Education reform and internationalisation - a view from Kazakhstan

Education reform and internationalisation - a view from Kazakhstan

Ahead of our conference 'International Education: Interpretation, Importance and Impact' Cristina Rimini of Cambridge International Examinations, offers her view on what international education means.

I am writing this with a view of the dramatically modern capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Astana (pictured). Over the last three years, I have divided my working time between here and Cambridge in order to support the projects Cambridge Assessment is leading on in its involvement with system level educational reform in the country. The Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, is also playing a leading role in the reform process and, in addition, has been carrying out an extensive research programme in collaboration with colleagues from Kazakhstan. The book, Education Reform and Internationalisation: The Case of School Reform in Kazakhstan, is a result of this research and will be of relevance to those interested in education reform and the internationalisation of education policy, taking Kazakhstan as a case study. 

My own contribution to the book, comes in the chapters on assessment where my experience working directly with the Autonomous Education Organisation, Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) has given me the opportunity to be involved in the “implementation of an innovative, mathematics and science-orientated, trilingual, model school system that integrates the best of Kazakhstani traditions, and that meets international standards of best practice” (NIS mission statement). NIS is driving forward change in educational practices and the chapter provides an insight into the future direction of assessment in Kazakhstan set against the current context. 

The new curriculum being introduced in NIS schools is designed to develop learners who not only have good knowledge and understanding but can apply that knowledge and have the skills to think critically and creatively about their learning. They should be ready to engage successfully in higher education in both national and international universities. The assessment model has been designed to integrate closely with teaching and learning, ensuring that learners’ can see and understand their progress and their achievements. For the first time this May, learners in the final two years of schooling took high stakes exams. These included multiple components for each subject taken on different days; short answer and open-ended questions; practical exams; the use of mark schemes and teachers working as examiners. This might not sound like innovation to some, but in the context of Kazakhstan, these exams are strikingly different from the existing multiple-choice, fact-based Unified National Test (UNT). The reasons for the introduction of the UNT and for the extensive dissatisfaction with it are covered in detail in the chapter. 

Introducing the new approach to assessment even within the limited context of the NIS schools required significant commitment and sheer hard work on all sides. From designing test specifications through to issuing results required us to share our expertise and build the capacity of NIS. We too are learning a lot and throughout the process of developing the assessment model, there has been a focus on adapting practices to the context of Kazakhstan. Transforming the culture and practice of assessment in Kazakhstan through working with NIS is based on openness to change on both sides and mutual respect and trust. The starting point and reasons for this journey and wider education reform in Kazakhstan are documented in the book.

Cristina Rimini
Cambridge International Examinations

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