At the middle level, grades five through nine, each subject is taught by a separate teacher. The curriculum includes the Kazakhi language and literature, Russian language and literature, mathematics, geometry, geography, physics, chemistry, physical health, arts, music, and a foreign language. Each grade section has a senior teacher, or a class guide, who is appointed by the principal to maintain contact with parents, help students organize various social activities, and be a liaison with the school administration. In some small, rural areas, incomplete secondary schools (grades one through nine) operate as a separate entity.
At the end of the ninth grade, school children take exit exams developed by the national Ministry of Education and Science. Those who pass may continue their education in high school to obtain a certificate of secondary general education that gives them the right to apply to an institution of higher learning. Teachers and school administrators advise those students who are not academically bound, and might not meet the requirements of the high school, to apply to one or two-year professional'notekhnicheskoe uchilishche (vocational or professional schools) that enable the graduates enter the labor market at a low level of qualification. However, it is the parents who make the final decision. Students may apply to more academically rigorous tekhnikum (three-year technical schools), pedagogical, or medical schools that grant graduates a general secondary education, a vocational certificate, and the right to apply to universities for advanced programs of study. The students who continue their education in high school take exit exams at the end of the eleventh grade. There were eight exams, but the number was reduced by two in the 1990s. The tests are graded by local teachers, and not by the experts who composed them in the republican test center. Some institutions of higher learning started accepting exit school grades as the entry exams, relieving the school graduates from the stress of two exam sessions a summer. Usually, these are the graduates of some academically rigorous private schools or specialized schools run by the boards of education or by the universities.
As the new educational standards have been developed in Kazakhstan, secondary education in Kazakhstan has been diversified according to the Basic Education Plan that offers the students 28 variants of education. The most major, Variant Number 1, has a general education curriculum. Other variants are designed to provide an in-depth study of specific subjects and resemble magnet schools that exist in some countries. For example, Variant Number 5 offers the intensive study of foreign languages and literature. Variant Number 6 provides profound study of native languages (Turkish, Uighur, Korean, and others.) Variant Number 7 offers an in-depth study of mathematics. Variant Number 23 aims at an in-depth theoretical and practical training in national and economic industries. Variant Number 24 is designed for general education rural school. Variant Number 26 represents an aesthetic profile with such subjects as arts, music, and dance.
The major efforts in secondary school reform aim at diversifying the ideological and theoretical foundations of curriculum development. They also aim to make the process of choosing a curriculum more flexible and democratic by re-introducing traditional ethnic values and multicultural education.
As Kazakhstan becomes more open to the world community, the educational system experiences the imperative of society to increase its dedication to promoting the study of foreign languages. During the Soviet time, all students were required to study a foreign language, usually English, for seven years. This requirement was made because Cold War contacts with other countries were limited, and few students were interested in learning languages. As the country develops cooperation with the rest of the world, the study of two foreign languages, especially English, Arabic, Turkish, or Persian, becomes more common.
A great deal of attention is given by the government to Information Processing, the content of which is oriented toward developing computer skills and programming. To accomplish the goal of computerization, as it is outlined in the reform documents, 40,000 copies of a new textbook in both Kazakhstan and Russian languages have been made available for schools. A Kazakh-Russian-English Dictionary of Informatics terminology has been issued, and regional centers of new technologies in education have been created. In 1997, the President of the country approved the State Program of the Informatization of the System of the Secondary Education for the years 1997-2002 that commits 154 million U.S. dollars to schools. The financial support of the Program also comes from the Asian Bank of Development loan. In 1998, the Program was supposed to computerize 1,000 schools, including 60 percent in rural areas, a goal too bold under the given constraints of the budget.
There is no social promotion in the educational system. Those who fail one subject are allowed to take summer course work, either independently, or through tutoring. If they pass the test on the eve of the new academic year, they are promoted to the next grade. However, the repetition rate is very low (around 1 percent), and this is described by some critics as a result of grade inflation and bribery.
As the country develops its identity, nationalism is on the rise. The political elite continues to establish more schools for the Kazakh ethnic group. The ethnic Kazakh group is disproportionately represented in the leadership of the Ministry of Education and other administrative bodies, though the urban schools are more cosmopolitan. To overcome inter-ethnic tension, the government launched a project of opening schools in which diverse ethnic cultures are represented. The first, called Vozrojdenie (Revival) School was created in the city of Pavlodar. More than 500 school children of different nationalities come here six days a week. They study the native languages, culture, and traditions of people who live in Kazakhstan. The departments and classes actively intercommunicate, prepare joint concert programs, and other social events. The young artists from Vozrojdenie participate in festivals of the Kazakh, Russian, Ukraine, German, Korean, and Polish, all cultures that are regularly carried out in Pavlodar oblast. In 2000, 2 new departments, Belorussian and Greek, were added to the 10 existing departments.
Kazakhstan inherited a wide-spread system of vocational education institutions. In 1997-1998, the specialized secondary vocational education was offered by 230 schools, including 174 state-owned, and 56 non-state owned. They trained 128,730 young people in 160 specialties. During the Soviet years, the system was subsidized by both the enterprises and the state. As the plants and the factories were privatized in independent Kazakhstan, their new owners cut the spending of money on vocational education and the system began crumbling. To meet the needs of local enterprises in the labor force with the middle level of qualification, vocational schools introduced "education on contractual basis." This is when an enterprise, under the auspices of the local Bureau of Employment, signs a contract with a vocational school and pays money for training a certain number of workers.
The government encourages the creation of private secondary schools hoping that they will reduce the financial burden on public schools. The government stopped supplying textbooks for free.
Of the relevant age-group students, 87 percent were enrolled in all types of secondary education schools in 1996-1997. Leaders of Kazakhstan know this must be improved.
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