Nazarbayev University
Graduate School of Education

Graduate School of Education

Researching Contemporary Trends in the Development of Secondary Education System in Kazakhstan

Status: completed, 2017

Research Team

Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education

Dr. Anna CohenMiller
Dr. Bridget Goodman
Zakir Jumakulov
Assel Kambatyrova, PhD student
Dr. Kairat Kurakbayev (Co-Principal Investigator)

University of Cambridge Faculty of Education

Dr. Olena Fimyar
Dr. Colleen McLaughlin (Principal Investigator)
Dr. Liz Winter
Dr. Natallia Yakavets

Project Introduction

The study examined the attitudes and perspectives of schoolteachers, school principals and other stakeholders towards the implementation of novel features of the primary education curriculum and new principles and practices of assessment at mainstream schools in Kazakhstan. The overall research strategy was based on breaking the research focus on attitudes, perceptions and experiences of schoolteachers, deputy principals and school principals and other major stakeholders into five discrete elements. The five topics were: 

  • The aims and goals of the curriculum
  • The content of the curriculum 
  • New modes of assessment 
  • The overall experience of implementing the new elements and this includes the management of change and support towards implementing this.

Major Findings

The qualitative data showed that many teachers and head teachers saw the new curriculum as a significant change in thinking and practice, or as one school principal of a pilot school said, ‘We have had change before but this is a paradigm shift.’ Some of the findings of the study include the following.  Collaboration had increased and teachers were collaborating within and between schools. This was highly valued. The collaboration was between teacher and teachers, student assistants and teacher, between schools and it took many forms. The teachers were engaging in joint planning, co teaching, observations of each other, training sessions and team teaching. To school teachers, this was very new in many cases.  Looking at urban-rural differences, the perception of urban and rural teachers about the content of the new curriculum is similar for all components of the curriculum. However, as the Principal Investigator of the project at Nazarbayev University, Dr.Kairat Kurakbayev, states “the background of students in urban and rural schools prompted different attitudes towards the content of the curriculum”. There was a notable statistically significant difference from rural to urban locations in the teachers’ perceptions of the difficulty of the curriculum. Rural teachers considered that the difficulty of the curriculum is less adequate for the majority of the students compared to their urban counterparts. More specifically, 66% of urban teachers agreed or strongly agreed that the difficulty of the new curriculum is at the right level for students, compared to 54% of rural teachers.  As a related issue to the rural-urban difference above, some teachers’ attitudes towards the difficulty of the content of the curriculum appeared to stem from the importance of preschool education and the preparation of children for school. Due to uneven preschool opportunities and experiences, this presents problems across a class or in some cases for whole groups as children adapt to the school environment.  Discussing the practice of using new ways of assessing students’ academic achievement, it is worth noting that teachers implementing the renewed primary curriculum have developed a more sophisticated understanding of purposes and benefits of different techniques of assessing students. As Dr. Liz Winter, a researcher of the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education and a member of the study noted, “content analysis of the open response data from the surveys on the purposes of assessment showed a statistically significant more sophisticated approach towards assessment in teachers of the new curriculum compared to others”. To support this, the survey results also showed that an ‘Assessment for Learning approach’ is already prevalent in the Grade 1 teachers in the 30 pilot schools so marked progress towards emphasising learning over reporting for accountability appears to be on the way”.  New ways of reporting assessment outcomes to parents had triggered more engagement with parents in terms of the academic progress of children. A considerable amount of time and effort on the part of teachers of the new curriculum has been spent in explaining to parents what the new forms of reporting mean. Teachers have had a large task to explain and justify why students are not grades given on a daily basis. Although this has taken up teachers’ time, it has provided a mechanism by which children’s learning can be discussed in parent-teacher groups and individually with parents.  Readers interested in studying the research findings in a fuller detail, please contact the Principal Investigator of the Project, Kairat Kurakbayev at or via the telephone +7 (7172) 70 65 76.

Research Methods

The theoretical framework adopted for the research applied a model of four distinct elements that interact to form an effective teaching and learning system (Darling Hammond, 2010). These components comprise: a high quality curriculum; appropriate materials and conditions; good assessment tools and well-prepared teachers. Coupled to this, the research used Oates’ (2010) notions of “curriculum control” and “curriculum coherence” to afford a critical lens for data organization and data analysis. Six schools out of 30 schools piloting the new State Mandatory Standard for Primary Education took part in the study. The study was conducted in different regions of the country with the equal number of rural and urban schools. During the 2016-2017 period, researchers conducted 20 one-to-one interviews and 35 focus groups that involved more than 60 people.  A survey, which generated qualitative and quantitative data through a mix of written open and closed questions, was distributed to 67 Grade 1 and 253 teachers of other grades in the six pilot schools visited. It was further administered to 275 Grade 1 teachers (only) in early May 2016 in the remaining 24 pilot schools.

Planned Publications

McLaughlin, C., Winter, L., Kurakbayev, K. Educational Reform and Change in a National System: a case study of the early stages of implementation. A manuscript for an international peer-reviewed journal. McLaughlin, C., Winter, L., Kurakbayev, K. Charting the Change in the Attitudes of Pilot Schools’ Teachers. A manuscript for a local peer-reviewed journal.