Trilingualism in Kazakhstani higher education: prospects and challenges

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

Author: Gersonskaya Valentina , Kazakh American Free University, Kazakhstan

At present, the approach to the Kazakhstani higher education is drastically changing. It is due to many reasons, the basic one being the 2030 Kazakhstan development program [1]. In his 1998 Presidential Address, President Nursultan Nazarbaev stated the accomplishments and problems of the country and announced the priorities of the country’s development for the period up to 2030. He expressed his belief that each citizen of Kazakhstan “has ripened a profound awareness of the fact that one can no longer live for the day only, merely in an incessant turmoil of settling present day tasks” and they had to well remember that “apart from the goals set for the period of today, our generation bears tremendous responsibility to future generations, which is, in fact, responsibility of parents and grandparents to their children and grandchildren.” Speaking about building a new state, a new market economy and a new democracy, the necessity to honestly analyze both external and internal factors of the country’s development and to identify priorities and elaborate the relevant strategy on the basis of the people’s general consolidation, on the basis of Kazakhstani history and unique circumstances was mentioned. The long-term priorities of the country, mentioned in the Program, were national security, country's political stability and consolidation of the society economic growth based on an open market economy with high level of foreign investments and internal savings to gain realistic, stable and steadily growing rates of economic growth, power resources, health, education and well-being of Kazakhstani citizens [1].

To accomplish the above-mentioned goals exploiting only the country’s richest natural resources - vast land areas, arable lands and natural resources of enormous wealth – is not enough as it cannot promote development of the country’s economy without good human resources. The President remarked that “we may be proud of a highly educated population with a pretty high standard of scientific and creative potential. This indeed is a tremendous achievement of our people... and of the former system for that matter. We must do our utmost to further develop this invaluable asset of ours and grant it ever new, ever civilized opportunities of development” [1]. But to do it, it is necessary to transform mass consciousness. Given this, support should be sought in the younger generation, which is more flexible in adapting to the new system of values and has a fresh vision of the future.

The ideas were further developed in other programs and addresses. In the 2007 Presidential Address New Kazakhstan in the New World [2], President of the Republic of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev stated it that to ensure the competiveness of the country and its people, the gradual implementation of the cultural program should be realized. This objective should be approached with the development of Kazakh as the official language, Russian as the language of communication, and English as a means of successful integration into the global economy.

Since then trilingualism as the main country’s cultural program has been implemented. We should note, however, that the concept of multilingualism was not new for the country then. Kazakhstan has long prioritized learning languages of different peoples of the country. In schools, vocational schools and universities education is provided in both Kazakh and Russian. Moreover, foreign languages were taught in all educational institutions. It speaks to the effect, that in Kazakhstan bilingual education was established and trilingual education as a trend was appearing. However, for many reasons Kazakhstani educational institutions did not ensure good language proficiency in the languages taught, so a new approach to language teaching and learning had to be introduced. The current program states it that the Kazakhstani education should become high quality to enable Kazakhstani people to become competitive at the global labor market, to give them an opportunity to enter best world universities, to be mobile and able to learn all life. Doing that, one should not forget about the importance of developing a harmonious person with high moral values and national identity, a person who is world-minded, but never forgets his “roots” [3].

The program is very ambitious and many efforts have been made to achieve its goal, therefore, we consider it relevant to briefly review its main achievements and challenges. The article briefly summarizes the main steps taken and focuses on introduction of trilingualism in Kazakhstani higher education institutions.

In 2012, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan and some universities that had made experiments in introduction of polylingual education developed the Concept of Polylingual Education Development [4] in which the current state of the Kazakhstani educational system and the possibility of introducing trilingual education were analyzed and priorities in trilingual education development were stated. The concept required a review of the language education content, developing a new strategy in teaching languages in Kazakhstani education institutions, as well as the language content, which should be scientific based, and correspond to the overall trilingual education program.

Among the main objectives of the program are training university lecturers able to give courses in trilingual education programs; enhancing prestige of using the Kazakh language; maintaining the system of language diversity in Kazakhstan; ensuring functioning of the Russian language in the communicative sphere; provision of systematic scientific and methodological support to teaching English and other foreign languages; development of polylingual education infrastructure; development of intercultural component of language education; and ensuring the intellectual growth in Kazakhstan by acquainting its people with cultural values.

