Issues relating to minority languages

The question of the importance of preserving minority languages has already been discussed in the post “What we gain by supporting minority languages?” However, it is also impossible to avoid such an important factor that as a relatively newly independent State, Kazakhstan faces the challenge of promoting multilingualism and reasserting its State language and Kazakh culture while fostering an inclusive sense of national identity, which encompasses all national and ethnic groups. Many groups have strong historical, ethnic, cultural and religious identities that they wish to maintain and express, while also seeking to build their futures as equal citizens of Kazakhstan.

In accordance with the Constitution, the Law on Education and the Law on Languages of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the state takes care of creating favorable conditions for the study and development of all the languages of multiethnic people of Kazakhstan. Each ethnic group living in Kazakhstan,  has the right to form  its own ethnic and cultural associations, schools, which contribute to the revival and development of the national languages, cultures, traditions and customs. The Government highlights general secondary education in pupils’ native languages or teaching native languages as subjects. However, it also acknowledges difficulties in the organization of multicultural education arising from the multiple ethnic cultures. A total of 65 schools have Uzbek as the language of instruction and 75 schools have mixed languages of instruction allowing 79,426 to be enrolled in Uzbek-language education. There are 14 Uighur and 50 mixed language schools in the Almaty region, enabling 14,955 students to be enrolled in Uighur language education. Two Tajik schools and 10 mixed language schools teach 3,503 students in Tajik in the South Kazakhstan region. Fifteen native languages are studied as separate subjects in 126 general education schools; 76 general education schools provide optional language subjects in languages including German, Korean, Tartar, Polish and Ukrainian (Dave, 2004).

Another concern is inequality of access to university for minority students. University education is provided in Kazakh and Russian only, and the national testing system for high school students — the university entrance examination — is not available in minority languages. It means the Unified National Testing (UNT) and the Complex Testing of higher-education Applicants (CTA) in schools with Kazakh and Russian languages of instruction is carried out only in Kazakh and Russian languages. Consequently, minority students must first pass a graduation exam and then sit additional university entrance exams in Russian or Kazakh, which some struggle to pass owing to their poor language proficiency. So that unlike their peers in the schools with Kazakh and Russian languages of instruction, graduates of ethnic schools are required to take an examination twice: when they leave school and when they enter the university. Accordingly, the students of ethnic schools have high psychological stress and often feel discriminated against. In addition, they are not as well prepared to take the exams in Russian or Kazakh, are they?

It might cause irreparable damage to the image and social status of ethnic schools, producing disbelief in the prospects of the national schools. As a result, parents are forced to send their children to schools with another language learning. Correspondingly, the number of students studying in their native languages is reduced. In recent years, a number of schools were closed, and some of them are on the verge of closing, hence, reducing the number of schools of minor languages.

For the above mentioned reasons, welcoming provision and support of minority languages and schools, the government should take action to ensure that all textbooks include appropriate consideration of the cultures, traditions and history of minorities and their contributions to Kazakh society, as well as the equality of access to university education for students from ethnic groups.


The Law on Education of the Republic of Kazakhstan, dated July 27, 2007 No. 319-III 3 RK

The Law on Languages of the Republic of Kazakhstan, dated July 11, 1997 № 151-I.

Dave, B. (2004). Minorities and participation in public life: Kazakhstan. Paper presented at Central Asia Seminar: WP5 “Minority Rights: Cultural Diversity and Development in Central Asia”. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Retrieved from:

3 thoughts on “Issues relating to minority languages

  1. Thank you Nazgul! The good thing is that minority ethninicities have the choice of getting school education in the languages they prefer. Although universities are not adopted for their further education in minority languages, there is no discrimination in terms of ethinic identity of students. I think minority students and their parents are aware in which country they live in, and that in order to get higher education they have to know Russian or Kazakh languages. The presence of mixed schools demonstrate that the government gives the opportunity for students to learn majority langauges as well as minority languages. The question is about the matter of choice of the minority students and their parnets.


  2. Along with the issues of the standardized high stakes examination, there are difficulties concerned with the negative language attitudes. Yet, the government doesn’t manage to provide the mother tongue education to all ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan. However, we should be proud of the existence of such minority schools. Although, I have read an article on minority students beliefs on the language policy in Kazakhstan. In this article (I can’t provide references) they argue that having graduated they feel marginalized. These students say that their background sometimes blocks communication with the dominant language(s) speakers. Unfortunately, these things occur. Some languages are directly related to the status and prestige ascribed to a particular ethnic group. Consequently, the speakers of a language with low socioeconomic status can be treated accordingly. For some people, for instance, the Uzbek language can be viewed as a “backward” language. Therefore, we should work on creating the supportive environment for all ethnic groups that will permit them to have equal position and possibilities. Perhaps, it will hinge upon individuals choice and beliefs. But I strongly believe that democracy and pluralism will be fostered only in the countries where every citizen is treated equally irrespective of a language spoken.


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