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31.05.2021 г.

Мнение
31.05.2021 г.
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The state of Kazakhstan's public education system in 2021 and how to move forward

One of the first things I noticed when I started working in semi-private Almaty High School is how little things have changed since I was a student in the USSR.

Об авторе:

Владислав Ильин

Родился в Киеве (Украина), в 1991 эмигрировал в Нью-Йорк (США). 

Образование: Социология (Pace University, NYC), второе образование - Интеграция технологий в образовании (integration of technology in education, Cambridge, United Kingdom).

Опыт работы: В диджитал области (web, crm программирование, исследования и разработка проектов (в том числе сфере экологии))  16 лет, в системе образования 5 лет (США, Таиланд, Казахстан, Китай), в проектах интеграции технологий в образовании 2 года.


One of the first things I noticed when I started working in semi-private Almaty High School is how little things have changed since I was a student in the USSR.

The same infrastructure, methodologies, and a fair portion of the staff were relics from the Soviet times. Although forty years ago these methods and technologies may have been relevant, in contemporary times they are mostly obsolete. Kazakhstan has gone a long way since it left the Soviet Union in 1991, but in education, there are major deficits that need to be addressed for the country to stay competitive in the global market, especially during the pandemic.

Since its independence, Kazakhstan's economy relied heavily on extractive industries such as gas, oil, and mining. For example, in 2009, 65% of Kazakhstan’s exports and 70% of the inflow of foreign direct investment came from this industry (OECD, 2012). If Kazakhstan could rely on extraction indefinitely, the post-industrial style of education may have been adequate, but with the crash of oil prices in 2014, it became clear that the over-reliance on extractive industries makes the nation vulnerable to global price spikes. To stay competitive in a global market Kazakhstan’s economy cannot solely rely on extraction.

Efforts to diversify the economy around transport, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, petrochemicals, and food processing, continue to stagnate because there is a lack of skilled force and innovators that aren’t being delivered by the current education system. This is reflected in the 2019 Global Competitiveness report where Kazakhstan ranked low in educational institutions, human capital, and innovation capability. The report identified some of the contributing factors being a lack of growth of innovative processes, weak research, and development, as well as, a lack of staff training, quality of vocational training, and low graduate skills (OECD/The World Bank, 2015).

A weak education system results in an inadequately educated labor force that serves as a barrier to strong economic development and economic competitiveness (Wolf, 2003). There is a consensus among economists and academics that the quality of education is tied to economic growth (Hanushek, E., & Woessmann, L. 2015, Lindahl, M., & Krueger, A. 2001, Radcliffe, B., 2012). In this regard, Kazakhstan’s educational system has repeatedly performed poorly on the international level. The 2012 PISA test results revealed that Kazakh 15-year-olds are on average two years behind their peers in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries and the nation was ranked 112 in the Global Competitiveness Report’s Quality of Education rating. The president of Satpayev Kazakh National Technical University Zheksenbek Adilov acknowledges this weakness attributing the reasons behind the low ranking are “low level of [English] proficiency and poor management of educational institutions of all levels and insufficient quality of high school graduates’ training” (Tengrinews, 2012). 

One of the major weaknesses is the school system itself. A serious issue is a lack of funding, the Kazakh government spends about 3.8% of GDP on education compared to an average of 5.6% in OECD countries  (OECD/The World Bank, 2015). The vast majority of schools (95.5%) are state-owned and are characterized by being overcrowded, underfunded, with poorly trained staff. The second factor undermining the process is the quality of the curriculum itself. In comparison to OECD countries, schools have little autonomy in Kazakhstan. The government sets forth a mandated curriculum that all public schools must follow. The national curriculum is rigid, relies mostly on memorization, and is increasingly perceived as irrelevant to the modern job market (UNICEF, 2012).

