All posts by chsherbakov

Latinising the Kazakh script: A necessary step to reclaim identity

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 15.45.15Latinisation of the Kazakh alphabet is well under way.  The President has signed the Law; a working version of the new script has been approved; and responsible state agencies have been appointed.  However, the reform continues to generate heated debates in the media, on social networks, and in the old-fashioned offline (kitchen) conversations.  This is no surprise, as the rationales for the policy that are often voiced by officials and the majority of experts are vague and superficial: for example, Latinisation will help students learn English (my knowledge of the Latin script did not help me learn German); Cyrillic has too many unnecessary letters (well, get rid of them—no need to change the whole set); the Latin script will promote the integration of Kazakhstan into the globalised information space (but unifying alphabets will not make Kazakh and English mutually intelligible).  They seem to avoid the real reasons for the reform, which are largely ideological, and thus fail to convince people in its necessity and garner genuine public support instead of the usual compliance with top-down initiatives.  But if we look back at the recent history of alphabets in Kazakhstan (Latinisation in the late 1920s and Russification that followed just over a decade later), we will see why it is essential that the Kazakh script be re-Latinised, or, more importantly de-Russified. Continue reading Latinising the Kazakh script: A necessary step to reclaim identity

A note on keynote speakers @ NIS Con


(This photo is not actually from the NIS Conference; it’s Nick Clegg not engaging with his audience at the UK LibDem’s 2014 Conference. Source: Guido Fawkes)

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a conference. I wasn’t fortunate to attend too many presentations, but I caught the main plenary sessions with distinguished guests from abroad. I felt quite impressed while I was there, and this impression probably lasted a few days. But if you asked me now, I wouldn’t be able to say what was so good about it. The glossy building… Big fancy ideas… Flashy slide shows and yellow socks… Was I fooled into believing that something important was taking place? I think I was. I think a good chance for an important and meaningful conversation about the state of education was wasted on what essentially amounted to a marketing campaign for NIS itself and the keynote speakers.

Continue reading A note on keynote speakers @ NIS Con

Integration without humiliation?

The United States has been tarred from its very inception by the sin of racism.  Although progress has undoubtedly been made in reducing the injustices toward Black people , and expanding their rights, it seems that this progress has slowed down in the past few decades.  The great leap forward that was the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s has been followed by a long period of stagnation and even reversal of some of its most important achievements.

One such achievement – the desegregation of schools – or, rather, attempts to repeat this achievement today, is the subject of a two-part This American Life podcast series.  While it is impossible to argue with the authors of the programme that school integration is extremely beneficial and is indeed the way forward in building a more equitable and just society, there was something in the way they framed the issue that left me a bit uneasy about the whole thing.  And I am not sure how to resolve it.  But let me first briefly recap the podcast itself. Continue reading Integration without humiliation?

My favourite researcher


My favourite researcher, Noam Chomsky, is probably best known around the world as a stark critic of the US foreign policy, but his interests and intellectual influence go far beyond that.  A true polymath, Chomsky is an enormously important figure in linguistic, cognitive science, philosophy, social criticism, and political science.  It is not the breadth of his work, however, that inspires me most, but the meticulous analysis and intellectual courage that he brings to all his writing and public talks.  Continue reading My favourite researcher

Erlan Sagadiyev @ TEDxAlmaty on language education: A deconstruction

Erlan Sagadiyev, the current Minister of Education and Science, is a highly controversial figure in Kazakhstan’s politics.  Most of the heat around him is generated by the Kazakh nationalists who accuse him of systematic efforts to kill the Kazakh language, one of these efforts being the trilingual education policy.  Long before he became a minister, in 2013, Mr. Sagadiyev gave a TEDx talk in Almaty on language in education.  In this talk, he attempted to justify the trilingual policy, whose great challenges would befall him only three years later.  While at first sight Sagadiyev’s argument seems logical and persuasive, a closer look at his main claims reveals several flaws.  These flaws, I believe, are at the heart of the nationalists’ discontent with the policy, and the Minister’s weakness in defending it. Continue reading Erlan Sagadiyev @ TEDxAlmaty on language education: A deconstruction

Is form the new substance?

I have been thinking recently of the importance of packaging.  You go to the supermarket to buy, say, a detergent.  You look at the great variety of products in colourful boxes and, accordingly, the wide range of prices, and think: this is just a detergent, why make so many different kinds?  But on a closer inspection you find out that it is in fact one and the same product, made by the same company, almost certainly at the same factory in Turkey, with slightly varying smells, but sold under different brands, in highly distinctive packages, and for wildly diverging prices.  So what am I buying here?  The box with a brand name?  Continue reading Is form the new substance?

The perils of neoliberalism in education


  “Businessmen are the one group that distinguishes capitalism and the American way of life from the totalitarian statism that is swallowing the rest of the world… Businessmen are the symbol of a free society – the symbol of America.”

Ayn Rand, a novelist, playwright, philosopher, and a “founding mother” of neoliberalism


Are you sure, Ayn? Is this misogynist, racist, and insatiably greedy “dude” really the symbol of freedom who will save your country from totalitarianism?

Continue reading The perils of neoliberalism in education

The importance of metaphors

students as empty vessels
Image source:

I’ve always thought that metaphor is a literary device used by writers who want to decorate their fiction, and by people who struggle to explain a complex notion properly and have to resort to a simplified analogy with something familiar.  But recently, I’ve discovered that metaphors are a really serious thing indeed.  In fact, you can be concocting metaphors as a full-time job!  Metaphor designer, it turns out, is a legitimate profession.  And it’s not some frivolous occupation like Instagram promotion: it requires a degree in linguistics and advanced research skills. Continue reading The importance of metaphors