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).
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