The Kazakh government is not oblivious to these issues, and reforms have been set in place that would allow Kazakhstan to transition to an educated country with a “smart economy” and a highly qualified labor force by 2020 (MESRK, 2010). The government implemented the State Program for Education Development in the Republic of Kazakhstan (SPED) to increase the competitiveness of education and the development of human capital through ensuring access to quality education for sustainable economic growth.  The report outlined the following problems:

  1. Underspending in education
  2. Low status of the teaching profession, poor quality of teacher education, lack of high-quality teaching staff and specialists in children’s rights protection, and weak educational leadership
  3. Poor infrastructure and equipment of schools
  4. Low quality of provision in small-class schools
  5. Incipient inclusive education
  6. Underdeveloped use of public-private partnerships in education
  7. Incipient use of information technologies
  8. Education statistics that do not meet international standards and are not publicly available

 

Additional challenges identified in various education levels relevant for schooling include the mismatch between education supply and employers’ demand for qualified vocational and higher education graduates, the lack of a national qualifications system, and the disconnect between the content of school education and the content of higher education (OECD/The World Bank, 2015).

The goals of SPED reflect a global trend in education around the world. For example, New Zealand has reformatted its vocational schools by working with employers to restructure the curriculum to reflect the skills needed in the contemporary job market (Bailey, 2019). Multiple renowned universities including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley partnered in the Digital Credential Consortium (Pearson, 2019), spearheading the paradigm shift from career-oriented education to life-long learning (Bailey, 2019). All over the world schools are adopting personalized learning into their classrooms (Cariker, 2019, a, b, c, d, e). New schools are being built to reflect modern learning methodologies rather than traditional teacher-centered traditional models (Harris, 2010). The unifying theme in the reformation of education is that contemporary education should move away from the traditional post-industrial model because it poorly prepares students for an uncertain and ever-changing future (Dede, 2017). 

For Kazakhstan’s economy to thrive, individuals, educators, businesses, and policymakers need to respond appropriately. “History is a reminder that investments in skills must be at the centre of any long-term strategy for adjusting to structural change (Bakhshi, et al., 2017, p 16)”. Developing 21st-century skills is the key to adapting to a rapidly changing environment(FUZE,2018). Technology changes constantly and we cannot predict what form it will take in the future. As a result, we can no longer rely on traditional employment models, where an individual can have a life-long career via honing a single set of skills. Integrating 21st-century skills into the educational model is crucial in preparing today’s students for tomorrow's jobs (Scalise, 2016; Sun & Wang, 2014). To achieve this, education needs to shift from preparing students for careers to developing skills that are transferable across a variety of roles (Dede, 2018). 

The pandemic further demonstrated how poorly prepared Kazakhstan’s schools are for the digital age. Even after a year of quarantine most schools still struggle with integrating online learning. In fact, despite SPED, little has changed since 2012, since then currently most state schools lack resources, trained teachers, and follow the same outdated national curriculum.  Kazakhstan’s aging education system is not unique in the slow adaptation to change. Historically, education has taken time to catch up with technological progress (OECD, 2018). Several variables contribute to this phenomenon. For example, teachers either resist or struggle to adapt to new technology (Thota & Negreiros, 2019; Lai & Savage, 2013). Technological implementations offer inconsistent and often conflicting results (Ilin, 2020, Henderson et al., 2015). Technology often comes with a price tag that is prohibitive. Change does not come quickly or easily, and even with the best intentions, it will be a long time before changes are implemented  on a national scale. This does not mean that the status quo must remain. By integrating 21st-century skills into the current curriculum teachers and institutions can take steps to improve the quality of education.

Initially I was not hired to teach, although I have five years of experience as a university lecturer, as I was brought to Almaty High School to implement digital learning solutions and train the staff in how to utilize technology for learning. During the quarantine, one of the 10th grade English teachers resigned and as I am a native English speaker, the school asked me to fill in for him while they searched for a replacement. While looking at the rigid and mind-numbingly boring state curriculum, I pondered how I can help my students pass their mandatory SOR/SOCH exams and at the same time prepare them for university and the modern world. I started researching what the jobs of the future may look like, what skills they may need, and what other nations have been doing. I found a body of literature centered around developing twenty-first-century skills that allow students to “contribute and benefit from an inclusive and sustainable future” (OECD, 2018, p4). Using these guidelines, I developed a low-tech, budget-friendly methodology that can be integrated into most subjects without modifying the state-regulated material. 

