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 normative base;

- introduction of new state standards of higher education;

- increase in enrolments of contract students [1].

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 forms;

- Developing education tracks/ schemes [2].

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 teaching methods.

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 self-realization.

Kazakh 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 knowledge.

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 [3].

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 teacher’s experience.

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 [4].

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, acceptable, action-oriented

R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented

T - time-based, timely, tangible, trackable.

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 program.

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.


1. Zhakenov G. Kazakhstan National Report on Higher Education System Development. Retrieved from http://www. unesco. kz/ education/ he/ kazakh/ kazakh_eng. htm

2. Kudryashova, M.Y. (2012) Elementy Modernizatsii Didakticheskogo Protsessa v Vuze na Baze Sovremennoi Technologii Kriterialno-Orientirovan-nogo Obucheniya. [Elements of University Education Modernization Based on Modern Criteria-Oriented Education Technology]. Conference proceedings. Saint Petersburg: Renome.

3. Kolb D.A., Boyatzis R.E. (2000) Perspectives on Cognitive Learning and Thinking Styles. NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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 39, 2012

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №6 - 2014

About journal
About KAFU

   © 2022 - KAFU Academic Journal