Monthly Archives: January 2017

A question of discipline

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Image credit: A. Kazhigaliyeva, A. Tazhiyeva, A. Chsherbakov.

The picture above illustrates the results of a survey my fellow students at NUGSE and I have conducted as part of our Linguistics class.  We asked the participants to give their free associations to a particular word in Russian, and then, a few days later, to the same word, but in Kazakh.  The word clouds show the associations given to the word education: the left one in Kazakh and the right in Russian.  Have you spotted the difference?  Clearly, the Russian associations are much more varied.  But, what is more interesting, if you look at the actual words, you will see that they reveal completely different views on the concept of education.  The one on the left focus on the institutional aspects: teacher and school, while the other one favours a personal development orientation expressed through more abstract terms: knowledge and learn.  The purpose of the exercise was to identify a Whorfian effect in Kazakh-Russian bilinguals.  It is unlikely that we have done that, but I think we have still found something interesting here. Continue reading A question of discipline

“What is a carpenter with no tools: it’s my kids…”(deconstruction)

As a future educational researcher you have a curiosity of what other educators in other different circumstances and other countries experience in their academic lives. This curiosity led me to one very extraordinary TED Talks’ speech. The speaker Kandice Sumner who is an educator from Boston  fights for the equitable, unsegregated public schooling system in the US.

The main claims Kandice was making in her speech were that Public Schooling System in the US had been looking at the “achievement gap” in education all wrong and that the system always neglect the rights of “black and brown” people for the equal education. She uses her neighborhood and her current students as example, describing their struggles while in schools as a proof. She claims that today she does not have an access to the resources for which other teacher in America do. The same is with her students, they are lacking of academic materials. Mrs. Sumner also makes some assumptions by giving different definitions for terms, making comparisons like “an achievement gap is an educational death” as well as ridiculing the socioeconomic disparity by redefining it from her position with a sentence: “…they know when it comes to schooling black lives do not matter and they never have (mattered)…”.635880472580492441-1227218682_b5b67fc78

The argument of Kandice Sumner is credible as it comes from both her personal experience and her nearest environment. Her claim can be considered as valuable mostly because she is current educator who is involved in the teaching process and crossing path with these issues repeatedly. The evidences the speaker uses to support the claim are coming mainly from an individual background and emotionally biased statements like: “..The public schools system was using the commerce which were generated from the slave trade and slave labor”. She tries to blame historic events with current situation in schools.

However there are some counterarguments that I can identify that needs consideration. For instance, due to the fact that she was born in segregated area she is more inclined to think that all the public schools tend to be “poverty insurances”. As her opinion is formulated around her personal experiences it should not necessarily be the correct statement for other public schools.Moreover her tone makes her appear to be looking down on the entire system: governors, senators, mayors, city council members. She illustrated some elements of extreme dislike:sumner

Of course it is very hard not to agree with the speaker as she is a person who experienced all the issues she is speaking about. Though, from all stated above I can assume that there is an obvious hunch on race bias in United States’ schooling system. But are not there regions in the US that have solved this problem? Is the low academic achievement of “black and brown” students is connected only with the factors Mrs. Sumner stated? These are the questions which demand further thorough investigation.

Kandice Sumner was very positive during her speech albeit she seemed to be very expressive and emotionally over-gesturing from time to time. The author might improve her argument by reducing her emotions and using real-life visual aids in order to make the presentation more impressive.

References:

Photos are retrieved from https://www.google.kz/search?q=Kandice+Sumner&espv=2&biw=1366&bih=672&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwja6Piw8erRAhXqFZoKHYZzBm4Q_AUIBigB#imgrc=gyWjzhN4U7NhIM%3A.

https://www.google.kz/search?espv=2&biw=1366&bih=672&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=segregation+of+public+schools+in+the+US&oq=segregation+of+public+schools+in+the+US&gs_l=img.3…81429.83968.0.84368.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0….0…1c.1.64.img..0.0.0.WgffCk8uYSk#imgrc=HgWPZDygS6nnaM%3A.

Screenshot credit to Dumankhan Abdashim(dumankhan.abdashim@nu.edu.kz).

