Is the need in trilingualism justified?

Linguistic diversity is perceived to be an effective lever to solve many economic and social issues all over the world. Our country decided not to stand aside and adopted the Trilingual educational model (hereinafter TEM). In terms of this program it is expected that by 2020, all schools will provide education in Kazakh, Russian and English. Currently, trilingualism in Kazakhstan has gained both followers and opponents.

One of the most adamant supporters of TEM is the Minister of Education and Science Yerlan Sagadiev. He claims that youth that graduated from school with Kazakh medium of instruction has fewer opportunities to get good quality of education and young people from rural areas have difficulties in entering the leading universities. Mr. Sagadiev asserts that TEM will help us to eradicate the gaps between Kazakh and Russian and attain the equity between all students from all schools and regions of Kazakhstan.

TEM came under the criticism of the distinguished Kazakhstani journalist Gulnara Bazhkenova (2016) in her article “A story of Kurtakys who only speaks Kazakh”, where she throws a light on the issues of the contemporary education in Kazakhstan such as failed attempts to attract foreign teachers and 58% of functional illiteracy of Kazakhstani people. She questions the possibility of making Kazakhstani people to speak English language so soon with regards to its peculiarities: “located in the remote place of the continent, far from the English-speaking world with no well-established cultural and historical links, not having maritime power with the port city, which receives ships with multilingual sailors on board, and having one of the last places in the international education rankings” (Bazhkenova, 2016).

The policy makers are undaunted by the impressive number of the opponents of TEM. The interest of our government in trilingualism originates from the best experience of the world’s leading countries. Newspapers and magazines dazzle with descriptions of paramount educational systems of the multilingual countries of the world. However, Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong-Kong and many other countries have in common not only established multilingualism but one of the best economies, high per capita financing and creative teaching approaches. Thus, it is erroneous to presume that knowledge of three languages is going to make an educational revolution and uplift Kazakhstan to the tops, isn’t it?



Bazhkenova, G. (June 27, 2016). Istoriya Kurtakyz, kotoraya govorit tolko po-kazakhski. [A story of Kurtakys who only speaks Kazakh]. Esquire Kazakhstan. Retrieved on January             16, 2017, from                                 



4 thoughts on “Is the need in trilingualism justified?

  1. @aidana17 thanks for one more opportunity to discuss the most debatable educational issue these days in Kazakhstan. I think you are right that the field is now being split into two, which I see as a good tendency. Both seem to have stong arguments to justify the need. I have my own stance as well.
    The supporters of trilingual policy are usualy those who somehow have opportunities to learn all the three languages and see the perspective as a possible way to improve education. The thing is that there are many of those who expect it with fear to have an additional burden added to already work loaded Alma Mater. Their situation will worsen with the lack of recourses and insufficeint support. Especially teachers and students in remote villages you mentioned in your post.
    Regarding the question you raised in the title, I would say that there are other problems faced in schools nowadays which need attention more. In one of the lattest conference on trilingual policy in Kazakhstan there was a presentation conducted by one of the professors at NUGSE who raised the problems of ungraded schools. He visually demonstrated the egregious state of one of the ungraded schools in Akmola region. The problem is this is not a single example, there is plathora of such schools across the country. Who would care of languages if there is no regular water access or electricity cuttage is a usual thing in school? There are many other more importatant things than languages the need of which is justified.
    What is your pposition? Do you yourself think that the need in trilingualism justified?


    1. Thank you for your comment Aigul. Let me answer your question regarding my personal point of view on the given educational reform. I do assume that TEM may bring tremendous changes to the Kazakhstani educational system making the citizens of this country highly competitive and well-educated, since these three languages, embraced in TEM, are not taken by chance and are of great importance for the Kazakhstani people. However, I agree with you that there are many burning issues in schools in the remote and rural areas are must be solved first.


  2. Great work, Aidana! (5/5) This topic has been widely discussed on this blog, so you might want to check out @yessenova and the others from previous years who have raised similar concerns. You do, however, offer some helpful updates from the changes in the last year. Your writing is quite accurate, clear, and well organized. Feel free to add comments to previous posts on our blog, like this one:


  3. I support your position, Aidana. Multilingualism in developed countries you mentioned is definitely not a catalyst and basis of their huge advance in economy and education. Therefore, the implementation of trilingualism in KZ is going to be an another can of worms for the country, since there are a plenty of more critical issues in education of more priority as well as paper overload, infinite inspections of schools from MES and vulnerability of the Kazakh language as a result of poor design of curriculum and thematic plans. And implemenation of trilingual education within the framework of contemporary state of education policy is going to create a huge discrepancy between state schools and schools for gifted children that tend to have more developed material basis and financing.


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