«Equal access for all social groups to quality pre-school and primary education is the key to sustainable development, both for the individual and society as a whole», – notes Meruert Seidumanova, independent researcher from Kazakhstan, in her special article for CABAR.asia.Русский
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Summary of the article:
- Lack of places in kindergartens is observed in 80% of Kazakhstan’s regions;
- Due to the shortage of public pre-school institutions and the high cost of private centers, about 20,000 children from vulnerable families might not receive quality pre-school education;
- The most part of migrants, minorities and other socially vulnerable groups can be excluded from national data collection procedures and, therefore, be invisible in national education indicators;
- The programs and initiatives undertaken by the state were mainly focused on urban dwellers and did not address the problems of children that are not registered in cities;
- Due to the high concentration of ethnic minorities and increasing migration, the provision of equal educational opportunities is especially important for Kazakhstan.
According to official data, there were almost 106 children per 100 places in preschool institutions in 2018 in Kazakhstan. Lack of places in kindergartens is observed in 80% of Kazakhstan’s regions and is especially evident in large cities such as Aktobe, Kostanay, Pavlodar, Karaganda, and others, where there are up to 129 children per 100 places.About 27,000 and 22,500 of 3 to 6-year-old children stood in line to kindergartens in cities of republican status such as Nur-Sultan (former Astana) and Almaty. There is a similar situation in schools; there is a shortage of approximately 17,563 places in primary schools of Almaty, whereas this deficit amounted to more than 15,000 places in Nur-Sultan. Moreover, most part of the children from the most marginalized communities: migrants, minorities and other socially vulnerable groups can be excluded from national data collection procedures and, therefore, be invisible in national education indicators.
In the meantime, well-to-do families can go to private pre-school institutions and prepare their children for school in a quality manner, but socially vulnerable families do not have such opportunity and they have to wait for their turn. The average price for private kindergartens is twice as high as for the state ones; it is almost equal to the level of the minimum monthly salary in Kazakhstan. Due to the shortage of public pre-school institutions and the high cost of private centers, about 20,000 children from vulnerable families might not receive quality pre-school education.Equal access of all social groups to quality pre-school and primary education is the key to the sustainable development of an individual and the society as a whole. Pre-school education is the first important step that determines the future success of children, since 85% of the human brain develops within the first 5 years. The researches of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) also show that children, who have received pre-school education, learn better at secondary and high school. The countries where the equal availability of pre-school education for socially vulnerable children is ensured show leading indicators in education. Access to quality education is imperative for a decent life at the individual level. The level of education is positively correlated with people’s health and well-being. For a country’s development, sustainable access to education leads to long-term productivity improvements, reduction of intergenerational poverty, a demographic transition, preventive health care, women’s empowerment, and inequality reduction. Moreover, a highly educated population is one of the main factors for attracting foreign investment and sustainable development, based not on the exploitation of the country’s natural resources, which is a priority for Kazakhstan. In this regard, the current global political discourse is aimed at improving equality and access in the field of pre-school and school education. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) notes that investing in the early education of vulnerable groups is one of the most profitable educational policies. Context. What caused the shortage of pre-school and school institutions? There are several main reasons for the lack of places in pre-school and primary education. Some reasons are impossible or difficult to change (situational), while others (political and managerial) can be eliminated with the help of qualitative political decisions. Kazakhstan had one of the best pre-school education systems in Central Asia before independence, which covered about 70% of children under 7 years old. In 1991, there were 8,743 kindergartens, more than half (4868) of which were privatized during the “optimization” period, some kindergarten buildings were abandoned and destroyed. Until 2000 the number of kindergartens in the country, in general, decreased to 1,144, about 7,600 state kindergartens were privatized in the early 1990s. In addition, the birth rate in Kazakhstan gradually but steadyly began to grow since the mid-1990s, and by the 2000s the education system in Kazakhstan was already under pressure. The increasing migration has added pressure to the pre-school education system. The migration from 1999 to 2017 consistently exceeded the birth rate growth in Kazakhstan. More than 946 thousand people migrated to Kazakhstan in 2017. In addition, the number of unregistered migrants, as a rule, far exceeds the number of officially registered. According to UN estimates, Kazakhstan occupied one of the first places in the world in terms of migration and the unofficial number of immigrants in 2017 was about 2 million. It should be noted that even according to official data the most part of migrants entering Kazakhstan is without higher education; only 17.5% of immigrants have higher education.
The increase in foreign direct investments, extensive construction works in the cities of Kazakhstan increased the demand for low-skilled and low-paid workers. Migrant flows in search of economic, social and creative opportunities are moving to major cities of Kazakhstan. First of all, people move in search of employment opportunities and better education for their children. However, many migrants on arrival face the problem of finding well-paid jobs and access to quality pre-school and primary education.In addition, it is necessary for the families to be registered as residents of the city in order to obtain access to public education in Kazakhstan. Thus, the city authorities do not take responsibility for the pre-school education of children who are not registered in the city. The level of pre-school age population growth is not clearly taken into account by the development plans of large cities, which may be due to the low level of shadow migration monitoring. The unregistered children most of all need access to high-quality public education, as they often belong to socially vulnerable groups of the population. Achieving the necessary reading and math skills is often very difficult for migrants and children from socially vulnerable groups. Socially vulnerable students in Kazakhstan score in PISA 41 points less compared with counterparts from well-to-do families.
