All posts by Diana Kitana

About Diana Kitana


Sex education in Kazakhstan: Disturbing reality

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In Kazakhstan the question of sexual and reproductive litteracy among teenagers is a burning, but constantly ingnored matter. In 2016 “4254 babies were born to fifteen- and sixteen-year-old girls” (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018, p. 1). Yet, these numbers do not fully represent the real picture: the reports on unregistered cases of birth, abortion and baby abandonment are regularly cropping up along with increase in the rate of sexually transmitted infections among teenagers (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). These depressing figures might be a consequence of sex and reproduction topic being under taboo due to various cultural and religious reasons (it is shameful to discuss such topics). Although the government has made attempts to educate teenagers on sexual and reproductive health by creating laws and introducing pilot sexuality education course in several colleges, the situation is still aggrevating and requires urgent measures.

Several legislative steps were taken to solve the issue of sexual and reproductive illiteracy. These steps included the adoption of  the Concept of Moral and Sexual Education in 2001, the Law of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Children’s Rights in 2002, the Law on Reproductive Rights of Citizens and Guarantees of Their Implementation in 2004, healthcase development programms “Salamatty Kazakhstan 2011–2015” and “Densaulyk 2016–2020”, the Concept of the State Youth Policy in 2013 (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). Event though all these initiatives acknowledged the problem of  sexual and reproductive illiteracy to some degree, prevailing majority of them did not provoke any particular actions that would change the situation. For instance, medical centers continue breaking “the principles of privacy and anonymity” and do not provide medical help to teenagers younger than 18  (when it comes to “sensitive” issues) unless they are accompanied by a parent (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018, p. 6). This makes teenagers avoid medical assisstance out of mistrust and fear and struggle alone in case of physical and mental health issues. Thus, teenagers resort to searching information on sexual and reproductive health on Internet where information is not always reliable (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). More to this, great number of drugstores still refuse to sell contraceptions to teenagers which might be one of the reasons for high teenage birth rate (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018).

Another initiative proposed by  local authorities was introduction of pilot sexual and reproductive literacy courses called “Valeologiya” in several colleges and even schools. This proposal was supported by both students and parents since they were unsure about correct way of approching the taboo topic. Although teenagers were able to discuss certain topics related to sexual and reproductive health, training was unsystematic and teaching was not  monitored (Soros-Kazakhstan Fund, 2018). Moreover, the course demonstrated stereotyped thinking about genders and contributed to victim-building (Soros-Kazakhstan Fund, 2018). For instance, during the lessons, in role plays of sexual abuse mostly girls were positioned as victims (as though boys are never sexually abused) and were taught that the outcome of the situation depended solely on girls behaviour. It puts great amount of pressure and responsibility on girls: if a teenage girl is sexually harrassed or gets pregnant, that is her fault (logic which is supported by many people). In other words, even if the course has created chances for youth to learn about sexual and reproductive health, it still requires serious changes.

My point of view on this matter is that we need to take considerable steps towards educating youth about this taboo topic. Now, when some teenagers are persecuted by “uyat” (shame), they are not able to deal with the issues that have arosen because of sexual and reproductive illiteracy. Now, when teenage birth rate and abortion is increasing, especially in the southern part of Kazakhstan, and newborn babies are thrown away by frightened teenagers, we stay silent and blind (CAP Fellows Paper 200, 2018). It is high time for us to take the issue into serious consideration. I do think that teeangers have to be aware of situation and get reliable information from adults about sexual and reproductive health. Opponents of such view might say that it will pollute pure minds of young generation. However, teenagers do know about sex (thanks to Internet), and we have to make sure that this knowledge does not harm them.


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Who do you think is responsible for teaching teenagers about sexual and reproductive health?


CAP Fellows Paper 200. (2018). Overcoming a Taboo: Normalizing Sexuality Education in Kazakhstan. Washington, DC: Kabatova, K. Retrieved from

Soros-Kazakhstan Fund. (2018). Половое просвещение в системе школьного образование Республики Казахстан: Учить нельзя, молчать? Almaty: Kabatova, K., & Marinin, S. Retrieved from



Pay it forward: Random acts of kindness.

“Pay it forward” is an international movement promoting the idea of random acts of kindness and aiming at making a world around us a bit better, a hopeful mission attracting millions of followers. In December 2015 I have become a part of the movement and later have made my own contribution into spreading the idea.

My colleague and I, “Batman and Robin” they used to call us, watched a deeply moving picture “Pay it forward” and got really inspired by the message behind the movie. In short, the movie is about a teacher, played by Kevin Spacey, trying to instill values and morals (what an irony!)  in children resulting in one of his students starting a movement of kind actions towards those in need. The boy suggests starting from yourself and extend helping hand to 3 other people encouraging them to do the same thing afterwards. This way he, a young schoolboy, created a chain (or a net) of kind acts, increasing social responsibility and changing dozens of lives.