Before discussing the methodology, an examination of 21st-century skills is  important. The National Research Council (2012) defined 21st-century skills as “problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management (p 1)”, emphasizing the importance of applying knowledge to new situations to solve problems rather than the ability to recall facts, concepts, or procedures. One of the reasons that Kazakhstan struggles to produce innovation is that its post-industrial style of education teaches students to memorize and retain information. As Kazakhstan transitions from an extractive economy, its education system must prepare its population to employ “curiosity, imagination, resilience and self-regulation” to prepare “for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated (OECD, 2018, p 2)”. 

Bakhshi, et al. (2017) classified  careers by skills, so as  to determine which skills will be important in the next ten years. Their research highlights that interpersonal skills, higher-order cognitive skills, and systems skills are the key components of being employable in the future. Students must learn to work together, develop ideas, and debate them. In most Kazakh classrooms students are rarely encouraged to analyze problems, question ideas, or debate topics. Developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills allow for flexibility and adaptation that are essential in a changing world. 

Social and emotional competencies are among the essential 21st-century skills (OECD, 2018). Research sponsored by Microsoft and the Economist (McKay-Nesbitt, et al., 2011) predicts that emotional skills such as empathy will become more valuable in the age of AI, highlighting that although computers outperform humans in their ability to analyze data, they are still long ways away from being capable of developing human emotions and empathy (Holzapfel, 2019). The importance of emotional competency is supported by a growing body of academic research that connects developing social and emotional competencies at an early age to better academic performance and success in the future (Llorent & Gonzales-Gomez, 2020).

Technology is also at the heart of 21st-century skills. The rapid changes in technology “have taken place against the backdrop of the biggest economic change since the Industrial Revolution. Technology, automation, globalization, and an unpredictable political environment are affecting everything about our world – especially work and education” (Pearson, 2019. p 3). As technology and automation make many jobs obsolete it is important to teach students how to use tools to stay competitive in a changing marketplace. 

As previously mentioned, Kazakh public schools are required to follow government-mandated lessons, therefore to illustrate an example of how 21st-century skills can be integrated into the learning process, I will present a sample of a modified curriculum. One of the lessons covered natural disasters. Students were expected to memorize a set of words and retain this information in the past and present simple formats. Rather than following this exact protocol, I asked my students to research natural disasters that were caused by climate change and how these disasters affect Kazakhstan. They were expected to cite at least two sources. Doing research gave them agency in development of knowledge and started preparing them for the type of work they will be expected to do in university. 

Part of the assignment was to make a 2 - 5 minute video presenting their finding. Making a presentation helped them become better at public speaking and work on expressing their ideas. The video-making process helped them improve their English because they could hear their own mistakes and re-record the video until they felt it was acceptable. For the video-sharing I employed Flipgrid, a free educational platform because it works on any device and is easy to use. For many of them this was their first experience with using technology for video editing that helped some become creative with editing and others get over their fear of using tech. For each student video I left video feedback correcting their English, as well as suggesting how they could improve their presentation. 

The next lesson focused on how to find truth in the media and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of a source. I used climate science as the foundation to illustrate how some sources were more credible than others. By doing so, I aimed to promote critical thinking and highlight the importance of information analysis. For the homework video assignment students were asked to research climate solutions for Kazakhstan and propose the best solution for energy in the future. This assignment was focused on improving their problem-solving skills. As with the previous assignment, I corrected their English and  made notes of who made which points, so that during the online class I could have students with opposing ideas debate each other in order to  improve their communication skills.

From watching my colleagues live-lessons I wanted to avoid passive online sessions where teachers ask questions and students answer them. During the next live video lesson, I deliberately stirred controversy to get the students to engage in debate. The debate centered on the best energy solutions, and since some students favored wind, others solar and a few chose nuclear they were eager to defend their ideas. For the homework assignment, I asked students to watch their fellow classmates videos and create video feedback debating one or more of their points. By doing so I hoped that the students would get to know their classmates that they do not normally chat with, hone their English listening skills, and practice academic debate.

Hopefully, this brief demonstration showcases how  21st-century skills can be integrated into the existing curriculum. The students learned the required set of words and how to use them in the past and present simple formats required for the SOR/SOCHI exams. At the same time, they developed 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and self-management. They were introduced to academic research and developed interpersonal skills through debate. Through video production, they were introduced to new technology and as the result, many started looking into making videos with more sophisticated tools. 