Video is retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kandice_sumner_how_america_s_public_schools_keep_kids_in_poverty?language=en.

Angel of death, or why teenagers commit a suicide because of the UNT?

 

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UNT is one of the most widescale and onerous events in Kazakhstani society. Fear covers everyone. Students are afraid to fail and to become a burden to their family; teachers dread to spoil the performance of their school; parents simply fear for their children, and reasonably so. The more closer is June, the more we begin to hear the scary stories about teenagers who have decided to commit a suicide because of the UNT. But why? Is the UNT so important, or is it so burdensome worth committing a suicide?

First of all, the UNT itself is a phenomenon with lots of shortcomings. But the worst of it is the psychological violence. It is not a secret that the school administrators and teachers taken one with another beg some students with a poor performance not to take the test, in order to avoid lowering the rankings of a school. This certainly puts the pressure on the psyche of all participants. Consequently, they start to perceive the UNT as the most important ordeal predetermining their future, whereas the failure as an ultimate verdict.

Secondly, teenagers commit a suicide due to inaccurate goals set by the environment. In most cases, a student from an early school-years is persuaded that the meaning of life is the successful completion of the UNT, and the admission to university for a grant. Moreover, there are some “pithy” expressions, as: “if you fail the UNT, you will become a janitor”, or “you will never find a job, if you not succeed in the UNT”. This kind of sayings put an additional psychological pressure on teenagers. In this sense, when they understand that the goal is not achievable, he\she loses the meaning of life. Consequently, they think that the only solution is the suicide.

Indeed, it is very scary when someone wants to end his\her life. Therefore, despite of the importance, the role of the UNT should not be exaggerated. So, I wholeheartedly hope that the new format of the UNT will somehow relieve the pressure from teenagers.

Reference

Photo credit to http://lifehacker.com/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-death-1517421198

The importance of preschool education

       As a huge fan of children aged from 0 to even 15, I have always been interested in child development and how children’s brains work according to their age and environment. In 2013 I started working at a pre-school development center in Astana, first as a teaching assistant, then as an instructor. This was the place where I learnt how to deal with children from 8 months to 6 years, gained valuable experience teaching and working with kids and realized a great importance of early childhood education. So, why pre-school education is important? As all of us are future educators hopefully going to work in the educational field and also are future (or present) parents, I consider this topic to be interesting and useful, especially for those, who are fond of children as I am.       

Taking care of the education of a kid is the same as laying the groundwork of a big house. This will be the base for building and development of a future character, skills and abilities of a child. It is certainly important to ensure that this basement is going to be solid and secure.

Basically, the age from 3 to 7 is the time when a child gains the first view of the world around, himself or herself. Their personality takes its shape in that difficult and dynamic period of time. Their imagination keeps developing and curiosity takes the first place. Playing games remains to be the main way of their living as well as their cognition of things in the world outside. That is why it’s very important to take advantage of this period and help a child to develop his or her skills and abilities and fulfill their natural curiosity.

While working with the children I realized this importance. Comparing the kids that had been attending the center for a long time, a year or even a half, and those kids who attended my lessons for the first time I saw that the difference between them was huge. The children of the center were more confident and positive, their speech contained a rich variety of words, they were more open to new people, talkative, could count and knew many numbers and concepts whereas those children, who came for the first time to a place like that, had difficulties with communication, lacked concentration, could not identify numbers or letters, had poor variety of vocabulary. But was there something special we did in the development center? No. All that I did was teaching children to read, count and read but on a regular basis through a carefully considered plan. We played games, drew pictures, danced and sung, did various crafts and so on. They enjoyed the learning process because it was so much fun and full of interesting knowledge and activities that they were striving for.

We should care about children because they are our future. Providing a good pre-school education to them is one way to do it. It opens a road to the better achievement in school and university as well as to more successful and meaningful life. Let’s create their future together!

Image credit: Assel Shmidt

 

But what do I do if I don’t know?

