Kazakhstani society enthusiastically received the recent Address of President Tokayev to the people - “Kazakhstan in a new reality: time for action.” It came as a further advancement in bringing to life the mechanism of strategic planning of the country’s development, introduced by First President of the Republic of Kazakhstan – Leader of the Nation Nazarbayev.
It is not by chance that in this document, as in a number of previous speeches, the President of the country pays special attention to education and science.
Indeed, the Address, in essence, sets out a new course for Kazakhstan’s development – a fundamental diversification of the economy and the formation of a new model of public administration. This requires strong, highly professional and proactive personnel.
It is well known that human and intellectual capital is a key factor in moving forward, progress in the modern world. It is this, first and foremost, that is formed by the spheres of education and science.
Only high-quality education can provide the economy and public administration system with personnel with modern competitive qualifications – this is an axiom. Moreover, this applies not only to all “classical” levels of education (primary, secondary, VET, higher and postgraduate), but also to the so-called lifelong education, including upgrading and changing qualifications. Failure in quality at any stage of education, and I’m not afraid of using these words, can threaten the country’s future.
The quality of education is influenced by many factors. I would like to dwell on just a few.
One of them, especially relevant in recent times, is the form of education. It arose due to the coronavirus pandemic, which caused the need to switch to remote learning for schoolchildren and students this spring.
As for higher education, here such a transition was generally quite calm and dignified. The purposeful work of the last decade, aimed at achieving world and European standards of education quality, had a positive impact. It was affected by the official accession of Kazakhstan to the Bologna Process and the European Higher Education Area, the transition to an international three-tier system of higher and postgraduate education, the development of academic student and professorial mobility, the introduction of credit technology and flexible learning paths, accreditation of universities and programs of international level and many other innovations, as well as systemic impact of the expansion and independence of universities based on international experience and legally supported. At the same time, the Ministry of Education and Science understands this process well and continues to work productively in this direction.
But in schools, many fundamental problems that arose gave rise to intense and largely justified criticism.
In particular, the criticism is associated with a clear lack of computers and other communication equipment, the required capacity and Internet coverage, shortcomings in the teaching methodology and feedback from teachers and students.
Among the problems, the practically disrupted e-learning project is often mentioned. Indeed, high hopes were pinned on this project, which began in 2011. Both in the creation of digital educational resources, on which the main emphasis was placed, and in expanding the coverage of Kazakhstanis with high-quality Internet access. I can quote the project itself. “All participants in the educational process, including teachers, students and their parents, have the opportunity to use the educational content of the information system at any time, from anywhere in our republic, regardless of where they are located.” And although mass distance learning itself was not part of the e-learning project at that time, the wide and real coverage of the Internet that was provided for would become a powerful help for distance learning.
But this is a difficult issue. The project was initiated by the Decree of the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan No. 1118 of December 7, 2010, which approved the State Program for the Development of Education in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2011-2020 and is designed for ten-year implementation. However, in reality, funding for the project was actually stopped after two years. And since 2016, the e-learning topic itself has disappeared from the official circulation ahead of schedule.
At the same time, in 2015, without proper justification, the existing State Program for 2011-2020 was terminated ahead of schedule for 5 years before completion, it was thoroughly and comprehensively thought out, systematically built, provided with the necessary resources. Instead, a new substantially truncated State Program of Education and Science for 2016-2019 was urgently developed, and on March 1, 2016 it was approved. This caused the legitimate bewilderment of the scientific and educational community. The e-learning project was not included in the new program, which instead of 10 years was carried out only for a little more than 2 years. Naturally, the planned results could not be obtained.
But not all problems are limited to technical support. The task of creating an efficient distance education system is very complex and comprehensive. Many state bodies and structures should be involved in its solution. First of all, local executive bodies, through which the provision of teachers and students with computer and other necessary equipment is carried out, organizational support of the process is underway. Further – the central government bodies – in the fields of education and science (content and methodology of education, quality of education, training of teaching staff), digital development (IT, technological base of the training system, telecommunications and communications, information security), other bodies and subordinate organizations of a wide spectrum. And this is very much a shortened list. But only together can we build a serious system of mass online education.
All these bodies and organizations must bear their share of responsibility and solve their tasks. They are already known, and their solutions are often very difficult.
So, the quality of distance learning raises a lot of criticism. In my opinion, this is a completely objective and extremely serious problem of global significance.
Full-time education is a mechanism for transferring knowledge from generation to generation that has been worked out over the centuries. Humanity is well adapted to it, and such training has become, in fact, natural, acceptable and effective for all of us – parents, teachers, and students.
But mass distance learning, especially in secondary education, has not yet been provided with any serious research, methodological developments, pedagogical techniques and experience. Moreover, this can be safely attributed not only to our Kazakhstani realities, but also to world practice in general.
The only area where online education is more or less successfully and widely (even on a global scale) used is short-term and thematic local courses for obtaining new knowledge and advanced training for adults. For a number of years now this form of training has been constantly and successfully used by enterprises, organizations, corporations of developed countries to improve the quality of their human resources.
To some extent, online learning has entered the practice of higher education, but mainly as an addition to the face-to-face process. But this is far from the same as the holistic and multi-connected mechanism of the classical education of children.
