All posts by davidphilip

Reformists vs. Traditionalists

A recent article in The Economist entitled “Reformists and traditionalists are at war over Russian schools” paints a adversarial picture of educationalists in Russia. According to the article, the reformists are promoting student-centered pedagogies, hands-on technological skills, and collaboration to prepare graduates for the modern workplace; the traditionalists, on the other hand, are emphasizing vospitaniye and the classics through more standardized direct instruction.

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Image credit: Lambert/Getty Images

The article raises interesting questions for me about the situation in Kazakhstan, a country which often mirrors Russian models of government, education, management, and policy. With so many Kazakhstani educators on this blog, I would be curious to know how they see Kazakhstan’s education in this dichotomy. I know NIS is seen as a reformist force, with its team teaching, project-based learning, IB courses, and criteria based assessment. Are there traditionalist critics out there? Are mainstream schools caught in a tug-of-war about these approaches?

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What are your thoughts?


Writing Contest Winners: Round One

The first round of our Spring 2018 writing contest series had only three submissions, but they were strong posts which provided critical reviews to two texts about Evidence-Based Policy Making (EBPM). The upside of the low number of posts is that all three contestants won a prize.

Please join us in congratulating the winners!
Third place: Gulzhaina Mussagali

Third Place

Second place: Sagida Serikbayeva

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First place: Mariya Ippolitova

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To learn how to submit a post for Round 2, click here.

Podcasts, meet blogging. Blogging, this is a podcast.

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Podcasts are to radio what blogs are to newspapers. The democratization of modern media has meant that the barriers to becoming a writer or radio host have been drastically lowered. As the members of this blog know, this medium allows participants to reach a wider audience than one classroom or even one institution.

This month, I would like to try an experiment to integrate these two not-so-new-anymore formats. Below you will find a collection of podcasts on science, language, and education. Choose one, or find your own, and write a response to it as your next post. Be sure to include a link to the episode you listened to, and perhaps a related picture to make the post relevant for a wider audience.

Some potential questions you could address in your post:

  • What is the episode about? What was the gist? Can you highlight the main ideas?
  • Are the creators trying to inform, entertain, or persuade you? How do you know?
  • How does the episode incorporate arguments, reasons, and evidence to achieve its purpose(s)?
  • Did you learn anything new? Would you recommend this episode to a friend?
  • How do the ideas presented in the episode correspond with your own thoughts, experiences, or prior knowledge about the topic?

Each show name is followed by episode links and a couple words about the episode.


“Host Stephen J. Dubner has surprising conversations that explore the riddles of everyday life and the weird wrinkles of human nature — from cheating and crime to parenting and sports. Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists and entrepreneurs — and his Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt.” From the website


“Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” From the website
  • Truth Warriors The scientific method at work in the world.
  • Words Three stories about a man learning language at 27 years old, the effect of losing language completely after suffering a stroke, and the recent creation of a completely new language.
  • Fate and Fortune A story about choices and consequences, with a special section on the controversial practice of labeling certain children as “gifted” as early at 8 years old.
  • Translation An investigation of the gap between experience and language, and how people try to bridge it.

This American Life

“We sometimes think of our program as a documentary show for people who normally hate documentaries. A public radio show for people who don’t necessarily care for public radio.” From the website
  • The Problem We All Live With A story about how desegregation could be used to minimize the racial divide in American schools.
  • Harper High School, Part I (Part II here) An in-depth story about one school with 29 recent deaths from gun violence.
  • Is This Working? What are the best ways to deal with misbehaving school kids? An investigation of how punishments may further hurt kids instead of helping them in the long term.


A Whole List of Exclusively Education-Related Podcasts from NPR

3 Linguistics Podcasts Every Language Lover Should Listen To

Philosophy Now: Philosophy in Education



Creating an Academic Community

Image result for social constructivismSocial constructivism tells us that knowledge is created through social discourse–communication, sharing ideas, and discussion–in a community.  I want to take a minute to show you what I think that means at NUGSE.

Students at NUGSE are creating knowledge together.