Indecisiveness and being unsure of what I want have always been unattractive parts of my personality. Yet, recently these traits of mine have started to bother me much more than they used to. It was mainly my inability to realize my potential to the fullest as well as my low personal, professional and academic achievements that made me ponder over the problem. Surprisingly for myself, by looking deep inside I have discovered the following: not only am I unsatisfied with who I am, but what is more frightening, I have a rather vague idea of who I want to be.

Luckily, the posts Have you ever faced with a quarter-life crisis and I don’t want to work in my field! or Job-seekers of the 21st century made me aware of more people around me facing some of the same uncertainties. Have I chosen the right major for me? Will I be happy working in this sphere after the graduation? Should I change my major or is it already too late? These are all doubts that many of the students have during their studies at the university. I view such uncertainties as an obstruction on the way to one’s success.

The absence of clear goals frequently results in going with the flow. You go for the better opportunities offerred to you, but not necessarily the exact ones you want. Therefore, the reason why you often get somewhere you do not  fancy is your own unawareness of the desirable destination. In other words, not knowing your true passions might lead to having regrets later about your future career. Hence, it is highly essential to allow oneself to undertand your own self before making important decisions.

A gap year sounds like a possible way to come up with the right decisions. Gaining more life experience and devoting more time to listening to yourself might be of an advantage in situations, where youngsters are hesitant to opt for a career. In addition, the students that have taken a gap year tend to be more mature and have more motivation.

However, there are certain risks to take into account. Wasting a year and losing academic skills are just a few to mention. The idea of graduating a year later and being an older student in a group might put some of the students off. Moreover, your parents might disapprove the decision in fear that you could get lazy and will be unwilling to continue your studies.

What is your personal attitude towards taking a gap year? Can it be a solution to get rid of uncertainties? Are there any other pros and cosns of it that have not been mentioned? Why is it not a common practice in Kazakhstan?

References

Photo credit to http://clipart-library.com/man-thinking-cartoon.html

Is it scary to learn physics in English? What about chemistry?

Our multiethnic and multilingual country is aimed at implementation of trilingual education. Teaching subjects in three languages seems to be a complicated task for teachers and for students. Studying subjects of natural and mathematical cycle in English is considered as the most frightening and impossible thing. As for me, I had difficulties in understanding some themes in physics or chemistry in high school. If these subjects are difficult to learn in mother language, then what about studying them in English?

I want to throw some light on this issue by providing results of sociological research conducted in April 2016 year. 1055 students of 9th and 11th grades from different Kazakhstani regions took part in the interviews. The results showed that only 15% of them are fluent in English. A vast majority of students (68%) did not want to study computer science, physics, chemistry and biology in English. Students believe that they will know neither English, nor the subjects themselves due to the low quality of education (Kuchma, 2016). To my mind, one of the reasons why students feel uncertainty and anxiety is their fear of something unknown and new. People tend to beware of unfamiliar and novel changes. I think that by 2019 year, when four subjects in high school will be taught in English, students should try to improve their language skills and mentally prepare to accept the change.

While looking through online journals and articles I noticed the blog of “Aspandau” foundation board member. In his blog the author gives a piece of advice to the Ministry of Education and Science. He suggests that the process of transition to trilingual education should be slower. If school students will not reach Intermediate level of English by the end of 9th grade, how will they learn biology and computer science in English later? We have a little more than two years for increasing students’ language skills, coping with all fears and preparing qualified teachers. Dear readers, do you think all of our schools are ready for teaching four subjects of natural and mathematical cycle in English from 2019 year? If yes, why? If no, why? Do you agree that the process should be slow down?

References:

Kuchma, V. (2016, May 19). Za trekh’ yazychie v shkolah – 66% roditelej (66% of parents support trilingual education in schools). Kapital. Retrieved from https://kapital.kz/gosudarstvo/50391/za-trehyazychie-v-shkolah-66-roditelej.html

Photo credits to https://i.ytimg.com/vi/JWyPLNi8rD8/maxresdefault.jpg

“Don’t be dissing my language, dawg” or the debate over AAVE in the classroom.

To enjoy learning, children often need to understand the applicability and importance of a subject to their daily life. Let us think about teaching English in America – even small children can understand the value of learning this subject because they use this language every day outside of school. But what if some children can’t relate to the English taught at school? What if this English is different from the English they use at home and hear around them? This question creates the foundation for discussing the acceptability of using African American Vernacular English in the classroom.