The integration of 21-century skills into the Kazakhstan curriculum has not been formally quantitatively analyzed, it remains to be a promising solution to a problem which has yet to be solved. Further research will be done into the effectiveness of the changes. It is important to note that the motivation to learn and the level of English significantly improved in most students over the course of six months. However, not all students immediately embraced the new methodology with ease. Initially, there was pushback and some individuals outright refused to make videos. It was during the next quarter after many saw the improvement in their classmates' fluency that the majority embraced the process. 

Kazakhstan has a long way to go until the education system meets the challenges of the 21-century and post-industrial economy. The government realizes that a major shift in education is required to supply a workforce that will drive an innovation-based sector. Yet change in the educational paradigm on a national scale is historically slow and cumbersome. The proposed solution is a low-tech, budget-friendly methodology that is centered on the integration of 21-century skills into the existing curriculum. The approach required a change in pedagogy, that although challenging, is more immediate and achievable than rewriting the national curriculum. 


REFERENCES

Bailey, S. (Host). (2017, August 12). Educating for 21st-century skills [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://theedtechpodcast.com/78-educating-for-21st-century-skills/

Bailey, S. (Host). (2019, December 4). On Vocational Reform in New Zealand with Shaun Gear, MOE. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from  https://theedtechpodcast.com/175-on-vocational-reform-in-new-zealand-with-shaun-gear-moe/

Bailey, S. (Host). (2019, November 18). Investment in Lifelong Learning. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from: https://theedtechpodcast.com/172-investment-in-lifelong-learning/

Bakhshi, H., Downing, J., Osborne, M. and Schneider, P. (2017). The future of skills: Employment in 2030. London: Pearson and Nesta. Retrieved from: https://futureskills.pearson.com/research/assets/pdfs/technical-report.pdf

Cariker, M (2019). The Future of Personalized Learning: Individual Learning Plans and Competency-Based Education. Retrieved from https://edtechtimes.com/2019/05/20/personalized-learning-individual-learning-plans/

Cariker, M (2019, May 20, e).  Personalized Learning #6: Individual Learning Plans and Competency-Based Education. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from: https://soundcloud.com/edtech-times/personalized-learning-6-individual-learning-plans-and-competency-based-education

Cariker, M (2019, April 22, d).  Personalized Learning #5: Finding Ways to Bring Equity Through Personalized Learning. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/edtech-times/personalized-learning-5-finding-ways-to-bring-equity-through-personalized-learning

Cariker, M (2019, April 3, c).  Personalized Learning #4: Professional Development And Networks For Teacher Support. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/edtech-times/personalized-learning-4-professional-development-and-networks-for-teacher-support

Cariker, M (2019, March 22, b).  Personalized Learning #3: How to Help Teachers When Redesigning Systems for Personalized Learning. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/edtech-times/alex-lucini-sd-edit-full-031319

Cariker, M (2019, March 16, a).  Personalized Learning #2: How Rhode Island Is Leading The Way On Personalized Learning. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/edtech-times/episode-2-rhode-island-leading-the-way-on-student-centered-personalized-learning-final-031219

Cariker, M (2019, March 7).  Personalized Learning #1: Student-Centered, Personalized Learning in Policy and Practice. [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/edtech-times/episode-1-personalized-learning-joel-rose-roberto-rodriguez

Dede, C. (2017). Students must be prepared to reinvent themselves. Commentary. Ed Week. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2017/12/13/students-must-be-prepared-to-reinvent-themselves.html?cmp=eml-enl-eu-news1&M=58307760&U=120311

Dede, C. (2018). The 60 Year Curriculum: Developing New Educational Models to Serve the Agile Labor Market. Commentary. The EvoLLLution. Retrieved from: https://evolllution.com/revenue-streams/professional_development/the-60-year-curriculum-developing-new-educational-models-to-serve-the-agile-labor-market/

FUZE (2018). Workforce Futures: The role of people in the future of work. [online] Retrieved from: https://www.fuze.com/files/documents/Fuze-WorkforceFutures.pdf

Hanushek, E. A., & Woessmann, L. (2015). The knowledge capital of nations: Education and the economics of growth. MIT press.

