Nazarbayev University
Graduate School of Education

Graduate School of Education

Aligning Academic Programmes of Secondary and Higher Education Institutions of Kazakhstan in the Context of International Practices

Status: completed, 2012-2013

Research Team

Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education

Dr. Kairat Kurakbayev (Co-Principal Investigator)
Dr. Aida Sagintayeva
Darkhan Bilyalov
Assel Kambatyrova
Marina Kishkentayeva

University of Cambridge Faculty of Education

Dr. David Bridges (Research Director)
Dr. Colleen McLaughlin (Principal Investigator)
Dr. Olena Fimyar
Dr. David Frost
Dr. Fay Turner
Dr. Elaine Wilson
Dr. Liz Winter
Dr. Natallia Yakavets
Mike Younger

Project Introduction

The major part of Kazakhstan’s educational reform programme is focused on the school sector. This programme includes:

  • the development of a new curriculum and reform of the structure of assessment;
  • Structure of school assessment
  • the implementation of a tri-lingual policy in schools;
  • the development of a new raft of selective schools for talented and gifted children, the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools;
  • a major programme of in-service education of teachers under ‘Centres of Excellence’.

The University of Cambridge has significant involvement in this school reform process through, in particular, Cambridge International Examinations and also through the Faculty of Education. The Cambridge research team are in certain respects insiders as well as outsiders in relation to the reform process (a position familiar to many in educational research), and the methodological issues raised by this positioning will be something we shall want to explore in the course of the research. It is the school reform process that is the focus for the study conducted in 2012-2013. We have sought to understand and to describe the story of educational reform in Kazakhstan since independence in 1991, the contemporary context and the issues that reform is seeking to address; the economic, cultural, geo-political and simply pragmatic considerations and aspirations that are driving policy; the main elements of that policy; and the issues that are being addressed in its implementation. In the first year of the research we have concentrated on evidence gathered from official documents and key figures at the centre of the reform process. In the second year of the research we focused on the experience and perceptions of those on the ground in the schools. We described the work in 2012 initially as a ‘scoping study’ and indeed this has been its primary function. It has served to provide the research team with an orientation towards the educational reforms in Kazakhstan and to identify some key issues that merit more detailed exploration in future years (see section below on the next stages of the research). There is a good deal in this report that will not be news to colleagues involved in the reform process in Kazakhstan. The researchers bring with them, however, frameworks of understanding, international experience and critico-creative perspectives that may offer a different way of looking at what is known (see Bridges 2009 on the contribution of outsider perspectives in research), raise new questions or invite fresh consideration. There is a very mechanical relationship between research and policy or practice, but it is certainly the hope of this research collaboration that we may contribute positively through our research to the development of education in Kazakhstan, as well as to international understanding of its aspirations and experience.

Major Findings

This research was initiated as a scoping study in 2012; we did not expect at this stage to produce a set of recommendations, but rather to identify key issues that merited attention and indeed further research in 2013 and beyond. Doing this international study, we tried to pick out what seem to us to be some of the most important issues raised by the papers – rooted, in particular, in the interviews that we have conducted over the last nine months but also informed by international experience and research literature. The outcomes of this stage of the research are fully reported in our book, Educational Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan edited by David Bridges and published in September 2014 by Cambridge University Press.

Research Approaches and Methods

We are committed in this and future research to employ a mixture of appropriate research approaches and methods. There is however no justification for using a mixture of methods just for the sake of it, and the approaches and methods have to be selected on the basis of their appropriateness to the research task and the kind of reasons, evidence and argument that these call into play. In this first year of the research we have been involved primarily in trying to understand the recent (post-independence) history and the contemporary story of educational reform in Kazakhstan, the drivers or ‘rationalities’ of educational policy and the way these are located in the wider political discourse and the social, economic and cultural context of contemporary reform. We have been looking at all this as it has been articulated in policy documents and official statements and has it has been and is today perceived by a wide range of people who have key roles in the shaping, interpretation and delivery of these policies. Given these objectives it has been appropriate to apply research approaches drawn from history (including what Stenhouse 1978 calls ‘contemporary history’), from policy sociology, from discourse analysis, from economic theory, from comparative education, from philosophy and, in a modest way at this stage, ethnography (case study) and life history. We have gathered evidence mainly from official and unofficial documents and by interviews with key participants. (See Bridges et al. 2009 for discussion of the range of research approaches which can support ‘Evidence-based educational policy’.)

Key Publications

Bridges, D. (2014) (ed.) Educational Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bridges, D. & Sagintayeva, A. Introduction. In Bridges, D. (ed) (2014) Educational Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bridges, D., Kurakbayev, K., & Kambatyrova, A. (2014). Lost-and-Found in Translation? Interpreting the Processes of the International and Intranational Translation of Educational Policy and Practice in Kazakhstan. In Bridges, D. (ed) (2014) Educational Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Frost, D., Fimyar, O., Yakavets, N., Bilyalov, D. (2014) The role of school director in educational reform in Kazakhstan. In Bridges, D. (ed) (2014) Educational Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mehisto, P., Kambatyrova, A., Nurseitova, K. Three in one? Trilingualism in policy and educational practice. In Bridges, D. (ed) (2014) Educational Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.