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Bringing reform to higher education in Kazakhstan

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2010

Автор: Мамбетказиев Е.А.

At the time when Kazakhstan received its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, I had become recognized as a leader for education in Kazakhstan. I was one of the few Kazakhs to ever receive their Doctor of Science degree at Moscow State University. I had also created East Kazakhstan State University – which was only the third university to come into existence in Kazakhstan during the Soviet period. As a result, in 1994, I was asked by Kazakhstan President, Nursultan Nazarbayev, to serve as Minister of Education in Kazakhstan and to form a vision for the future of education in the country.

I saw tremendous needs in our country that could be addressed through our education system. These included the need for our country to become part of the global community, for our citizens to learn how to function in a democracy and in a market economy guided by our new constitution, and for the potential of every Kazakh citizen to be realized. Related to this, I initiated some key reforms in our educational system that, at the time seemed radical. I promoted a tri-lingual approach to education, where every person would know three languages: Kazakh, Russian and English. I promoted a shift to a Western educational approach and structure, including a Bachelor’s-Master’s-Ph.D. degree system. I also promoted standardized entrance testing, where Kazakh citizens could enter university based entirely on their potential. I also began the first government grants for sending our young people abroad to receive graduate education.

At about the same time, I was also working with my colleagues back at East Kazakhstan State University to create a new institution that could serve as a model of these reforms. In 1994, we opened the Kazakh-American Free University. This university was established in partnership with InterVarsity – a Christian educational organization in the USA. I had become acquainted with Intervarsity through their staff who began teaching English at East Kazakhstan State University in 1993. The authorities in Kazakhstan were actually becoming nervous about this group – as they perceived them as religious missionaries. I, however, saw something more in them. I knew that the only way we could become a successful democratic and free state, was if we embraced, along with market capitalism, certain values like mutual respect, honesty, and service. I saw these values in my InterVarsity colleagues, and I knew that they were the right group to work with us in developing a new, model university in Kazakhstan.

Soon after the Kazakh-American Free University was founded, we developed partnerships with other American organizations as well. In almost every case, these were organizations that held to the same Christian values of InterVarsity. These organizations have included, for example: The Marshall Christensen Foundation, E2 Educational Services, Northwest Nazarene University, and IICS, the host of this conference.

Together with these partners we have developed programs that help our students learn from a variety of international experiences, relationships and perspectives. These programs focus on giving our students practical experiences that complement their theoretical knowledge. The first, and perhaps most important program, is our visiting American teacher program. Our desire has been to bring numerous American teachers into our classrooms so that our students can practice English, develop cross-cultural understanding, and learn new perspectives. Through our partnerships, teachers come as volunteers and pay for their own travel. On our side, we provide room and board for teachers and work hard to make maximum use of each teacher visit. We have developed a flexible approach to our curriculum so that teachers with a variety of backgrounds and experiences can be utilized and teach from 1 week to an entire semester. In 1999 we built a comfortable hotel and restaurant for the primary purpose of hosting visiting American teachers. Since our university was founded in 1994 we have invited over 300 educators and professionals to teach in our programs, including numerous professors from IICS.

Another important program has been our American business internship program. This program, which is unique in all of Kazakhstan, allows our students to receive practical business experiences in the USA over a 1-month period. Students get involved in a variety of businesses while living with American host families. This program has been made possible through our partner E2 Educational Services, which finds numerous volunteers to run the program in cities across America. The program immerses students in many different aspects of American culture and has a great impact on their thinking. Students come back to Kazakhstan with new ideas about business, government, religion and democracy.

These kinds of programs have worked well to give our students new skills, perspectives and a global outlook. However, developing these kinds of programs is not enough. We must also be developing our own faculty and staff - helping our university to become a place of true international learning and perspectives. As a result, we have been working with our American partners to train and develop our local teachers and staff.

Thanks to grants from the Marshall Christensen Foundation, nine of our students have received their Master's degrees in the United States at Northwest Nazarene University. In most cases, these students have come back to teach at our university. These teachers are able to teach in English with an international perspective using modern teaching methods. We currently have a number of teachers and administrators who have received their graduate education in the USA. Lately, we have also been working to provide internships for our teachers and administrators in the USA. Recently, the dean of our business school completed 1-month internship at George Fox University, where she was able to observe classes, be involved in administrative meetings, build relationships with faculty and staff and ask numerous questions. We are also using our visiting American teachers more and more to hold seminars with our teachers, so that our teachers can also learn from the experiences and methods of our American teachers.

As our university strives to become a center of international education, we are now embarking on achieving international certification and accreditation. In 2005, we received ISO-9001 certification for our management processes. And, just this year, we received candidacy status with ACBSP, an American accrediting organization for business program accreditation. We are now working hard to fully conform to American standards so that we can receive American accreditation by 2010.

Today the Kazakh-American Free University has over 2000 students and 15 majors, including programs at the Master’s and Ph.D. level. Our university is recognized as one of the top private universities in Kazakhstan. Over 200 of our students have had the opportunity to be involved in education programs or internships in the United States. Our graduates are now involved in top levels of government and business around Kazakhstan. Recently, one of our graduates was appointed as the youngest regional governor in the country. I believe that this success is not by chance and is largely due to the fact that we work with American partners who hold to Christian values. Our programs are focused on building relationships, not on profit. Our programs work to model values of respect and service, not selfishness and materialism. We have been blessed to work with hundreds of American teachers who genuinely value our students and care about their success and development. These teachers model and teach a moral and ethical approach to life. These are exactly the values that our world needs today, and that we need to be modeling in higher education around the world. Thanks to our American partners, we have modeled a different and better way. I am grateful for our partnerships with our Christian colleagues who continue to help us consider the values that we need for the future of Kazakhstan.

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №1 - 2010

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