Harris, S. (2010, August). The place of virtual, pedagogic and physical space in the 21st-century classroom. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Information Communication Technologies in Education. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.231.7896&rep=rep1&type=pdf

Henderson, M., Selwyn, N., Finger, G., & Aston, R. (2015). Students’ everyday engagement with digital technology in university: exploring patterns of use and ‘usefulness.’ Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 37(3), 308–319. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360080X.2015.1034424

Holzapfel, B. (2019). Emotion and cognition in the age of AI: New research from Microsoft Education and The Economist Intelligence Unit. Microsoft EDU.

Ilin, V. (2020). The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
. A Broad look at the Adaptation of Technology in Education. The International Education and Learning Review, 2(1), 31 - 44. Retrieved from https://journals.eagora.org/EDUrev/article/view/2306

Lai, A., & Savage, P. (2013). Learning management systems and principles of good teaching: Instructor and student perspectives. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology/La revue Canadienne de l’apprentissage et de la Technologie, 39(3).

Lindahl, M., & Krueger, A. B. (2001). Education for growth: Why and for whom?. Journal of Economic Literature, 39(4), 1101-1136.

LLORENT, V. J., GONZÁLEZ-GÓMEZ, A., FARRINGTON, D. P. & ZYCH, I. (2020). Social and emotional competencies and empathy as predictors of literacy competence. Psicothema 32(1), 47-53. doi: https://doi.org/10.7334/psicothema2019.106 (JCR-Q2).

McKay-Nesbitt, J., Manchanda, R. V., Smith, M. C., & Huhmann, B. A. (2011). Effects of age, need for cognition, and affective intensity on advertising effectiveness. Journal of Business Research, 64(1), 12-17.

National Research Council. (2012). Education for life and work: Developing transferable knowledge and skills in the 21st-century. National Academies Press.

OECD (2012), OECD Investment Policy Reviews: Kazakhstan 2012, OECD Publishing, Paris, http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264121812-en.

OECD/The World Bank (2015), “School education in Kazakhstan”, in OECD Reviews of School Resources:

Kazakhstan 2015, OECD Publishing, Paris. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264245891-5-en

OECD (2018). The future of education and skills: Education 2030. Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/education/2030/E2030%20Position%20Paper%20(05.04.2018).pdf

Pearson. (2019). Opportunity for higher education in the era of the talent economy. London: Pearson. Retrieved from: https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/one-dot-com/one-dot-com/global/Files/news/gls/Opportunity_for_HE_Sept2019.pdf

Radcliffe, B. (2012). How education and training affect the economy.  Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/articles/economics/09/education-training-advantages.asp

Scalise, K. (2016). Student collaboration and school educational technology: Technology integration practices in the classroom. I-Manager’s Journal on School Educational Technology, 11(4), 53. https://doi.org/10.26634/jsch.11.4.6012

Sun, J., & Wang, Y. (2014). Tool choice for e-learning: Task-technology fit through media synchronicity. Information Systems Education Journal, 12(4), 17.

Tengrinews (2012). Kazakhstan is ranked 112 in Quality of Education Rating.  Retrieved from https://en.tengrinews.kz/edu/kazakhstan-is-ranked-112-in-quality-of-education-rating-9469/

Thota, N., & Negreiros, J. G. (2015). Introducing educational technologies to teachers: An experience report. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 12(1), 5.

UNICEF (2012), Developing and piloting the methodology for a per capita financing scheme in general secondary education in Kazakhstan and piloting the proposed model, UNICEF, Astana. Retrieved from unicef.org

Wolf, A. (2002). Does education matter?: Myths about education and economic growth. Penguin UK.

Об авторе:

Владислав Ильин

Родился в Киеве (Украина), в 1991 эмигрировал в Нью-Йорк (США). 

Образование: Социология (Pace University, NYC), второе образование - Интеграция технологий в образовании (integration of technology in education, Cambridge, United Kingdom).

Опыт работы: В диджитал области (web, crm программирование, исследования и разработка проектов (в том числе сфере экологии))  16 лет, в системе образования 5 лет (США, Таиланд, Казахстан, Китай), в проектах интеграции технологий в образовании 2 года.

One of the first things I noticed when I started working in semi-private Almaty High School is how little things have changed since I was a student in the USSR.

