion of the cost of schooling, through text books, supplies, school fees, school meals and, in some cases, school maintenance.
- There is need for a restructuring of the country’s monitoring and evaluation system so that concrete information is available on the systems learning outcomes.
- There is a shortage of trained teachers, especially in the remote areas where city-trained teachers are unwilling to work.
- There is a challenge of updating the curriculum and instructional materials, which largely date from the Soviet period.
- There is need to establish a concrete set of uniform standards to maintain accountability and equality across school districts.
- Dropout rates are thought to be on the rise as the national curriculum is increasingly seen as irrelevant to the modern job market, although official numbers are not available.
- Education Financing
- Increase teachers’ salaries to at least match thefrom vulnerable families and in rural areas;
- Develop a new and inclusive national curriculum that provides for the implementation of a comprehensive strategy for the inclusion ofchildren with special needs.
- Attract new young education specialists to casource gap;
- Monitor the standardization of schools and enforce compliance of national standards across all school types, especially in rural areas.
- reers in the MoE to fill a widening human re-special needs children;
- Increase access to ECCE and primary school for average national wage;
- Increase access to ECCE, especially for students
- The following are priorities for educational improvement in Kazakhstan:
- Increase the percentage of GDP spent on education;
Kazakhstan spends just over 3% of its total expen- diture on education, which is the fifth lowest level in the region. Little information is available about the breakdown of that spending. Kazakhstan’s ex-penditure on education has increased since 2005 after experiencing an extreme drop to almost 2% in the late nineties. However, spending levels are not where they should be considering that Kazakhstan’s wealth rivals governments in Central Europe, which spend about twice the amount on education.
The report is prepared by CIPDH Inspector
Mrs. NAUMAN Yuliya.
13 May 2017.