The education principles in the Kazakhstani trilingual system are as follows:

- Kazakh– Russian –English;

- Language sare learn separately;

- Learning of the languages is based on the native language;

- Teaching a foreign language is teaching how to express thoughts in a foreign language, teaching its culture;

- Development of trilingual personality;

- Speech development algorithm: sub vocalization – oral speech - written speech;

- Communicative ability [5].

Thus, currently a most important objective of an education institution is teaching students global cultural values enabling them to successfully communicate and interact with people of other cultures on the global level. When studying foreign culture, history, geography, literature, arts and science students will get better understanding of their own culture and language. Research and practice of interconnected teaching native and foreign languages prove its impact on the harmonious development of personality [6].

The tactics of implementing trilingual education in Kazakhstani higher education institutions include:

- development of regulations on implementation of trilingual education programs;

- training teachers for trilingual education programs;

- utilization of world experience, which can be adapted to trilingual education;

- review of level model of foreign language teaching and learning in order to develop similar models of teaching and learning the Russian and Kazakh languages, which will develop standards in teaching the languages;

- establishment of the national coordination center of trilingual education [5].

We can already state some visible results of the program. The Ministry of Education and Science has promoted publishing trilingual dictionaries of terms (English – Kazakh - Russian), textbooks, workbooks; it monitors the implementation of the national budget program of professional training and retraining of teachers in public education institutions. The Daryn National center holds seminars and workshops, national English Olympiads, participates in developing English courses for schools with intensive English learning. Realization of Bologna Process principles in the Kazakhstani higher education is monitored which enables one to state the main achievements and gaps and develop a strategy for improvements. Regional programs of developing trilingualism have been designed. Links of universities with Kazakhstani and foreign organizations, enterprises and educational institutions have been reinforced. The number of English-speaking guest lecturers and professors who work in higher education institutions is rapidly increasing. More students participate in academic mobility and work programs abroad. In universities trilingual education centers which coordinate university policy in trilingual education and provide for the training and professional development of trilingual specialists, have been established. Several schools and universities of Kazakhstan have developed trilingual education programs and a number of integrated courses taught in English. New school textbooks are published in six languages: Kazakh, Russian, Yigur, Uzbek, Turkish, and German.

The implementation of trilingualism in Kazakhstani higher education institutions has been further enhanced by the A Hundred Steps to Realize Five Institution Reforms Plan of the Nation (20.05.2015) [7] and the Plan of Enhancement of Trilingual Education for 2015-2016, as of October 30, 2015 [8].

In Part III of the A Hundred Steps to Realize Five Institution Reforms Plan of the Nation a gradual transition to English language education in high school and higher education institution education (Article 79) was stated, in Part IV Identity and Unity – development and implementation of the “Nurly Bolashak” National Program and development of the mangilik el values in the school education programs were mentioned (Article 89) [7]. The Plan of Enhancement of Trilingual Education for 2015-2016, approved by the State Secretary of the Republic of Kazakhstan G. Abdylkalikova [8] is a set of organizational and informative measures taken in order to motivate Kazakhstani people of all age to learn Kazakh, Russian and English languages.

It is of great significance that the concepts of the Trilingual education are being realized on the regional level. Thus, in August 2015, in East Kazakhstan, the program of trilingualism development in East Kazakhstan region for 2015-2018 was adopted [9]. The goal of the program is to establish the necessary organizational, methodological, pedagogical, and financial support to enhance development of language competences in Kazakh, English, and Russian. The Program has three stages. During the first stage (2015-2016 academic year) the number of English lessons is to be increased and academic groups of 10-12 students are to be formed. All secondary schools of the region are to start using the same English and Kazakh textbooks and teaching materials. The second stage (2016-2017 academic year) integrated English, Kazakh (for secondary schools with instruction in Russian) and Russian (for secondary schools with instruction in Kazakh) courses in Geography, Biology, Physics, Mathematics, etc. are to be developed. The system of bonuses for the teachers of English, Kazakh (for Russian-speaking students) and Russian (for Kazakh-speaking students) who will provide for high final grades of their students will be introduced. The final stage, 2017-2018 academic year, presupposes introduction of assessing communicative competence of students in four language skills in English, Kazakh, and Russian in accordance with the European standards А1, А2, В1 [9]. The Program stipulates assistance of the British Council and Nazarbayev University and the establishment of three training centers for English teachers where 79 English native speakers will work. Though the program concerns secondary education, as a result we will get entrant students with better language proficiency, who will be ready to take trilingual education programs.