The same infrastructure, methodologies, and a fair portion of the staff were relics from the Soviet times. Although forty years ago these methods and technologies may have been relevant, in contemporary times they are mostly obsolete. Kazakhstan has gone a long way since it left the Soviet Union in 1991, but in education, there are major deficits that need to be addressed for the country to stay competitive in the global market, especially during the pandemic.

Since its independence, Kazakhstan's economy relied heavily on extractive industries such as gas, oil, and mining. For example, in 2009, 65% of Kazakhstan’s exports and 70% of the inflow of foreign direct investment came from this industry (OECD, 2012). If Kazakhstan could rely on extraction indefinitely, the post-industrial style of education may have been adequate, but with the crash of oil prices in 2014, it became clear that the over-reliance on extractive industries makes the nation vulnerable to global price spikes. To stay competitive in a global market Kazakhstan’s economy cannot solely rely on extraction.

Efforts to diversify the economy around transport, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, petrochemicals, and food processing, continue to stagnate because there is a lack of skilled force and innovators that aren’t being delivered by the current education system. This is reflected in the 2019 Global Competitiveness report where Kazakhstan ranked low in educational institutions, human capital, and innovation capability. The report identified some of the contributing factors being a lack of growth of innovative processes, weak research, and development, as well as, a lack of staff training, quality of vocational training, and low graduate skills (OECD/The World Bank, 2015).

A weak education system results in an inadequately educated labor force that serves as a barrier to strong economic development and economic competitiveness (Wolf, 2003). There is a consensus among economists and academics that the quality of education is tied to economic growth (Hanushek, E., & Woessmann, L. 2015, Lindahl, M., & Krueger, A. 2001, Radcliffe, B., 2012). In this regard, Kazakhstan’s educational system has repeatedly performed poorly on the international level. The 2012 PISA test results revealed that Kazakh 15-year-olds are on average two years behind their peers in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries and the nation was ranked 112 in the Global Competitiveness Report’s Quality of Education rating. The president of Satpayev Kazakh National Technical University Zheksenbek Adilov acknowledges this weakness attributing the reasons behind the low ranking are “low level of [English] proficiency and poor management of educational institutions of all levels and insufficient quality of high school graduates’ training” (Tengrinews, 2012). 

One of the major weaknesses is the school system itself. A serious issue is a lack of funding, the Kazakh government spends about 3.8% of GDP on education compared to an average of 5.6% in OECD countries  (OECD/The World Bank, 2015). The vast majority of schools (95.5%) are state-owned and are characterized by being overcrowded, underfunded, with poorly trained staff. The second factor undermining the process is the quality of the curriculum itself. In comparison to OECD countries, schools have little autonomy in Kazakhstan. The government sets forth a mandated curriculum that all public schools must follow. The national curriculum is rigid, relies mostly on memorization, and is increasingly perceived as irrelevant to the modern job market (UNICEF, 2012).

The Kazakh government is not oblivious to these issues, and reforms have been set in place that would allow Kazakhstan to transition to an educated country with a “smart economy” and a highly qualified labor force by 2020 (MESRK, 2010). The government implemented the State Program for Education Development in the Republic of Kazakhstan (SPED) to increase the competitiveness of education and the development of human capital through ensuring access to quality education for sustainable economic growth.  The report outlined the following problems:

Underspending in education

Low status of the teaching profession, poor quality of teacher education, lack of high-quality teaching staff and specialists in children’s rights protection, and weak educational leadership

Poor infrastructure and equipment of schools

Low quality of provision in small-class schools

Incipient inclusive education

Underdeveloped use of public-private partnerships in education

Incipient use of information technologies

Education statistics that do not meet international standards and are not publicly available

Additional challenges identified in various education levels relevant for schooling include the mismatch between education supply and employers’ demand for qualified vocational and higher education graduates, the lack of a national qualifications system, and the disconnect between the content of school education and the content of higher education (OECD/The World Bank, 2015).

The goals of SPED reflect a global trend in education around the world. For example, New Zealand has reformatted its vocational schools by working with employers to restructure the curriculum to reflect the skills needed in the contemporary job market (Bailey, 2019). Multiple renowned universities including MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley partnered in the Digital Credential Consortium (Pearson, 2019), spearheading the paradigm shift from career-oriented education to life-long learning (Bailey, 2019). All over the world schools are adopting personalized learning into their classrooms (Cariker, 2019, a, b, c, d, e). New schools are being built to reflect modern learning methodologies rather than traditional teacher-centered traditional models (Harris, 2010). The unifying theme in the reformation of education is that contemporary education should move away from the traditional post-industrial model because it poorly prepares students for an uncertain and ever-changing future (Dede, 2017). 