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We had a strong belief that teaching values such as graciousness, humaneness, mindfulness and self-awareness had to be a part of school life. To make the idea work we needed to attract people (students in our case) and make sure the idea spreads and becomes sustainable. However, we faced difficulties (as it usually happens when you have startlingly great ideas): if we start simply instructing students it might be perceived as annoying moralizing. So, we needed to intrigue them, trigger their interest and absorb them fully as though they were playing a game. After a month of scrutinizing the matter we came up with a plan.

  1. Our team designed a visual representation of the movement and ordered 1500 badges and 2000 sticky labels with the logo.
  1. After months of preparation we held an all-school meeting and explained how the projects works: every student receives 2 badges and a set of stickers; the trick is to get rid of badges as fast as you can. The only way to do that is to help someone and give the badge to that person. The important thing is to instruct the person you helped to do the same: make an act of kindness and pass the badge on.
  2. We asked students to take photos of people they helped to if they could to share with everyone on our page in social network.

Most of students loved the idea. Soon enough it became contagious.

After a week our team started receiving stories and photos from the students. We were happy to see that many of them went outside the school into the town and spread the idea among a wider community. They helped passers-by, gave food to beggars, prepared other students for exams and did many other things. Even teachers got actively involved. The idea has also attracted one of the local kindergartens and we were able to “sponsor” them with dozens of “Pay It Forward” badges.


This project was a pride of our team. Even if we stopped the project a year ago, we still receive photos (the last one was sent to me three months ago). We do understand that it is a small-scale project and might have had a small impact on some students. However, we hope that it has pushed them to realize the value of support and care.

I wrote this little blog not only to share my experience but also to inform you that April 28 is International Pay It Forward Day. If you are interested in learning more, you might want to join the movement on

Please, comment down on what you think about the movement in general and our project in particular. We will use your feedback next time we run the project.

Happy upcoming Pay It Forward Day!

Takaharu Tezuka: The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen (deconstruction)

I have never gone to a kindergarten; and I should admit I have always been jealous of those who did. Those kids had so many chances to become a part of the world in such an early age. However, I bet after watching Takaharu Tezuka’s insightful speech on his Fuji kindergarten project, which is his “attempt to change the lives of children”, you will be dreaming about becoming a small Japanese boy or girl and attending that fantastic place.

Takaharu Tezuka, a well-known Japanese architect, a winner of more than 20 awards and a master of his job, designs buildings that serve people’s needs putting great philosophy behind each construction. In our case, it is Fiju kindergarten, an oval-shaped building without any boundaries. Classrooms of the kindergarten, that are full of natural light and even have trees, are on the first floor, while huge rooftop space and five-meter-high annex building is for children to play, run, jump and climb. During the speech Takaharu explains why such construction is effective for raising and educating younger generation.

The speaker claims that children get nervous when they are surrounded by boundaries (walls, doors, and even roofs) emphasizing that both noise and freedom are important for learning. This is the reason, Takaharu says, why Fiju kindergarteners show amazing degree of concentration and enjoy exploring new things. Indeed, we are used to treating freedom as a prize for good behavior and results: if you do well, you are allowed to play outside. We rarely stop to think whether “locking up” kids with difficult behavior is doing them favor. However, even though I fully support the idea of freedom becoming a common practice, Takaharu’s words might face confrontation since, as a person without degree in child psychology or pedagogy, he makes huge assumption by saying that noise and freedom are necessary for all kids and fails to provide any reliable results related to the matter to make his words more creditable.

The next benefit of such construction lays in allowing kids develop physically. Findings of their observations indicate that on average these kindergarteners walk or run 4000 meters in a day (one boy even made 6000 meters in a morning! Feel ashamed?). As a result, children have the highest athletic abilities among all other kindergarteners. I would dare to say that raising physically strong and healthy child is a desire of every parent. Yet, parents want to make sure that their children are safe and sound. Unfortunately, Takaharu mentions only handrails and nets being used to provide safety. Although, he considers a small dosage of danger to be advantageous for kids, discussing the ways they maintain safety might have allowed him gain listeners trust and acceptance of the idea.

Another lesson Takaharu tries to teach us is that kids need to learn helping each other and to feel connected to the outside. It often happens that pre-school education focuses on teaching kids letters and numbers, instead of teaching them life skills. Still, letting kids “tumble sometimes”, help friends (when they cannot climb a tree), and interact with outside world (like biting trees and getting used to different weather conditions) teaches them “how to live in this world”, which, in my opinion, is a valuable lesson. The strongest evidence for Takaharu’s claim here is photos and video of children engaged in interaction with others and children falling and getting up.

Takaharu Tezuka’s speech reflects his love towards children and desire to give the best for them, which proves that raising a child is not the mission of parents and teachers only, other people (architects, for example) can have tremendous impact. This man has impressed me with unordinary way of thinking, dedication to his job and innovative ideas, that are worth spreading.

What is in my teacher bag?


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There is a bag that I carry around all the time. It is handmade, it is ever-changing, and it is irreplaceable. Well, I have to admit that it is not the best one and not everyone likes it. But I do love it.

