Kazakhstan schools to be introduced to academic autonomy in stages — Aimagambetov

At a regular Government session, chaired by Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov, the Concept of Education Development for 2022-2026 was approved. Reports on this topic were made by the Ministers of Education Askhat Aimagambetov, Science and Higher Education Sayasat Nurbek, Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Bagdat Mussin.

Minister of Education Askhat Aimagambetov pointed out in his report that the Concept of Education Development until 2026 is developed in accordance with the priorities defined in strategic and policy documents and instructions of the Head of State. Development of the Concept was preceded by various international research and analyses, discussions with experts and educators.

According to the Minister, the document includes 6 directions, 17 target indicators and 109 activities in the areas of activities of the Ministry of Education.

Talking about the main objectives of the Concept, the Minister, first of all, focused on the issues of early childhood development.

"An important level of education is the preschool. According to studies, kindergartens influence intellectual, social, emotional and physiological development of children. In this connection, a new model of pre-school education and training is being introduced in kindergartens. Teaching methods are changing. This may be said to be the biggest change in pre-school education and training since independence," Aimagambetov said.

While pre-schoolers previously had to do 20 minutes of homework, he said, taking into account international experience, education and learning will now take place through play.

Play is a natural activity suited to a child's soul and body. In this way, all conditions for the child's holistic development will be created. This is a healthy, sociable, independent, physically active child with numeracy and reading skills.

The Minister further elaborated on issues of accessibility and quality of kindergartens.

According to him, to provide children from 2 to 6 years old with pre-school education, work on commissioning and opening of pre-school organizations, as well as placement of state order in private kindergartens will continue.

"By order of the President, the workload of teachers will be reduced and their salaries will be increased. Work on professional development and certification of teachers will continue. Additional measures will be taken to ensure the safety of children," Aimagambetov reported.

Turning to secondary education system issues, the Minister said that the content and quality of education are the most topical issues of secondary education.

According to him, from 2016 to 2021 all schools have switched to an updated content in secondary education. A criterion-based assessment system has been introduced.

However, monitoring studies have shown that the curricula for certain subjects need to be improved. Working groups have been set up and new state standards and curricula are being prepared.

Schools will gradually be granted academic autonomy.

"An external independent evaluation of the quality of education will be introduced. The school attestation system will shift from a repressive content to a diagnostic one. Work will be done to have the results of the final assessment in schools recognized at the international level," Aimagambetov said.

The Head of State commissioned implementation of the "Comfortable School" national project.

Concerning the shortage of students' places, the Minister pointed out that more than 800,000 places will be built by the end of 2025 within the national project to solve the problem of three-shift and emergency schools.

"It is planned to apply a single standard of construction and equipment for new schools. Next year construction of schools will start in an amount we haven't had before. For instance, next year we plan to start construction of 20 new schools in Almaty alone and by 2024 80 thousand places will be opened in Almaty and the problem will be completely solved," Aimagambetov said.

The same plans are envisaged for Astana, he said.

Digitalisation of services in education

With regard to the digitalisation of the education system, the Minister first of all drew attention to pre-school education issues.

To date, according to him, there is a big issue of queues to kindergartens. On a regional level, 44 information systems are used for registration in the turn, which leads to duplication of queue and absence of uniform monitoring and data on real need of places in kindergartens.

"In order to solve this issue, a single queue to kindergartens will be introduced at centralized level. This will allow for daily monitoring of kindergarten spots, waiting lists and referrals, saving the budget and eliminating corruption risks in place allocation," Aimagambetov said.

Every educator will have a digital portfolio with information about his or her certification, employment and participation in contests, he added.

Digitalisation of the selection and monitoring of school textbooks is also planned.

"The certificates and diplomas will be issued through QR code in digital format. Every student will have a digital profile. The most demanded services will be provided through Egov and mobile apps of major banks. In colleges we will create a single electronic registry of educational programs, as well as the formation of the student profile (academic achievements, social GPA, competency map) and issuing digital diplomas with the generation of QR-code," Aimagambetov said.

One important area is support for children with special educational needs.

In accordance with the law, another 33 special education centres and 23 infant homes will be opened, the Minister said.

"We are beginning to place a state order for remedial assistance. This will enable children in need to have better access to equal education services. Modern approaches will be developed and specialists will be retrained to work with children with autism spectrum disorders," Aimagambetov reported.

According to him, today there are 98 special boarding schools for children with disabilities, with impaired hearing, vision, speech, mental disorders. Necessary equipment will be purchased for these organizations.