- In order to solve the problem of access to pre-school education in 2010, the President of the Republic of Kazakhstan approved the “Balapan program for the provision of children with pre-school education and training for 2010-2020” in his message to the people of Kazakhstan “New Decade – New Economic Recovery – New Opportunities of Kazakhstan”. The objective of this program is to provide pre-school education to 100% of children by 2020 through the construction of new kindergartens, nationalization of old ones and provision of subsidies for the private ones. In 2010, the Kazakh government simplified licensing for opening childcare centers and private kindergartens. In addition, there are a number of other programs aimed at encouraging the private sector to create childcare institutions, such as public-private partnerships, “Damu” loan programs on favorable terms, and etc. Thus, the number of kindergartens has increased in 9 times since 2000. In 2018, there were 10,314 pre-school organizations in Kazakhstan, 4,057 of which are located in urban areas.
- To reduce the shortage of places in primary school education, the Kazakh government has introduced a program to expand schools (build additions to the structures) and build new schools.
- The Kazakh government has also introduced a number of programs in the field of education, including the Strategic Development Plan of the Republic of Kazakhstan up to 2020, the State Program for the Development of Education for 2011-2020, and etc. From year to year, the funding of the education sector increases. The government invests more than 4% of GDP into education development.
Despite these measures, there are difficulties in placing children in state kindergartens. The undertaken programs and initiatives were mainly focused on urban dwellers and did not address the problems of children that are not registered in the cities. In many programs the access to education for migrants, socially vulnerable groups and minorities has been significantly ignored. Due to the high concentration of ethnic minorities and increasing migration, the provision of equal educational opportunities is especially important for Kazakhstan. Today, UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund – Editor’s note) in Kazakhstan is also considering this issue and is exploring issues of migration and accessibility of education for migrants’ children in Kazakhstan and Central Asia.Careful regulation should be undertaken to prevent unequal access to pre-school and primary school. The ignorance of this issue can lead to a number of serious consequences. The short-term consequences of the pre-school and primary education access problems in Kazakhstan include the following:
- Overcrowded classrooms (more than 40 students per class), lack of teachers, which can affect the education level, due to the difficulty of teaching a large number of children, qualified teachers are unwilling to teach in public schools.
- Low-quality preparation of pre-school children for primary education affects subsequent academic success, the psychological pressure of lagging behind, and etc. Thus, students without pre-school education are “lagging behind their counterparts by more than one academic year”, according to the international PISA database.
- The number of incidents involving children abandoned by their parents alone or in the care of older children is increasing. Due to the inability to place children in kindergartens, older children are often forced to look after younger children. The consequences of this are not only a decrease in the free time of older children, which could be spent on education or homework after school but also the subjection of children to hazardous conditions.
Medium-term consequences are:
- Further social stratification.
- Loss of economic benefits from women, because women are forced to give up their careers and take care of their children without the possibility of placing them in child care centers. During long maternity leave, women may lose their qualifications. According to the IMF study, the lack of women’s opportunity to attend work restrains productivity and adversely affects the country’s growth. Reducing barriers to women’s employment significantly increases the country’s well-being and growth.
- The crime rate increasing, since children with a low education level, are more prone to crime. Researches of the University of California show that the education level is inversely proportional to the crime level.
- Continuation of social inequality in education.
Long-term consequences include:
- The deterioration of social mobility;
- The problem with the shortage of pre-school and primary education threatens all government programs and initiatives, such as “Ruhani Zhangyru”, “Kazakhstan-2050” Strategy and the objective of entering the top 30 developed and most competitive countries of the world, and etc.
RecommendationsNational and local authorities of Kazakhstan should be responsible for the development and management of the education system, which could ensure equal education for all children. Solving the problems of unequal access to pre-school and school education is necessary through national educational programs that prevent lagging behind children from any social groups. According to the OECD, the most effective education systems combine high results and at the same time maintaining equality in education. Such educational systems can be found in Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Hong Kong (China) and Macao (China), where most students can get high-level education and skills that depend more on their capabilities and activity drive than their socio-economic status. Our goal is to learn a lesson from these countries and adjust these lessons for use at the national and regional levels in Kazakhstan. Therefore, based on the experience of countries with better education systems the following recommendations can be taken into account.