This issue is a still highly debated topic, starting with the Oakland Ebonics Resolution, dating back to 1996, in which it was suggested to use AAVE in classroom instruction, raising a storm of criticism from the media. This has served as an incentive for scientific inquiry into this topic, leading to many studies on linguistic peculiarities of AAVE.

The party opposing this proposition states the need for the children to learn “proper” English as their main claim. A lot of the critics see integration of Ebonics in classrom as teaching only the vernacular variety of language, or in other words they see children only using slang in the future. This is what a typical lesson in such a classroom looks like in their eyes:

However, the schools employing this approach have discovered that adapting the curriculum to accommodate the variety of language spoken at home and acknowledging the said variety leads to better student involvement and better participation, resulting in better outcomes. This is how a lesson with such approach actually looks like:

I believe that helping children to learn should involve making education relatable for them. This includes raising awareness of the diversity of dialects, and providing adequate academic support to both students and teachers. Usually, you start learning a new language from scratch by using the means of the language you already know. That just doesn’t happen for children with AAVE background, and that is one of the reasons why I firmly believe in integrating special educational practices for children whose first language is Ebonics.

Are we really ready to be independent?

Lately, Kazakhstani government has been  adamant to grant universities more independence and autonomy. This reform, as they think, will boost higher education institutes’ (hereafter HEIs) performance and increase their competitiveness on the world arena. However, in this maelstrom of reforms in higher education sphere have they pondered of the universities’ readiness to accept this responsibility? Have they thought how to amend the reform so it fits the local realities?  Well, I am a bit skeptical about it. The evidence at hand witnesses that universities are not ready to cope with this challenge. Professionally. Mentally. The long existent custom of being dependent on someone in Moscow and insufficient knowledge of the reform pose the main obstacles to the successful implementation of the reform.

After a quarter of a century of independence Kazakhstani HEIs still heavily rely on the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) and have only relative freedom of actions. This legacy of the Soviet Union became so deeply entrenched in the minds of people that they see any new form of GOVERNANCE as harmful and deficient. According to the data Sagintayeva and Kurakbayev (2015) reveal, people are reluctant to take the responsibility because they are afraid of it. Basically, they are so used to just fulfilling the assignments “from above” that they do not know how to deal with this new system. Additionally, there is a number of issues which arise from the incompetence HEIs staff.

Certain people believe that autonomy means greater accountability to the MoES. Thus, HEIs staff views autonomy as something that will complicate their laborious work. This brings up a crucial point of building trust between a university and MoES. The authorities should allow HEIs some freedom and treat them not with constant suspicion, but with respect and trust. Another problem, which is the product of ignorance, is people’s misbelief that rectors will have an absolute power and, therefore, run universities as their own businesses (Sagintayeva & Kurakbayev, 2015). To put it simply, people assume that rectors will have the right to hire or fire anyone they want, impose his own rules and etc. In reality, university autonomy implies that board of trustees and academic staff make this sort of decisions.

The HEIs reform brought up a number of issues which have been in shadow for the 25 years of independence. These issues, if not addressed, threaten the achievement of the reform goals. I believe we should thoroughly contemplate all the steps and introduce the changes one-by-one. Otherwise, we risk ending up with an ugly parody of an effective governance system.

How do you see the implementation of the university autonomy reform? Do you think it is a viable one in Kazakhstan?

Sagintayeva, A. & Kurakbayev, K. (2015). Understanding the transition of public universities to institutional autonomy in Kazakhstan. European Journal of Higher Education, 5 (2), 197-210.

School’s got talent

%d0%b4%d0%bb%d1%8f-%d0%b1%d0%bb%d0%be%d0%b3%d0%b0-children-are-engaged-in-the-hobbies-and-school-activities-silhouette-stock-vectorThis is a follow up post as an extension of my previous ideas. There was mentioned in comments that not every student is talented. In the discussion to follow I suggest that if education focuses on the process during which talents are revealed, not the outcomes of already gifted students, then there are more chances for students to become creative.

