The Kazakh National Plan: 100 steps to success

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The Kazakh Minister of Education and Science Dr Aslan Sarinzhipov has this week laid out the steps identified by the national government to improving human capital and therefore economic prosperity in 21st century Kazakhstan.

In May 2015, the government identified five areas of institutional reform, which collectively have 100 steps that must be achieved before completion of the National Plan. The five areas are:

  1. forming a professional state apparatus;
  2. strengthening the rule of law;
  3. supporting industrialisation and economic growth;
  4. bolstering identity and unity; and
  5. building an accountable government

(source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

The language of reform is typical of the neoliberalism that has been sweeping the world since the latter years of the 20th century: words such as ‘modernisation’, ‘economic prosperity’, ‘highly qualified’ offer clear markers as to the aims of the government. Dr Sarinzhipov’s statement abounds with ideas drawn from and enabled by processes of globalisation – Kazakhstan seeks to draw on expertise from Japan, Korea and Finland where global measures have demonstrated success in areas such as school achievement, and a review of major national government scholarship schemes has been drawn on to drive forward changes in Kazakhstan’s own national scheme, the Bolashak Scholarship Programme.

Sarinzhipov outlines a number of specific measures in education and science that will enable his domain to work towards the National Plan. These include:

  • Moving from an 11 to a 12 year education system
  • Greater use of other languages (including English) throughout the school and postcompulsory levels
  • Provision of new facilities and science clusters
  • Training for professional staff either abroad or provided by brought-in international experts
  • Streamlining of the Bolashak Scholarships: the range of universities where Kazakh students can study will be further restricted to institutions classified as world-class in global rankings systems

Whilst the language and the desire to emulate can be seen in national government reform packages around the world, and where many of the reforms are common across postsocialist systems (e.g. the increase in compulsory schooling to 12 years), I would argue that Kazakhstan’s plan for education and science has a number of factors that differentiate it.

The primary differential, in my view, is that the driving force for change appears to be the national government, where in many other nations reform is driven by international agencies, in particular those that offer financing such as the World Bank group. That is not to say that international organisations have not influenced the government’s strategy, either through their continuing involvement in the country or indirectly by senior level officials (Sarinzhipov is an example) having worked for these organisations and therefore having been exposed to their ways of working.

This view can be substantiated by the importance being placed on embedding the Mangilik El  [ru] (Eternal Nation) values system throughout the education system. Rather than simply taking on the (perceived) best features of other countries, Kazakhstan’s plan sets these into a firmly identified national context. Nation building for this and other postsocialist countries may seem overtly ideological to those from countries with a longer independent history, but in the context of contemporary Kazakhstan this strategy is seen as a way to unify the concept of a nation – one that generate economic prosperity and social and cultural capital through the implementation of the National Plan.

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