For Kazakhstan’s economy to thrive, individuals, educators, businesses, and policymakers need to respond appropriately. “History is a reminder that investments in skills must be at the centre of any long-term strategy for adjusting to structural change (Bakhshi, et al., 2017, p 16)”. Developing 21st-century skills is the key to adapting to a rapidly changing environment(FUZE,2018). Technology changes constantly and we cannot predict what form it will take in the future. As a result, we can no longer rely on traditional employment models, where an individual can have a life-long career via honing a single set of skills. Integrating 21st-century skills into the educational model is crucial in preparing today’s students for tomorrow's jobs (Scalise, 2016; Sun & Wang, 2014). To achieve this, education needs to shift from preparing students for careers to developing skills that are transferable across a variety of roles (Dede, 2018). 

The pandemic further demonstrated how poorly prepared Kazakhstan’s schools are for the digital age. Even after a year of quarantine most schools still struggle with integrating online learning. In fact, despite SPED, little has changed since 2012, since then currently most state schools lack resources, trained teachers, and follow the same outdated national curriculum.  Kazakhstan’s aging education system is not unique in the slow adaptation to change. Historically, education has taken time to catch up with technological progress (OECD, 2018). Several variables contribute to this phenomenon. For example, teachers either resist or struggle to adapt to new technology (Thota & Negreiros, 2019; Lai & Savage, 2013). Technological implementations offer inconsistent and often conflicting results (Ilin, 2020, Henderson et al., 2015). Technology often comes with a price tag that is prohibitive. Change does not come quickly or easily, and even with the best intentions, it will be a long time before changes are implemented  on a national scale. This does not mean that the status quo must remain. By integrating 21st-century skills into the current curriculum teachers and institutions can take steps to improve the quality of education.

Initially I was not hired to teach, although I have five years of experience as a university lecturer, as I was brought to Almaty High School to implement digital learning solutions and train the staff in how to utilize technology for learning. During the quarantine, one of the 10th grade English teachers resigned and as I am a native English speaker, the school asked me to fill in for him while they searched for a replacement. While looking at the rigid and mind-numbingly boring state curriculum, I pondered how I can help my students pass their mandatory SOR/SOCH exams and at the same time prepare them for university and the modern world. I started researching what the jobs of the future may look like, what skills they may need, and what other nations have been doing. I found a body of literature centered around developing twenty-first-century skills that allow students to “contribute and benefit from an inclusive and sustainable future” (OECD, 2018, p4). Using these guidelines, I developed a low-tech, budget-friendly methodology that can be integrated into most subjects without modifying the state-regulated material. 

Before discussing the methodology, an examination of 21st-century skills is  important. The National Research Council (2012) defined 21st-century skills as “problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and self-management (p 1)”, emphasizing the importance of applying knowledge to new situations to solve problems rather than the ability to recall facts, concepts, or procedures. One of the reasons that Kazakhstan struggles to produce innovation is that its post-industrial style of education teaches students to memorize and retain information. As Kazakhstan transitions from an extractive economy, its education system must prepare its population to employ “curiosity, imagination, resilience and self-regulation” to prepare “for jobs that have not yet been created, for technologies that have not yet been invented, to solve problems that have not yet been anticipated (OECD, 2018, p 2)”. 

Bakhshi, et al. (2017) classified  careers by skills, so as  to determine which skills will be important in the next ten years. Their research highlights that interpersonal skills, higher-order cognitive skills, and systems skills are the key components of being employable in the future. Students must learn to work together, develop ideas, and debate them. In most Kazakh classrooms students are rarely encouraged to analyze problems, question ideas, or debate topics. Developing interpersonal and intrapersonal skills allow for flexibility and adaptation that are essential in a changing world. 