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From the theses that are currently being added to the NU Repository, to the student run journal NUGSE Research in Education currently working on its fourth issue, to this blog, with 738 original posts–it is clear that we have something worth saying and that we have the means to say it well. NUWG’s most read posts:

“Kazakhstan plans switch to Latin alphabet” by @nazguln, 1,258 views
“Education-job mismatch among graduates. Thesis topic” by @sholpannur, 802 views


“The deficiency of the trilingual education reform in Kazakhstan” by @yessenova, 502 views
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 “Translanguaging vs. Code-switching” by @maira1291, this month’s most visited post, with 79 new views

Students at NUGSE are collaborating in and out of the classroom.

Students work together in many ways. In the classroom, they complete group projects, solve problems in class discussions, and debate important ideas in education today. Outside the classroom, the interaction continues in course discussions on moodle and here. Just to give you some statistics: Blog alltime stats

Students at NUGSE are connected to a vast network of international scholars, educators, and students.

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Website views, 2015-2017

It is important to realize that you are not only connected to your peers, but also to many international readers who want to learn about what is going on in Central Asian education. We have readers from all over the world; our students have been noticed in other blogs; and researchers in the US have written in asking for the contact information of our journal article authors.

An academic community requires active participants who are willing to speak up, step out of their comfort bubble, and share their work with the world. This community is clearly alive and well, and ready to continue growing.

With that in mind, welcome to the Nazarbayev University Writers Guild!

Political Commentary in Kazakhstan

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I am often asked about the impression Kazakhstani citizens have of US politics these days. Here, from an academic English vocabulary quiz, come two answers to that question. In this task, the students needed to write a paragraph on a topic of their choice, using at least 5 of 9 provided vocab words (in bold).

The first:

In the egregious aftermath of the elections, the media are trying to nitpick the obscure ideas espoused by President Trump, who seems to adhere to all of the suggestions made by his advisor Steve Bannon, indicating that the president is malleable to the control of certain people.
nitpick (v.) To be concerned with or find fault with insignificant details

The second:

In the aftermath of the last presidential elections, the media found itself in a peculiar situation, with previously obscure publications such as Breitbart, adhering to the most extreme-right stance in politics, gaining popularity. In addition, the newly elected president, who espouses this conservative position, turned out to be malleable, often repeating what is said on the conservative channels, not nitpicking the information reported there.

And a third, just a bonus to remind me that my students are learning the big ideas I hope they’ll take with them into the workplace:

Espousing somebody’s obscure point of view without adhering to pertinent evidence may lead to egregious aftermath. This means that we have to meticulously nitpick every sentence and evidence provided by authors before supporting them.

Spring 2016: What’s new?

Dear students and readers,

The NU Writers Guild is ready to start another semester. We are welcoming two new cohorts, the MA 1st year group, and the MSc Inclusive Ed and School Leadership groups. With all the changes going on in the Kazakhstani education system, both in policy and practice, this is an exciting time to be working in research.

If you are new to the site, be sure to read the pages about how to participate and some blogging guidelines.

Here are a few updates to the site:

New categories

Authors should add a category label to each post, based on their cohort or topic of their writing. This allows the reader to find posts based on that category, as you can see in the site’s main menu. All participants are welcome to post in any category, and comment across the cohort groups. The new categories are Multilingual Education, Inclusive Education, School Leadership, and Thesis Writing.

NUGSE Research in Education

This semester we will be launching the first student-run academic journal at Nazarbayev University, NUGSE Research in Education. You can find the blog for the journal here, but you will also see news and updates on NUWG.  This journal is a great opportunity for students to become authors, peer reviewers and editors in the publication process. More details will be announced soon.

Alumni and Current Students

This is also the first year we have enrolled users that include alumni and current students. Hopefully, some of our alumni can keep in touch and stay involved by joining the discussions that our current students are having. Their experience in completing the NUGSE program, and then moving to the professional world (or on to a PhD or some other academic program), will be invaluable for our community. Don’t be a stranger!

Happy New Year, and here’s to the beginning of a bright and exciting new semester!