Achievements in implementation of trilingual education cannot be underestimated, however, there are some things that can hamper the accomplishment of the goals, one of them being modification of higher education in accordance with Bologna principles. The SWOT-analysis made by the Center of the Bologna Process and Academic mobility [10] states it that the state provides support for all Bologna political and educational aims, the content of graduate and post-graduate programs is changed in accordance with the Bologna Process in the majority of Kazakhstani universities, education programs are modified in accordance with the labor market and needs of the society, development of international links and partnership with foreign higher education institutions is possible, as well as greater access to European education and research facilities. The Bologna Process enhances innovations in the Kazakhstan higher education system, however, the process is hampered by insufficient methodological and organizational support and law regulations on implementation of Bologna principles and parameters in Kazakhstani universities, low interaction of the universities and the society, difference between Kazakhstani and European educational systems, lack of regulations in free academic mobility of students, and few highly-qualified specialists, who could provide for effective cooperation with foreign education institutions. Besides, Kazakhstani academic community is not well informed of changes in higher education system in accordance with the Bologna Process, as well as of its concept. The situation is worsened by lack of institutions, which would do regular monitoring of implementation of Bologna principles in foreign higher education institutions. Therefore, to improve the situation with academic mobility of Kazakhstani students, which, in general, can enhance development of trilingual education in the country, implementation of the Bologna Principles should be accelerated and made systematic not only on the level of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan, but on the university level. We do think it will only be realized if universities are given more autonomy which is already provided for in the A Hundred Steps to Realize Five Institution Reforms Plan of the Nation [7].

A real problem in designing and developing courses for trilingual education programs is in lack of precise requirements as to the skills and competencies a trilingual specialist should have on the completion of the education program. Without filling this gap it is impossible to properly design any course of the program. Of even greater concern is the focus of those who are in charge for the realization of the Program on its social and organizational aspects. We cannot deny the importance of motivating people to learn languages, the necessity to form closer links with the world leading universities or provide professional development programs for teachers of English, however, many efforts may be in vain, if the methodology is not proper. Here there are still many problems to solve, one of which appears to be with the development of lingual personality. It is well-known that many problems with acquisition of a foreign language are connected with insufficient development of language skills in the native tongue. At the initial stage of language acquisition it is vital to properly develop phonetic skills, that is, phonemic hearing as well as connected with it word analysis and synthesis. Otherwise, it will result in numerous spelling mistakes, more difficulties in learning how to read and write not only in one’s native, but also in a foreign language the person may study. Similarly, poor vocabulary, lack of knowledge in combinatory potential, stylistic stratification of words, and word-building limit the person’s ability to speak and write properly in any language he/she may use. Poor knowledge of one’s native language structure not only results in gross mistakes in the person’s mother tongue, but can make the learning grammar of a foreign language and, consequently, development of speaking and writing in a foreign language quite difficult. At times, it is practically impossible, as lack of knowledge of the native tongue’s structure will lead to language interference which cannot be compensated. Over twenty years of teaching experience in higher education institutions have shown significant decrease in first-year students’ language proficiency in both their native and English languages which may be connected with the changed school program. In our opinion, successful realization of the Trilingual Program in Kazakhstan is only possible if thorough learning of a native tongue is provided at school. Another issue, which requires consideration, is design and development teaching materials for Kazakh, Russian and English courses. At present, in an attempt to develop new language textbooks, educators tend to copy the structure and the content of some best-selling course books without taking into consideration the fact that the majority of them are not designed with consideration of the native tongue of the learners, which can make the process of grammar acquisition more difficult. Practice shows it that university students who are learning English with high quality Longman, Oxford University Press and McMillan textbooks (A1, A2, B1, B2 levels) get good everyday vocabulary and enough listening practice, however, their grammar skills are not properly formed. Thus, learning foreign language teaching and learning from the world experience is necessary, but only on condition that we remember the goals of language learning in our country, the specifics of the native, Kazakh/Russian, languages of the learners, and are ready not just to use the already existing world experience but improve it in accordance with our ambitious aims.

Another challenge is design and development of integrated courses as for that not only good language proficiency, but teaching techniques used in the formation of language skills are required. Therefore, school and university teachers who are to give integrated courses should be trained both in the language and in methods of teaching a foreign language as it is the only way to make a language integrated course effective. These are only some of many challenges Kazakhstani educators face, yet there is hope that support of the state, greater autonomy of the universities and competence of educators will help realization of trilingual higher education in the Republic of Kazakhstan.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

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