Let’s assume how curriculum and classroom practices might change with the integration of art. For example, music in education is usually associated with singing or/and playing musical instuments. Besides the fact that singing is not an innate ability rather an acquired skill, and the role of singing and playing musical instruments in students academic achievements is an undisputable fact, music is a rich world of different types and genres each with its own history, which can enrich the content of education. Even a single song can have a story. For example Imagine, Tears in Heaven or Dudarai have real, touching and thought provoking stories behind.  As to drama I would argue that it does not necessarily imply performing on the stage, even though the shyest can silently perform a tree hidden behind decorations. A good teacher may find ways to engage kids in playing out the stories they like.  Regarding the artists, many of them did not have special artistic education, but what they did have were brushes, crayons, and their free views to create beautiful pieces. Needless expecting students to be prominent artists in making enjoyable art class, the basics can be practiced under the guidance of an art teacher. After all, to be an artist does not automatically mean to have your painting in Louvre. What is more valuable for students is freedom in trying new things and not to be judged for it.

With the arguments above I would ask, isn’t it a good idea to have two or three subjects in school curricular, where students can express themselves the ways they like, providing there will not be any assignments and the work of students will not be graded? Won’t a school be a better place if it is not a race where students with better academic achievements are praised and awarded, and those who do not succeed are left behind ignored?

Fair or not –the UNT

Before the introduction of the UNT (Unified National Test) in 2004, the university entrance examination was taken in the form of oral examination at schools which is a legacy from the Soviet Union (Jumabayeva, 2016; Shamatov, 2012). According to Shamatov (2012), this form of examination was too subjective and easily involved corruptions which resulted in issues of equity as well as fairness for students from remote regions and poorer families. In order to address these issues, the UNT has been created to offer comparatively fair competition for all school leavers and cull the most deserving students by providing them with the state grants.

From some personal experiences of my classmates and friends in Kazakhstan, to some extent they agree that UNT indeed enabled them to compete with other candidates and have opportunities to apply for the universities they wish to study. “Without the UNT, I would never have the chance to study in University of Semey, not mention to continue my master study here (at Nazarbayev University)”, said one of my classmates (personal conversation, 2016). The issue of equity has been improved greatly by introducing the UNT, but there are still some problems related to the unfairness such as private tutoring and the discrepancies of the qualities of teaching between rural and urban areas. Jumabayeva (2016) illustrates that private tutoring becomes very popular and is generally considered very worthy since if students get high score from the UNT, they will not only benefit from not paying for the tuition fee for four-year bachelor study, but also get the good marks on their school diploma. “This is unfair for those who has studied very hard for the whole school period but happened to be unlucky on the testing day” (Jumabayeva, 2016, p.4). Besides, the teaching quality is generally lower in rural areas compared with urban schools, students from poorer families cannot afford the private tutoring; these cause some problems in terms of equity and fairness. However, some initiatives have been taken such as good incentives in terms of financial supporting as well as housing facilities are offered to attract talented and qualified teachers to rural areas. The unfairness exists everywhere in the world but we can still try our best to make the education system become more transparent for all social groups; since the quality of education is one of the most crucial factors determining the economical as well as social development of the nation.

To sum up, the UNT has been one of the most important educational reforms in Kazakhstan in recent two decades. It has achieved both success and setbacks. In general, it has improved the equity and transparency of the testing system; although, there are still some problems such as the content of the testing is considered to be “too shallow” to test the deep understanding, critical thinking ability of the candidates. I would like to agree with the conclusion of Jumabayeva (2016) that “the general structure of the UNT is good but the content needs improvements” (p.6).

References:

Jumabayeva, Z. (2016). The key drivers of the United National Test in Kazakhstan: A critical             analysis of its impact on school leavers. NUGSE Research in Education, 1(2), 16-20.                     Retrieved from: nugserie.nu.edu.kz

Shamatov, D. (2012). The impact of Standardized Testing on university entrance issues in                Kyrgyzstan. European Education 44(1), 71-92.  Retrieved from:         https://doi.org/10.2753/EUE1056-4934440104