Moreover, according to the Minister, teaching assistants have been included in standard staff, more than 1000 of such specialists work at schools. Due to this, thousands of special children have received equal opportunities in education. Work in this direction will also be organised at pre-school level.

The Minister further said that the importance of education, human values and family upbringing has a special place in the concept.

The great thinker Al-Farabi said "Tairbiyez berilgen bilim adamzattyn kas zhauy".

In the learning process, the approach "Kundylyktarga negizdelgen bilim beru" will be used.

It is also planned to implement the national education model "Tolik adam" on the basis of such basic values as desire for knowledge, diligence, patriotism, respect for national heritage, respect and cooperation with others, kindness and care, and readiness to protect national interests.

The Minister further stressed the importance of the coverage of various activities for children. As of today, the coverage is 70%.

Palaces for schoolchildren, young technicians stations, music and art schools, children's technology parks have been opened.

"The discussion movement, school and student self-governance are actively developing in educational organizations. This enables children to develop critical and analytical thinking skills. We'll be developing a debate movement and school parliaments in all schools," Aimagambetov said.

We will also support the development of the chess movement in educational institutions, he said.

It is now an optional sport in 654 schools for about 28,000 children. More than 200,000 children are taking part in chess classes.

The Federation will be working in this area, that is, preparing teaching aids and upgrading the qualifications of coaches and teachers.

Work is being systematically organized to teach children to read.

The Reading School project will be implemented.

"Over the past two years 3.6 million children's fiction books have been purchased for school libraries, 71% of which are in the state language. This is a successful project," Aimagambetov reported.

In the future, the fountain of fiction literature will be renewed, he said. Work on provision of scientific fiction literature and informative literature in the Kazakh language will be continued.

Minister paid special attention to the status of teachers.

"Today we are seeing positive effects of the Law on Teacher Status. Thanks to the support of the President, teachers' salaries have been increased, and from January 2023 they will be raised by 25% more," Aimagambetov said.

In addition, he said, special emphasis is being placed on improving teachers' professional competencies.

Starting in 2021, certification for teaching employment was introduced. That is, simply having a diploma alone will not be enough for getting a job and teachers will have to undergo tests in their subjects and methods.

Also, from 2023, the frequency of professional development courses will be changed. Now it is once in 3 years instead of once in 5 years. Both the content and nature of the courses are changing.

"A talent pool of directors is being formed, and the rotation mechanism for directors of educational organizations continues to be implemented. A new professional standard "Teacher" will be introduced for training and upgrading of qualifications," Aimagambetov said. 

Regarding protection of children's rights, the Minister reported that an alternative form of family placement, the institute of professional family, will be introduced to support orphaned children.

The role of psychological services in schools will be strengthened. Common standards will be introduced for methodological manuals of teachers-psychologists, and cooperation between school and parents, work of boards of guardians will be resumed.

Quality nutrition is of particular importance for children's development.

Touching upon this issue the Minister mentioned in this direction will be reviewed the norms of provision of children with food, menu.

Works will be continued to provide one time hot meals to primary school pupils.

The cashless accounting system, online quality control system will be applied in the canteens and the material and technical basis of the canteens will be renewed.

"In technical and vocational education 100% free education coverage will be ensured. This year, the state order totaled a record 128,000 places. Now applicants can choose up to three specialties," Aimagambetov said.

In order to raise the quality of personnel training, the colleges have been given academic independence since this year.

A transition to licensing by specialty is also planned.

Profiling and consolidation of colleges is planned for effective use of infrastructure, budgetary funds and human resources.  

In turn, Minister of Science and Higher Education Sayasat Nurbek in his speech also noted that today's higher education policy is aimed at synchronising the entire system with the current interests of the country, as well as to achieve national goals.

According to him, the Concept covers seven main directions of development of the higher education system.

The first, the expansion of access to higher and postgraduate education.

"Work will continue on improving the UNT as a selection tool for higher education in the country, taking into account the level of educational achievements and social category. The cost of grants will be reviewed with the introduction of differentiation in the system of educational grants (from 30 to 100%). There are plans to offer longer-term loans for tuition fees at an annual interest rate of 2%-3%," Nurbek said.

Also, he said, work will continue on the allocation of grants for those coming from densely populated and newly created regions (Abay, Ulytau, Zhetisu).

It is planned to improve the mechanism of public-private partnership with universities and construction companies to solve the problem of providing students with dormitories.

The second area of the Concept will be the transition to an advanced training model.