Social and emotional competencies are among the essential 21st-century skills (OECD, 2018). Research sponsored by Microsoft and the Economist (McKay-Nesbitt, et al., 2011) predicts that emotional skills such as empathy will become more valuable in the age of AI, highlighting that although computers outperform humans in their ability to analyze data, they are still long ways away from being capable of developing human emotions and empathy (Holzapfel, 2019). The importance of emotional competency is supported by a growing body of academic research that connects developing social and emotional competencies at an early age to better academic performance and success in the future (Llorent & Gonzales-Gomez, 2020).

Technology is also at the heart of 21st-century skills. The rapid changes in technology “have taken place against the backdrop of the biggest economic change since the Industrial Revolution. Technology, automation, globalization, and an unpredictable political environment are affecting everything about our world – especially work and education” (Pearson, 2019. p 3). As technology and automation make many jobs obsolete it is important to teach students how to use tools to stay competitive in a changing marketplace. 

As previously mentioned, Kazakh public schools are required to follow government-mandated lessons, therefore to illustrate an example of how 21st-century skills can be integrated into the learning process, I will present a sample of a modified curriculum. One of the lessons covered natural disasters. Students were expected to memorize a set of words and retain this information in the past and present simple formats. Rather than following this exact protocol, I asked my students to research natural disasters that were caused by climate change and how these disasters affect Kazakhstan. They were expected to cite at least two sources. Doing research gave them agency in development of knowledge and started preparing them for the type of work they will be expected to do in university. 

Part of the assignment was to make a 2 - 5 minute video presenting their finding. Making a presentation helped them become better at public speaking and work on expressing their ideas. The video-making process helped them improve their English because they could hear their own mistakes and re-record the video until they felt it was acceptable. For the video-sharing I employed Flipgrid, a free educational platform because it works on any device and is easy to use. For many of them this was their first experience with using technology for video editing that helped some become creative with editing and others get over their fear of using tech. For each student video I left video feedback correcting their English, as well as suggesting how they could improve their presentation. 

The next lesson focused on how to find truth in the media and how to evaluate the trustworthiness of a source. I used climate science as the foundation to illustrate how some sources were more credible than others. By doing so, I aimed to promote critical thinking and highlight the importance of information analysis. For the homework video assignment students were asked to research climate solutions for Kazakhstan and propose the best solution for energy in the future. This assignment was focused on improving their problem-solving skills. As with the previous assignment, I corrected their English and  made notes of who made which points, so that during the online class I could have students with opposing ideas debate each other in order to  improve their communication skills.

From watching my colleagues live-lessons I wanted to avoid passive online sessions where teachers ask questions and students answer them. During the next live video lesson, I deliberately stirred controversy to get the students to engage in debate. The debate centered on the best energy solutions, and since some students favored wind, others solar and a few chose nuclear they were eager to defend their ideas. For the homework assignment, I asked students to watch their fellow classmates videos and create video feedback debating one or more of their points. By doing so I hoped that the students would get to know their classmates that they do not normally chat with, hone their English listening skills, and practice academic debate.

Hopefully, this brief demonstration showcases how  21st-century skills can be integrated into the existing curriculum. The students learned the required set of words and how to use them in the past and present simple formats required for the SOR/SOCHI exams. At the same time, they developed 21st-century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, and self-management. They were introduced to academic research and developed interpersonal skills through debate. Through video production, they were introduced to new technology and as the result, many started looking into making videos with more sophisticated tools. 

The integration of 21-century skills into the Kazakhstan curriculum has not been formally quantitatively analyzed, it remains to be a promising solution to a problem which has yet to be solved. Further research will be done into the effectiveness of the changes. It is important to note that the motivation to learn and the level of English significantly improved in most students over the course of six months. However, not all students immediately embraced the new methodology with ease. Initially, there was pushback and some individuals outright refused to make videos. It was during the next quarter after many saw the improvement in their classmates' fluency that the majority embraced the process. 

Kazakhstan has a long way to go until the education system meets the challenges of the 21-century and post-industrial economy. The government realizes that a major shift in education is required to supply a workforce that will drive an innovation-based sector. Yet change in the educational paradigm on a national scale is historically slow and cumbersome. The proposed solution is a low-tech, budget-friendly methodology that is centered on the integration of 21-century skills into the existing curriculum. The approach required a change in pedagogy, that although challenging, is more immediate and achievable than rewriting the national curriculum. 

REFERENCES

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Автор статьи: Vlad Ilin
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