Modern approaches in the system of contemporary higher education in Kazakhstan: case study of Kazakh American Free University
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014
Author: Novitskaya Yuliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Higher education in Kazakhstan undergoes constant change since the country gained independence in 1991. Multiple radical
reforms have changed management principles, structure, and contents of education,
methods and approaches to teaching. The reforms affected all constituents of
the educational process and included the following:
- democratization of higher education and
decentralization of the management system;
- diversification of higher education
institutions network and structure;
- establishment of new legislation and
- introduction of new state standards of
- increase in enrolments of contract
Another important stage in higher education
development is the design and implementation of new modern education
technologies. One of the most effective and promising technologies is the
technology of consistent criteria-oriented education. The major elements of
this technology are as follows:
- Goal setting;
- Careful selection of study material;
- Careful selection of teaching methods;
- Careful selection of teaching means;
- Careful selection of education organization
- Developing education tracks/ schemes .
Every institution of higher education
develops its own understanding and approach to implementing new technologies.
In this article we would like to provide some examples of how Kazakh American
Free University puts into practice some of the elements of a criteria-oriented
education model videlicet education organization forms, goal setting and
Kazakh American Free University is a higher
education institution which, despite being a non-public university, operates in
accordance with the standard requirements of the Ministry and Education and
Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan. And following the requirements the
University offers bachelor, master’s and doctoral degrees in compliance with
the rules and norms of a non-linear system of education. This system, called
credit system, suggests that students can plan their learning trajectory and
sequence of taking academic disciplines in accordance with their individual
needs and interests. This possibility improves students’ motivation and makes a
great contribution of the development of students’ self-development and
American Free University has a very distinctive mission – training leaders of
the 21st century pro bono independent Kazakhstan. Here it is necessary to explain how we understand the notion of leadership. Leadership
is the ability to influence the behavior of other people. To be able to do that
it is not enough for a person to be knowledgeable and demonstrate good high
professional level, it is important to be capable of constant self-improvement
and self-development. Only a person who never stops working on improvement of
his personal and professional qualities can become a role model for other
people. Credit system of education is designed to maximize the opportunities
for development of a personality capable of self-improvement. For this purpose
the old system of education where the emphasis was made on transmission of knowledge
is modified in such a way that studying is focused on generation of new
The role of the teacher at the university
has also changed greatly from being the main resource and merely a transmitter
of knowledge to being a facilitator who conducts the students’ cognitive
activity encouraging their self-improvement and self-development. Before the
credit system was implemented in Kazakhstan students were mostly taught with
the help of passive methods of education characterized by one-way communication
from the teacher to a student. Credit system of education encourages using
active methods of teaching in which students not only interact with the
teacher, but also communicate with each other, thus exchanging ideas and
sharing experiences and learning from each other. At the same time teachers
shape the students’ ability to think critically and creatively, search for
alternative ways of solving problems and empirically get new knowledge.
Contemporary teaching techniques that were
developed under credit system of education include the following approaches
that help to increase the effectiveness of students’ self-development: shaping
skills of independent cognitive activity, stimulation of independent students’
work through demonstration of necessity to master the material for further
academic and professional activity, differentiation and individualization of
tasks for independent students’ work, shaping of positive attitude towards
learning, development of guides and recommendations for independent students’
work, diversification of tasks for independent learning of students, individual
approach to grading independent students’ work, using information and
communication technologies, implementing pair and group work in the classroom,
and other methods stimulating students’ self-development.
Another opportunity for students’
self-improvement, self-development and self-realization lies in the fact that
Kazakh American Free University is an institution of international partnership.
The university has quite an extensive network of partner business and
educational organizations in the USA, Canada, Germany, Russia and other countries. These relations provide multiple opportunities for students’ development.
Intercultural communication always gives opportunities for learning about other
ways of living and working, teaches students that people belonging to different
cultures have different values and the students learn to appreciate those values.
Besides, KAFU students have opportunities to participate in various international
programs, both educational and cultural.
One of such programs is the program of
international leadership which is organized in three steps. The first step includes
leadership training where the students attend additional classes taught by our
international partners. During this training a lot of attention is paid to development
of students’ personal qualities. The second step is a mentor program, in which
each student is coupled with a personal mentor, who is an admitted leader in
his sphere of professional activity – business or academia world. They communicate
for an extended period of time, and students learn how to maximize learning
experiences and outcomes and used them in their future professional activity.
The third step is practical training. The students go to the US to get hand-on practical experience in the Academy of Leadership in Portland, Oregon. They visit
local businesses and learn from their leaders how to run a successful company,
what professional knowledge is necessary for effective management, what
personal qualities are required to cope with this task and how important it is
to work on their personal qualities, how important it is to self-develop,
self-improve and self-realize. This is one of the best programs the university
offers, but there are also other international programs that contribute to
students’ self-realization and self-improvement.
