According to experts, the problem of ungraded schools can be solved with developed infrastructure and high-speed internet access.
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According to official data of the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan, the total number of schools in the country in 2019 was 7,398. This number is approximately 900 less schools than 19 years ago.
However, 1 school had 391 pupils in average in 2000, and 451 in 2019.
However, according to Zhaslan Nurbayev, lecturer of the regional studies department of L.Gumilyov Eurasian National University (ENU), the number of school is declining only in rural areas and northern regions of the country. Often, it happens because of liquidation of an unpromising village.The number of pupils increase in large cities and rural areas of southern regions. This is related both to migration and demographic processes.
In general, over 24 thousand of school-aged kids in the country have no access to an educational institution.
Over a third of all schools in Kazakhstan are ungraded schools, i.e. with no parallel forms and with few pupils. According to sociologist Kamila Kovyazina, such schools are inevitable given some underpopulated regions of the country.
However, in recent years ungraded schools were begun to unite into graded schools, i.e. with 9 years of study, and afterwards some of them were shut down because of insufficient number of pupils. Many rural residents migrate to large cities, there are few young people in villages, and some pupils go to colleges.
This year, two schools of Sarykol district of Kostanai region of Kazakhstan – Lesnaya and Chekhov – were planned to be reorganised due to the insufficient number of pupils. It means that pupils from grades 1 to 9 will be studying in one building, while forms 10 and 11 will be abolished.
Relevant talks were on in the last few years, but no decision was made about financing from the regional budget. In January 2020, school budget was transferred to the office for education. The akim of the district, Amantai Balgarin, said in the interview to “Nasha Gazeta”, that he was waiting for a delay to the utmost, and announced the reorganisation and transfer of pupils on July 20 only.
On August 8, pupils of the Chekhov school recorded a video, where they asked to cancel the reorganisation.
On August 20, it became known that the reorganisation of two schools of Kostanai and Sarykol district was postponed until December 2020. One month later, they reported that the school won’t be reorganised, and the required number of pupils would be achieved by attracting new residents to the village.
According to sociologist Kamila Kovyazina, weekly boarding schools or daily transportation to larger schools could be an alternative to ungraded schools. Daily transportation is partially available when children from an underpopulated village travel to densely populated areas. However, it takes much time to travel, while in spring and autumn roads can become less passable, which automatically means skipping classes and loss of knowledge.
“Partially, the state is trying to solve this matter via optimisation of villages, determination of promising ones, and their development. Vice versa, some ungraded schools from unpromising villages are closing down. […] However, it does not always work. Moreover, during the pandemic children from unpromising villages turned out to be in the most vulnerable position because the state failed to cover these villages with internet,” the sociologist said.
In 2019, in his annual message to the people of Kazakhstan, the first president Nursultan Nazarbayev initiated the launch of a new special project, “Auyl-El Besigi”, whose key purpose was to improve living standards in rural areas and modernise their infrastructure. According to forecasts of the government, 80 per cent of rural communities with over 6 million residents will be modernised until 2025.
However, according to Zhaslan Nurbayev, the programme is theoretically perfect, but difficulties begin upon programme implementation. The state is planning to spend 63 billion tenge (145.8 million dollars) on social and infrastructure development of villages until 2023. Yet it’s difficult to find full information about the programme and mechanisms of its implementation.
He emphasised that the problem of ungraded schools should be solved by paying more attention to it rather than solving it on paper only. First of all, villages need to have high speed internet access and academic process in such schools should be taken into account when implementing any innovations.
“However, we should take into account the key fact that ungraded school problems are complex problems related to the whole spectrum of problems in villages and agriculture. If we fail to solve problems in villages and agriculture, school problems will be endless and unsolvable,” Nurbayev said.