"The key task is to ensure the effective docking of demand for new professions and training across regions and industries based on foresight forecasting. To do this, the efforts of the state, business and universities will be consolidated," Nurbek said.

According to the Minister, there is good experience of creating the Atlas of New Professions, within which regional standards for advanced training will be further developed. This will allow launching of "Mamandygym - bolashagym" program provided for in the comprehensive plan "Program for increasing the population income till 2025".

Thus, the model of advanced training will be developed with the development of effective vocational guidance.

Third, modernising the content and enhancing the competitiveness of higher and (or) post-graduate education.

The Minister said that the policy on further expansion of academic autonomy of universities will continue, as well as work on development of global educational programmes.

"Close cooperation with business and industry on the development of research projects is planned. At the regional level, competence centres will continue to develop," Nurbek said.

He said that the undergraduate apprenticeship programme is being tested. Based on the results it is planned to enshrine in law this initiative.

In addition, this year's approved Lifelong Learning Concept provides for students to receive micro-qualifications or nano-degrees.

"One of the important directions in higher education is to improve the quality of teacher training. In this direction, a standard for profile accreditation of pedagogical universities will be developed. A competency framework and professional standards for teachers are being developed to define their professional values in line with modern requirements," Nurbek said.

There are also plans to train 100,000 teachers for future schools as part of the Comfort School project, he said.

We are faced with the tasks of updating the concept of teacher education, training university teachers under the Bolashak programme, and broadly applying digital and new technologies," he said.

Fourth, the digitalisation of higher education.

"We have done a great deal of work that is geared towards the long term. For example, a new form of learning - online learning - has been introduced. Universities will move to the smart-university model. This involves the formation of a digital profile of the student, i.e. student life track, development of digital services EdTech, and optimisation of processes in accordance with advanced trends in digitalisation," Nurbek reported.

According to him, the range of Coursera and EdX courses has already been expanded.

In order to improve the quality of management and delivery of educational services, there are plans to develop a "Reference Standard for Digital University".

Also, to coordinate the strategy of digital transformation of higher education, work will continue on the introduction of a digital officer in each university.

The fifth area of the Concept will be the improvement of the management system in higher education institutions.

As part of this direction, it is planned to transform the activities of the Council of Rectors.

"In order to form a new generation of managers, a cross-cutting policy on talent management (talent management) based on the example of Singapore will be introduced. Efforts will be continued to increase the participation of employers, business representatives, professional and public associations, and regional Akimats in corporate governance," Nurbek said.

The Minister said there are plans to launch a programme of professional development, internships and foresight sessions for top managers and staff.

Work is also being done to create a pool of talented managers who emerged from universities.

Endowment funds are an important element in attracting institutional investors and developing the management system. The concept of the Endowment Funds Bill is being worked on, taking into account international and domestic experience.

"Amendments will be made to the Law 'On the Status of Educators' to include a package of social support for teaching staff and scientific personnel of higher educational institutions," Nurbek said.

The sixth direction is the internationalisation of higher education.

To expand export opportunities for Kazakhstani universities, they will keep opening branches abroad, the minister said.

"Work will continue on creating a common Central Asian space for higher education. Together with partners, the issue of creating an Interaction Bureau of Central Asian countries on the platform of Kazakhstan is being worked out. All initiatives on internationalization of higher and postgraduate education will form the basis of Kazakhstan's international initiative 'Intellectual Silk Road'," Nurbek said.

The seventh area is the introduction of a quality assurance system.

According to the Minister, the process of harmonising government oversight with the quality assurance system has now begun. This is in line with the "clean slate" approach of the new regulatory policy.

"Work is currently underway to revise 62 regulations in higher education and criteria for assessing the risk management system have been developed. The risk assessment and management system will be automated using information systems," Nurbek said.

Also, he said, it is planned to integrate the register of educational programs of universities, registers of accreditation bodies, accredited universities, accredited educational programs of universities, as well as indicators of rankings and inspections of universities with the National Foundation of Education Data.

"As a result, the formation of schedules and lists for inspections without human involvement will make it possible to move from inspections to preventive measures, focusing only on problematic universities," Nurbek said in conclusion.

Bagdat Mussin, Minister of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry, says that as of today 7,078 out of more than 7,000 public schools in the country are connected to the Internet. Of those, 5,122 are rural schools and 1,956 urban schools. There are 20 schools not connected, including 15 rural schools and 5 urban schools.