To make this bag I used the best fabric I could find. I found it after hearing one university professor explain how to find profession you are destined for. She asked to think about a thing that irritates us the most in our environment, city or country; and then she said to think about profession that fights against this thing. I thought about school I studied in, about increasing educational issues, and about low level of literacy. That is how I discovered the fabric- strong motivation for teaching. Still, I thought it was not enough: I needed more colors.

All great educators I have met in my life were highly dedicated to what they were doing. They did their job the best way they could; they had no excuses. That dedication inspired us, as students, and we worked hard not to let our teachers down. So, dedication became the second cloth I used.

Now, I needed threads. But what could tightly tie motivation and dedication together? I needed something that would keep me afloat even when I want to give up and find easier way to live. What would constantly remind me about the importance of my job? After scrutinizing the question, I found simple answer: lifelong learning. To hold the bag together no matter what, I needed to constantly refine myself as an educator, to learn more about my field of work and to connect my knowledge with changing world. I have to stay hungry for knowledge to keep my motivation and dedication.

Finally, I had the bag I liked. Yet, nobody needs an empty teacher bag. I mean you do not carry the bag unless there is something in there that you find necessary, valuable or hard-to-reach. During my teaching practice I slowly but surely started filling the bag. I kept some things, threw away others or simply replaced with better ones. Let’s have a look at what I have right now.

If you rummage a bit in the bag, the first thing you find will probably be a big boxes of desire to see every single student succeed. When I say every single, I mean every single: the one with low level of readiness, the one that is bored because he or she already knows the topic, the one that feels anxious, the one with low level of self-esteem, the one that loves being the smartest- every single one. This box teaches that every student has potential, he or she just needs to be guided to make him or her stay curious about learning. It teaches to be friends with mistakes and be able to learn from them. To be honest, these are my favorite boxes.

The other thing you will come across in my bag is a package of teaching techniques. This package took me a lot of time to fill. I have differentiation to foster student-centered learning and student autonomy. There is also a small piece of project-based learning, a result of action research I did with my former students. Next to it is the creation of learning objectives in collaboration with students to instill a sense of ownership over the learning process. A lot of these things were stolen from my colleagues using close collaboration and constant observation of their work. There are other small things in this package; however, it is still not full (I doubt whether it will ever be).

I hate trash in my bag, but it appears there somehow. Challenges with time management and inability to successfully cooperate with parents are still residing at the bottom of the bag. I am sure I will get rid of the them one day, but still graciously accept another portion of trash, since this is the way we learn. We need our weaknesses and we need challenges to learn and become better.

I think we do need our bags to see what we currently have, to reflect and to look ahead. Do you have a bag? Can we have a glimpse of what you have in there?

Ungraded schools need to be heard

Equity in education is a matter that has always been widely examined, discussed and debated. One might consider that equity means granting every child a school place; however, there is a way more to this. Equity allows every kid to obtain quality education regardless of student background, his/her skills, parents’ wallet thickness or any other factor. This piece of writing discusses equity challenges faced by rural ungraded schools, the issues bothering me for a while.

Ungraded school (UGS) might be defined as a comprehensive school with a low number of learners per class that results in the establishment of joint grades, where students from different grades study in one classroom, and special ways of teaching (Irsaliyev et al., 2015). In Kazakhstan those schools take around 50 % of total number with only around 10 % of students studying there (Irsaliyev et al., 2015). Due to the lack of teaching staff, teachers are forced to teach multiple subjects, with only 82% of them having Higher Education degree (Irsaliyev et al., 2015). To add to the pile, ungraded schools suffer from inadequate infrastructure and devastatingly low ICT support. Therefore, a great majority of students of UGS get lower scores in national and international exams compared to other students (OECD, 2014). For instance, generally UGS students are observed to get 10 points less in unified national testing (UNT) than in urban comprehensive schools (OECD, 2014). Thus, equity is firmly positioned under a great threat, unless certain measures are taken to change the situation.

On the bright side, there are number of innovations related to the system of ungraded schools. The main changes include the establishment of a Republican Centre for the Development of Ungraded schools and Resource centers (OECD, 2014). While the first one deals with teacher development and methodological support, the main aims of the second one incorporate conducting training session and distance learning courses for students. Next, to decrease a number of drop-outs students who live in distant areas are provided with free transportation. Some might consider that something is better than nothing; however, the reforms mentioned above are just a temporary remedy, which do not eliminate the issue itself. For instance, teacher and student trainings do not decrease the number of ungraded schools, or offer substantial support since both are hold several times per academic year. The same is true for free transportation. Therefore, inequity between UGS students and other students remains and to reinforce equity more fundamental changes are necessary.

So, here is the question I am asking you to consider: what actions might be taken to effectively solve equity challenges of ungraded schools?


OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). (2014). Secondary education in Kazakhstan: reviews of national policies for education. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Irsaliyev, S., Kultumanova, A., Tulekov, E., Kussidenova, G., Iskakov, B., Zabara, L., & Korotkikh, Y. (2015). National report on the state and development of educational system of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Astana: JSC, Informational Analytical Center of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan.