All posts by Kamila Rollan

Quant/Qual Debate

Although choosing the methodology should depend on the nature of the research question itself, certain preferences still exist among policy-makers and practitioners. For example, most of our professors at NUGSE constantly highlight how revealing and valuable the qualitative research is. However, when I had conversations with people in the Ministry of Education, Analytical Center, or with the administration of NU, they strongly suggested focusing on quantitative methodology. When choosing methods for my own thesis, I, therefore, took into consideration a potential audience, but let us discuss these different approaches further before moving on to my thesis.

It is justified that decision-makers such as the ministry or administration often trust quantitative research more, favoring the generalizability. When it comes to policy formation in such a unitary and centralized state as Kazakhstan, its outcomes influence all regions. For example, the state curriculum approved by the Ministry of Education is taught not only in Astana but also in villages in the South, in lyceums or gymnasiums for gifted children and in ungraded schools in remote areas.Therefore, there is a need for generalizability and accountability for the majority expected from the research influencing this decision-making process. It is possible to argue whether such nature of a political system in a country as large and as disperse as Kazakhstan is effective, but the current state of affairs dictates the priorities. A priority now is quantitative research.

Moving away from large-scale activities such as policy-making in the Ministry to small-scale matters such as improving the situation in a particular classroom, the type of investigations needed change significantly. Many practitioners may worry much more about qualitative inquiries that can shed the light on individual cases, perceptions, and in-depth explanations. For example, if a child is not accepted by peers, a school staff member would want to interview these children, asking “why”, “how exactly”, “for what reasons”, or “so what”. These questions would be very hard to be answered via quantitative instruments because they call for a story, not a numerical value. There are multiple cases when a qualitative approach is much more beneficial for the purpose of the research.

In general, this debate between two types of methodological approaches could be well balanced out by the mix method, only if it serves the research objective in general. For my topic on how activists in inclusive education movement contribute to the reform, I am specifically looking for the stories. Therefore, I favored qualitative methodology. This choice informs my audience on what information I find more valuable. It is not the number of people advocating for inclusive education that I try to find, neither it is the correlation between variables, it is about the stories people have to share, even if there would only be two study participants killing the hope for generalizability, I would still want to document their contribution and use it to empower those who can join the movement as well.

Writing Literature Review

Currently, I am at a stage when the thesis proposal is written and being revised and edited. I feel confident about this stage as I have a clear understanding of what changes I would like to make in the current draft. I would like to enrich my literature review with more background information on the development of inclusive education policy in Kazakhstan in general as well as with specific examples how this process is perceived as top-down. In this post, I would like to share how I organized my main themes in the literature review and chose a couple of influential texts to cite.

My main themes in the thesis are inclusive education, civil activism, and grassroots movement. This choice might be explained by my background in political science, which creates a certain lens through which I examine inclusive education reform. In organizing my themes, I move from general to specific. For example, I start with explaining common views on policy formation in Kazakhstan in general saying “It is a common discourse in Kazakhstan that policy-making and reform are top-down processes…” and move to inclusive education specifically later “…scholarly work on inclusive education in Kazakhstan often starts with listing international and national agendas…” This is a smooth way to guide my audience to a specific research question raised in the thesis.

I organize the literature review in paragraphs, each having one major idea explained. For example, the first paragraph is dedicated to ways how civil society contributes to education reform, and the next paragraphs give specific cases one by one. This is done to draw the attention of the reader to specific ideas, separating them into topics or categories. However, it is important to glue these ideas by transitions such as “another example is…” or “an example from the higher education is…”, displaying the connection between the elements of the literature review.

For the purpose of my research to explore civil activism in inclusive education, it is important to provide evidence on bottom-up movement as well as on the state-driven top-down policies, because these two represent different approaches to policymaking. Therefore, I start the proposal citing Kassymova, D., Knox, C. and Mashan, M. (2008) who argue in their article that Kazakhstani government prescribes policies, and the citizens only execute. This view becomes a foundation of my thesis questions, which doubt such vision of policy initiatives and aim to discover how civil society actually contributes to inclusive education reform. Therefore, another work that I cite is chosen specifically to provide an example of this bottom-up activism. This work is produced by Kauffman and Popova (2013) and reveals a case of a school in Petropavlovsk city, where inclusive education has been practiced even before such policy was designed on a state level. These two works that I have cited are important to provide two different views on policy formation around inclusive education and to justify the need to fill the gap in how much we know of civil activism and movement for inclusion.

My challenge remains to find enough resources about Kazakhstan, especially speaking of such specific topics as parental activism and advocacy for the rights of children with disabilities. There is a limited selection of articles and authors who study inclusive education in Kazakhstan, although the number is growing constantly. However, a lack of certain resources is a finding of itself, so I turn this into a benefit by establishing one more cause of my thesis motivation, which is to fill the gap in the literature.


Kauffman, N. & Popova, L. (2013). A path to inclusive education in Pertopavlovsk, Kazakhstan. The Journal of Social Policy Studies, 11:4, 501-516.

Kassymova, D., Knox, C. & Mashan, M. (2008). Public Management Reforms in Kazakhstan. Public Management Reforms in Central and Eastern Europe. Slovakia: NISPAcee Press, 151-172.

Excited About Thesis Topic

Since I have started learning more about inclusive education in Kazakhstan, I noticed that the relevant scholarly work often starts with listing international agendas and state programs before moving on to barriers such as unpreparedness of teachers and parents. One might think that inclusive education is just a top-down effort without public support. In general, it is a common discourse in Kazakhstan that policy making and reform are top-down processes, and the society serves as implementer or executor of the laws and policies prescribed by the centralized government (Kassymova, D., Knox, C. & Mashan, M., 2008). I aim to challenge this by exploring the activism of non-governmental organizations, parental groups, principals, and teachers in schools. Therefore, my thesis topic is the grassroots movement for inclusive education in Kazakhstan. A foundational research question is in what ways and to what extent does the civil society contribute to inclusive education reform?

An idea for this topic has been forming since I started engaging closely with such NGOs as “Solnechniy Mir”, “Kenes”, “Dara”, “Spina Bifida”, and parents of children with various disabilities. Listed NGOs advocate for the rights of children and adults with physical, sensory, and mental disabilities. My acquaintance with these organizations came through my work related to the inclusion of children with disabilities into academic support courses held at Nazarbayev University. In a way, I might call myself an activist as well, as I have been leading these academic courses for children from disadvantaged backgrounds for five years now. Therefore, my thesis about activism reflects my professional interests as well as personal values.

I learned about the struggle of various NGOs and parental groups for inclusive education and social inclusion in general and about some remarkable achievements. I realized that since the policies need to be approved by centralized Ministry of Education, most of the civil activism informing these policies simply remains unrecognized. Therefore, working on the thesis, I am willing to investigate more about the ways grassroots activists contributed to inclusive education reform, to give a credit to the leadership of social groups and individuals and to empower the civil society in Kazakhstan.


Kassymova, D., Knox, C. & Mashan, M. (2008). Public Management Reforms in Kazakhstan.  Public Management Reforms in Central and Eastern Europe. Slovakia: NISPAcee Press, 151-172.