"According to the International Telecommunication Union recommendation, for schools with more than 400 students, the Internet speed should be a minimum of 1 Mb/s per 20 students. Our analysis shows that the speed in 6,414 schools (90.61% of 7,078) does not meet the ITU recommendations. At present, the speed of Internet in 664 schools complies with the recommendations," Mussin informed.  

As many as 2810 schools do not correspond to the recommendations, but fiber-optic communication lines exist in these settlements.

In this regard, said the Minister of Digital Development, akimats should allocate funding and work to improve Internet speed in these schools.

In some regions there is a need to lay fiber-optic cables within settlements, there are 266 such schools.

Also, 2,784 schools lack technical capability to increase speed, as construction of fiber optic or radio relay networks is required.

"For 574 schools located in remote rural areas we plan to organize channels of communication with application of satellite technologies," Mussin said.  

 In order to provide schools with qualitative Internet according to international practice the Ministry is offered to take the following measures:

The Ministry will increase Internet speeds in 2,810 schools up to the level recommended by the ITU until August 2023, also to provide construction of fibre-optic communication lines to 266 schools within settlements.

Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan together with operators by August 2024 will ensure construction of fiber optic or radio relay lines for 20 schools that are not connected to the internet and 574 schools in remote rural settlements by satellite communication technologies.

In addition, as part of the "Comfortable School" national project, it is necessary to make fibre-optic lines mandatory in the construction of new schools. Today there is internet access in most of the schools. However, due to the lack of a local or Wi-Fi network, students cannot connect to the Internet.

In this connection, the ministry offered to implement a comprehensive approach to addressing this issue by organizing a local network and Wi-Fi points in schools.

"Wireless access point should provide simultaneous operation of 200 devices and Wi-Fi coverage of all classes, laboratories, administrative unit and the school yard. In view of the above, it is proposed together with the Ministry of Education by the end of 2023 to approve the standard requirements, regulations and topology of local and Wi-Fi networks for schools," Mussin said.  

At the same time, Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan jointly with telecom operators plans to create a single contact centre of telecom operators for schools. Akimats should ensure availability of local networks in each school by the end of 2023.

As a complex measure to solve the problem of "heavy backpacks", as well as to increase the level of digitalization in schools, it is proposed to use tablets.

According to Mussin, tablets will be used as digital textbooks as well as a tool to access online educational resources from home.

Such measures have been tested in a number of developed countries, including schools of Great Britain, Norway, South Korea and Turkey, and showed good results. It has also enabled pupils to create their own content as part of creative subjects. In these countries, the aim was to reduce the digital divide among regions, as well as to reduce the weight of backpacks. 

"Our proposal is to provide more than 400,000 first-graders with tablets in 2023 through the service model mechanism," Mussin said.  

The main advantages of the proposed mechanism are: 

First, using the service model, unlike direct procurement, reduces the one-time burden on the budget by spreading the contract amount over 4 years, during which the pupil will complete primary education. This model is already actively used by telecommunications operators when selling phones and tablets to the public and businesses.

Second, within the framework of the service model, in addition to the service of leasing tablets, mobile Internet services with a special tariff for schoolchildren will be procured, as well as maintenance services to ensure uninterrupted operation of the tablets.

Third, an important factor is the ability to remotely access the tablet to update the list of allowed online resources (the so-called "white Internet").

Most importantly, in order to reduce dependence on foreign production, this mechanism will only be available to domestic manufacturers.

At the same time, the localisation of production is proposed to be divided into 3 stages:

Stage 1 is the organization of tablet assembly production in 2023, which includes locating an assembly line for key components and training specialists for further training in Kazakhstan.

Stage 2 requires synergy with universities and colleges to train new specialists.
Stage 3 would include a combination of R&D work aimed at gaining new knowledge and practical application in tablet development. This will enable university graduates to work in the field of microelectronics and participate in the creation of new products.

In order to ensure qualitative execution of the Head of State's instruction, it is proposed to take the following measures jointly with the state bodies concerned and mobile operators:

1) the Ministry of Education together with Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan by November 15 of this year to approve the basic requirements for tablets, including the list of "white" sites for Internet access;

2) Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan together with the Ministry of Education to determine the annual mechanism for purchasing and transferring tablets to students;

3) The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Education and Science together with Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan until December 1 this year to work out the issue of financing the purchase of tablets on the service model;

4) Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan to determine a mechanism for distribution of the service for provision of schools with Internet between communication operators, taking into account network coverage;

5) Ministry of Digital Development, Innovations and Aerospace Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan together with telecommunication operators to provide service for uninterrupted operation of tablets and Internet.

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