- Improving the national policy on education of migrant children and children from socially vulnerable groups. The international example of such program implementation can be analyzed. For example, the program “Strategy Affecting Students’ Achievements” in Ontario is being implemented. In its framework, the risk groups of potentially vulnerable and lagging behind children are identified and appropriate educational support is provided. A similar national program operates in Estonia. The national Chinese policy on education of rural and urban migrants’ children, which significantly evolved from 1986 to 2015, can be considered. It is worth considering the abolition of the compulsory registration requirement in cities to gain access to pre-school institutions and kindergartens in Kazakhstan.
- Development of public libraries that could play a central role in equipping vulnerable families who do not have home conditions for pre-school and school education. According to the PISA 2015 research, the presence of five home conditions for students such as a desk, a private room, a quiet workplace, a computer, and the Internet significantly affect the learning outcome. Kazakh students, who do not have these conditions, score 28 points less in PISA. Comfortable libraries can provide four of the five presented conditions for learning and can also offer educational programs to prepare children for school. Singapore (a leader in the education system) is an example of libraries development; it has one of the best library systems in the world.
- Providing incentives for teachers in public schools, improving training systems for new pre-school and school teachers and social workers. The best international practices show that it is necessary to increase the potential of teachers and leaders of the education system in order to improve equality and accessibility of education.
- The Kazakh government should create conditions for compulsory universal attendance at pre-school institutions. In Kazakhstan, 54% of children who participated in PISA 2015 never attended pre-school institutions. This indicator is significantly lower in the leading countries of education systems (Hong Kong (China) and Germany – 1%, Canada – 2%, Estonia – 5%. In Estonia, families with a more vulnerable socio-economic status are partially or completely exempted from fees for pre-school education. Particular emphasis is also put on the quality of services provided at this level of education. In Ontario, the provision of a full day kindergarten for all 4- and 5-year-old children in the province is regulated at the legislative level.
- Getting the maximum benefit from migration and urbanization to increase access to equal education for all. Urbanization has great potential and can bring huge benefits, but only in the case of effective urbanization planning taking to account the inclusive and progressive aspects. According to UNESCO, educational issues should be implemented and integrated into urban planning programs with specific plans, since they are one of the most important tools for sustainable urban development.
- Implementation of innovative and non-traditional methods of teaching children in problem areas. International experience can be taken into account, and local NGOs can help in implementing these practices. International examples are mobile nurseries, mobile training centers and schools that provide education for migrant and socially vulnerable children, schools in the workplace that provide education near the parents’ workplace and other innovative initiatives.
- Creating incentives for private child care institutions for an active social position. For example, provide benefits for children’s pre-school and educational centers (such as tax concessions), if they offer free classes for 10-20% of socially vulnerable children.
Kazakhstan needs to create more effective state programs and initiatives to improve equal access to quality pre-school and school education. This trend in educational policy will certainly lead to an improvement not only in people’s well-being but also in society by providing productive labor force and economic growth.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project implemented with the financial support of the Foreign Ministry of Norway. The opinions expressed in the article do not reflect the position of the editorial or donor.
 Report on the situation of children in the Republic of Kazakhstan, bala-kkk.kz  Calderone, S. (2018, May 3). Perspectives | Kazakhstan is Central Asia’s migration outlier  Brown T., Jernigan T., 2012, “Brain development during the preschool years”, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov  OECD, 2016, http://www.oecd.org  Shields L., “Equality of Educational Opportunity”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2017 Edition)  Lewin, K. (2015). Educational access, equity, development. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.  Lee, W.O. & Manzon, M. (2014). The Issue of Equity and Quality of Education in Hong Kong. Asia-Pacific Education Researcher 23: 823  OECD, 2012, http://www.oecd.org  The “Balapan” program, 2010.  Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Statistics Committee, 2018, www.stat.gov.kz  Calderone, S. (2018, May 3). Perspectives | Kazakhstan is Central Asia’s migration outlier.  E. Seilekhanov, 2011  I. Chernykh, R. Burnashev, 2018, “Migration attitudes of young Kazakh professionals”.  Ibid.  OECD Observer, 2008, http://www.oecd.org  The main results of the international PISA-2015 research, https://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisa-2015-results-in-focus.pdf  The “Balapan” program, 2010  Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Committee on Statistics, 2018, www.stat.gov.kz  Ministry of National Economy of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Statistics Committee, 2018, www.stat.gov.kz  OECD Report “PISA-2015 Results. Quality and equality in education”, http://iac.kz  Christine Lagarde, IMF, https://www.imf.org/  Lochner, 2011, www.berkeley.edu  OECD, 2012, http://www.oecd.org  OECD, 2018, http://www.oecd.org  OECD Report “PISA-2015 Results. Quality and equality in education”, http://iac.kz  Lingxin Hao, 2015, UNESCO.  The main results of the international PISA-2015 research, http://iac.kz  The main results of the international PISA-2015 research  OECD, 2016.  Amrith, M., 2016. Cities for All? Migration and the New Urban Agenda.  UNESCO, 2017. Education for All Movement.  World Economic Forum, 2017, p.122