I think there is a very large field of activity here for scientists, the teaching staff, business, education managers and interested government agencies. Universities, especially those who train pedagogical personnel, should seriously get involved in this issue – for them it is literally a vital necessity. Only by developing fundamentally new methodologies and tools that are well adapted to online learning, it will be possible to hope for positive results in the quality of such education.
So far, the effectiveness and quality of online education, as shown by international practice, does not stand up to criticism. This is largely why, despite the continuation of the pandemic, a number of countries are abandoning the emphasis on distance learning and are making the most serious efforts to resume full-time school work.
This approach is actively supported by the parent community. Indeed, as practice has shown, online education, to a large extent, is becoming, in fact, a form of home education, requiring parents to constantly help the child. This is a difficult situation that creates a serious burden on parents and certain obstacles to their own work.
It should be emphasized that learning has long been a collective process. The most important place in it is occupied by verbal and non-verbal contacts between teachers and students and students among themselves. All of them have been put at the service of training by modern experience. In addition, education and upbringing should be inseparable – these are organically linked processes. Education, in particular, fulfills the function of promoting the formation and development of the individual, and solves a wide range of tasks for this purpose. But such mechanisms are still far from up to the mark in online learning.
Therefore, for example, in the United States, the Academy of Pediatrics recommends opening schools despite the second wave of coronavirus, “Students must be physically present at school. School spaces are fundamental not only for academic learning, but also for children’s social and emotional skills and mental and physical health.”
UN Secretary General António Guterres recently supported traditional forms of education, noting that safe return of schoolchildren to schools should be a global priority.
Germany, Russia, China, Great Britain, France, Spain, Japan and many other countries have made progress in this direction.
At the very least, this should be something to think about. In this regard, the head of state emphasized in his Address that “quality education implies traditional lessons, communication with teachers and peers. Therefore, it is necessary to consider the procedure for returning to the traditional form of full-time education in compliance with epidemiological requirements.”
And most importantly, education is a ladder for collecting fruits from the tree of knowledge, and not the fruits themselves, so the key goal of learning is to teach how to learn. A person will need such a skill throughout his life. At the same time, online learning should become an important and full-fledged part of the education system, actively complementing the face-to-face process at classical levels and occupying more and more important niches in lifelong learning.
Now about science.
Much is already being done here. At the initiative of the Head of State, funding for scientific research has been sharply increased, and such an increase is planned for subsequent years, bringing it to 1% of GDP. This is a significant support for our scientists and an approximation to the standards of developed countries in providing science.
The Address dated September 1 instructed the Government to provide internships in leading scientific centers of the world for 500 scientists annually, as well as provide 1,000 grants for young scientists for research under the Zhas Galym project.
But in order to better meet the tasks of the country’s development, Kazakhstani science needs, in my opinion, further improvement.
The international experience of developed countries shows that approaches to its development differ significantly for two main areas: on the one hand, fundamental science, on the other, applied research and development.
Fundamental research there is funded in the overwhelming majority of cases by the state.
And research and development is largely focused on the innovation process, for which a developed infrastructure is widely used, provided in one form or another by a knowledge-intensive business, which shows an increased demand for modern R&D. Scientists in developed countries are well informed about the needs of production, and innovative renewal and interaction with science is an important component of any serious business. And when solving the issues of financing applied science, they are not as excessively as in our country carried away by scientometrics, and more emphasis is placed on scientific validity, practical significance and the real relevance of research.
In Kazakhstan, this issue is still far from being fully resolved, and business is rather vaguely interested in the results of domestic science. Despite numerous past attempts, an efficient infrastructure for promoting practical innovative implementation of scientific results is also underdeveloped. So far, only the Science Foundation is working more or less purposefully “alone”. And with big obstacles at that. It is necessary to increase attention to its activities, because it creates the foundation for building the confidence of Kazakhstani business in domestic science – this is a very useful and necessary business.
Naturally, with such a state of affairs, it will not be easy to achieve the goal set in the Address of the Head of State on “attracting science to solve applied problems of the national level”.
Therefore, now it is required to direct the most serious efforts to eliminate these shortcomings. To this end, in my opinion, it is necessary to work on a systematic basis to establish live contacts between scientists and domestic business.
The goal is to create a platform for systematic familiarization of scientists with the state, problems and needs of business in R&D. In this, associations of scientists and businessmen should provide great support. In particular, the main headquarters of the Kazakh science of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Kazakhstan, as well as the National Engineering Academy of the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan National Academy of Natural Sciences, and on the production side – Atameken National Chamber of Entrepreneurs and industry associations of business can play a big role. This is a very responsible and promising endeavor .
In addition, the academies of sciences should take on the broader task of promoting the achievements of domestic science among business representatives, the public and all other interested parties.
Finally, I think that fundamental improvement of the scientific and innovative infrastructure should become a responsible task for state bodies, in accordance with the instructions of the President of the country, “Here we need a fresh look, new approaches, reliance on international experience”.
It is especially necessary to create a system of effective stimulation of real demand in the country for scientific developments and the implementation of their results into practice.
The scale of the goals and objectives set by Head of State Tokayev in his Address to the people of Kazakhstan is very big. The work ahead is to be taken responsibly – both at the legislative level, and for the executive power, and for all Kazakhstanis.
Member of the Senate of the Parliament of the Republic of Kazakhstan,