Education

Education

The constitution of 1995 specifies that education through secondary school is mandatory and free, and that citizens have the further right to compete for free education in the republic's institutions of higher learning. Private, paid education is permitted but remains subject to state control and supervision.

In 1994 Kazakstan had 8,575 elementary and secondary schools (grades one through twelve) attended by approximately 3.2 million students, and 244 specialized secondary schools with about 222,000 students. In 1992 about 51 percent of eligible children were attending some 8,500 preschools in Kazakstan. In 1994 some 272,100 students were enrolled in the republic's sixty-one institutes of higher learning. Fifty-four percent of the students were Kazak, and 31 percent were Russian.

The educational situation since independence is somewhat difficult to judge because of incomplete information. The republic has attempted to overhaul both the structure of its education system and much of its substance, but the questions of what should be taught and in what manner continue to loom large. A particularly sensitive and unresolved issue is what the language of instruction should be, given the almost equal distribution of the population between ethnic Kazaks and ethnic Russians. In 1994 most instruction still was in Russian because Kazak-language textbooks and Kazak teachers were in short supply. Enrollment was estimated to be 92 percent of the total age-group in both primary and secondary grades, but only 8 percent in the postsecondary age-group.

Serious shortages in funding and resources have hindered efforts to revamp the education system inherited from the Soviet Union. Even in 1990, more than half the republic's schools were operating on two and even three shifts per day; since then, hundreds of schools, especially preschools, have been converted to offices or stores. Elementary- and secondary-school teachers remain badly underpaid; in 1993 more than 30,000 teachers (or about one-seventh of the 1990 teaching staff) left education, many of them to seek more lucrative employment.

Despite the obstacles, efforts have been made to upgrade the education system, especially at the highest level. Kazakstani citizens still can enroll in what once were the premier Soviet universities, all of which are now in foreign countries, in particular Russia and Ukraine. In the mid-1990s, however, such opportunities have become rare and much more expensive. This situation has forced the upgrading of existing universities in Kazakstan, as well as the creation of at least one new private university, Al-Farabi University, formerly the S.M. Kirov State University, in Almaty. The largest institution of higher learning in Kazakstan, Al-Farabi had 1,530 teachers and about 14,000 students in 1994. A second university, Qaraghandy State University, had about 8,300 students in 1994. In addition, technical secondary schools in five cities--Aqmola, Atyrau, Pavlodar, Petropavl (formerly Petropavlovsk), and Taldyqorghan (formerly Taldy-Kurgan)--have been reclassified as universities, increasing regional access to higher education. Altogether, in 1994 Kazakstan had thirty-two specialized institutes of higher learning, offering programs in agriculture, business and economics, medicine, music, theater, foreign languages, and a variety of engineering and technical fields. In the area of technical education, the republic has taken aggressive advantage of offers from foreign states to educate young Kazaks. In 1994 about 3,000 young people were studying in various foreign countries, including the United States.

One trend that particularly worries republic administrators is the pronounced "Kazakification" of higher education, as the republic's Russians either send their children to schools across the Russian border or find it impossible to enroll them in local institutions. Kazakstan's law forbids ethnic quotas, but there is evidence of prejudicial admittance patterns. The class that entered university in 1991, for example, was 73.1 percent Kazak and only 13.1 percent Russian.

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