Research project led by university staff and high school students

 UERA member, Dr Iryna Kushnir, works with Danaaiym Tlekkyzy and Aizhan Medetbek from Nazarbayev Intellectual School (NIS) in the city of Pavlodar (Kazakhstan) on a research project in Kazakhstan. The project aims to demonstrate that pre-university schooling through NIS is a productive way to prepare competitive applicants for university.

NIS is an innovative educational project created at the personal initiative of the first President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. In order to approve own educational curricula and establish requirements for entrance and final exams, NISs have been granted a special autonomous status by the law of Republic of Kazakhstan.

The NIS project currently comprises 20 schools functioning in all regional centers of Kazakhstan. Every year NISs welcome new teachers and students. In order to become a part of prestigious network, candidates (both teachers and students) compete in two-step selection assessments. Therefore, those students who get accepted, earn an opportunity to learn for free, and those, who did not, continue studying in regular schools. The best teachers are selected to teach talented youth of Kazakhstan.

This research focuses on two major issues. The first one is about the perspectives of NIS teachers and students on differences between criteria-based assessment of academic achievements of students in NIS and 2-5 grading scale in traditional schools; benefits of trilingualism in studies and extracurricular activities in NIS; advantages of integrated subjects; and passing different foreign exams. The second issue is about how this NIS experience in Kazakhstan can be used to inform the education reform in Ukraine.

For this project mixed methods have been used. Data has been collected through an online survey. It targeted all 12 grade students in one of the NIS school (case study). In addition, the project involved interviews with teachers and students.

According to the survey, most of the respondents agreed that different extracurricular activities, trilingualism and integrated subjects in NIS influence them positively, and they stated that all three languages are used during their studies. Moreover, about 80% of the respondents believed that they need IELTS more than other foreign exams, and they stated that mandatory preparation for this improves their English level.

The results of the interviews support the survey results. Most of the respondents claim that criteria-based assessment, as an important part of the NIS system, is a lot more advantageous and effective than the traditional 2-5 assessment of student achievement. Furthermore, the results also show that there are some drawbacks of trilingualism in NIS, such as difficulties of switching between languages. However, benefits of learning three languages undoubtedly outweigh the disadvantages. Integrated subjects are another special feature of NIS, and according to most of the interviewees, integration of more subjects should be considered as a reasonable option in the nearest future.

The research results suggest that NIS in Kazakhstan with its free education for the most talented students, and its accessibility and meritocracy is a good example for other post-Soviet countries to consider, such as Ukraine. The Kazakhstan initiative could be taken in other countries as a platform to inform policy-making that targets improving higher education. It could be used to develop something this accessible and meritocracy-based for school level students in these other countries.

Photo: NIS in the city of Pavlodar, Kazakhstan