In classroom teaching KAFU faculty actively
use Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, which, not being an absolutely new
approach gets a greater degree of prominence with the emphasis currently placed
on self-education and independent study. For example, the students are
introduce the concept of culture in their Cultural Studies classroom they are first
asked to think about their practical experience, which is the concrete
experience in the Kolb’s Cycle and is opposed to theoretical knowledge the
students might have. This stage is followed by reflection and abstract
conceptualization when students make attempts to conceptualize their experience
and develop a model of culture. At the last stage of active experimentation the
students work with the knowledge and experience they have at the moment and
talk about how they might use it in their future studies, in their profession
and in communicating to others, especially to representatives of other cultures
Reflection is an important factor in
teaching and learning. Without reflection teaching would be meaningless, it
would just occupy time, and learning would be inefficient. Without reflection
we can only speak of surface learning, not deep learning. In my Cultural
Studies class I use different ways of making the student reflect on their past
experience and acquired knowledge; they do it individually, in pairs and as a
group. I also use both supervised and unsupervised forms of reflection. An
example of unsupervised individual reflection is writing an essay on how
culture may influence behavior. In this type of unsupervised individual task
the reflection is tied to personal experience and has only one perspective. The
students may be asked to discuss the same question in pairs. In this case the
issue can be viewed from different perspectives and provide a more objective
consideration of the experience. When the students then discusses the influence
of culture on behavior as a group under teacher’s supervision, the students
learn from the experience of each other and also take an advantage from the
What concerns learning mediated by context,
the discipline fits perfectly using role plays, discussing real life and fictitious
situations which allows learning through practical experience, not from using
mere theory. Also, in the course of teaching the discipline I try to use
learning through natural and planned socialization. I invite guest speakers –
representatives of other cultures, thus, providing the students with the
possibility to socialize and learn some cultural elements from them. Also, in
their independent study, the students are asked to communicate with representatives
of other cultures in social networks and then share their experiences and
findings in the classroom.
Kolb’s model seems to be very effective,
but it can turn to be an educational failure if before using it in the
classroom the teacher doesn’t define study goals. Lack of clear understanding
of a goal seems to be the main reason for unfavorable outcomes of many
experiments in education.
Contemporary approach to goal setting
consists in describing goals though the projected final product. Unfortunately
in most documents the goals are described with the use of verbs like “develop”,
“improve”, “form”, or “learn”, which makes the goal too abstract. This, in its
turn, makes the results difficult to assess.
Learning how to frame education goals as
SMART goals is an important skill that might help students improve their
performance, aid teachers in assessing learning outcomes and assist administrators
in evaluating quality of teaching .
The acronym SMART has a number of slightly
different variations, which can be used to provide a more comprehensive
definition for goal setting:
S - specific, significant, stretching
M - measurable, meaningful, motivational
A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable,
R - realistic, relevant, reasonable,
T - time-based, timely, tangible,
Here, we would like to analyze a syllabus
for the course of Academic Writing. The course is designed for graduate
students majoring in Foreign Languages. It is a practical course, which is
aimed at developing major academic writing skills and forming basis for writing
master’s thesis. The course of Academic Writing requires students to plan,
draft, revise, edit and properly cite expository essays in response to readings
on significant issues.
Students who successfully complete this
class will be able:
1) to effectively use the writing process
to produce clear, competent, and coherent writing that is appropriate in tone
and style to the writer's audience and purpose;
2) to organize writing with specific points
logically ordered, well-developed, and unified around a clear thesis;
3) to choose an appropriate method to
advance, develop, and communicate an idea in writing;
4) to analyze, evaluate, paraphrase,
summarize, critique, quote, organize, and integrate appropriate research and/ or
material from sources;
5) to write papers that integrate research
and appropriate documentation format.
Let us now make an attempt to rephrase the
goals so that they became SMART-er.
First, the course goals should be specific.
Some of the objectives in the course
syllabus are quite ambiguous and lack details. For example, instead of saying
“students will be able to produce clear, competent, and coherent writing that
is appropriate in tone and style to the writer's audience and purpose” we
should have said “students will be able to write an academic essay, a research
article and a research paper”. And instead of saying “students will be able to
choose an appropriate method to advance, develop, and communicate an idea in
writing” we should have said “students will be able to write topic sentences
and develop topic sentence ideas by using supporting arguments”.
Second, the course goals should be measurable.
We find this quite difficult to implement,
since the course is designed for the first year student who have no prior
record of writing academic essays, so we cannot claim that, for example,
“students’ failure to perform academic writing tasks should reduce from 30 to
10 percent”. But we can think of adding some measurability through claiming
that “the students will be able to describe graphs by writing a 200-word essay
within 20 minutes” or “by writing a 5-paragraph essay within 40 minutes”.
Third, the course goals should be attainable.
Having analyzed the objectives outlined for
this course, we came to a conclusion that it is appropriate to concentrate
efforts on writing essays and research articles only, and do not aim at
developing skills of writing a thesis, since that would be unattainable within
a 15-week 3-credit discipline.
Forth, the course goals should be result-oriented.
In this aspect, the course objectives that
were outlined could remain unchanged since they are in line with the objectives
of the state standard of tertiary education in general and the graduate course
in foreign languages in particular. The objectives also meet the expectations
of graduate students, future employers and the authorities that administer the
Finally, the course goals should be time-bound.
Since time-bound goals should indicate a
specific date or duration in time that is necessary for its attainment, it
could be appropriate to state that “Students who successfully complete this
15-week class (or 135-hour class) will be able to do this and that”.
These were some examples of what Kazakh
American Free University does in terms of improving the quality of education it
offers. Some of the approaches are not that new, but under the circumstances,
when the whole educational system is being reformed and remodeled, they have acquired
a new meaning and a new interpretation.
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4. Lawlor, K.B., Hornyak, M.J. (2012) SMART Goals: How the
Application of SMART Goals Can Contribute to Achievement of Student Learning Outcomes. Developments in Business Situations and Experiential Learning, volume
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014