A friend in need is a friend indeed
Helping out the schools in rural Kazakhstan
After experiencing the depth of Central Asian bureaucracy over the past 12 months, we thought we had finally got the hang of it, but starting this new Schools Education and Development project of ours, little did we know what we would be in for.
The Oblast Akimat in Karaganda was slightly suspicious of us at first, why would anyone want to give free computers to people in Kazakhstan, were they missionaries trying to convert them to some cult, and further more why were the people who were only a few days before held up and fined $300 by the police, trying to help the Kazkhstani people, shouldn’t they hate them instead of trying to help them? Finally however we got to see some of the schools in their region – this time with their blessing as well.
The first school we visited was in the Karaganda region – a school in Rostovka, which was a resource centre for all the other rural schools in the area. Teachers from all the other rural schools would come here 4 times a year to study English, and had access to their small library collection also. Rostovka itself had quite good facilities (because it was the local resource centre), as well as 2 very good English teachers who very enthusiastic about setting up a system of communication; not just so the students of Australia and Kazakhstan could correspond with each other, but so the teachers of Australia and Kazakhstan could talk to each other to learn new teaching techniques from each other as well. They were very keen on acquiring some new English learning aids also, since they were the sole teaching resource centre in the region, where all the local schools came to get English learning/teaching resources. This school taught in both Kazakh and Russian.
After this it was off to towards Zhezkhezgan, and from here out into the steppe. Leaving Zhezkezgan and heading out towards to the Ulytau region to some remote schools, we shocked at some of the facilities we encountered. Our first stop was Kinggir. Kinggir itself is also quite well resourced school, with a very enthusiastic man as director. Understanding the role and computers and information technology in the future of education, he was very glad to here of our plan. He was also very enthusiastic about setting up a partnership with an Australian school, so that both countries could benefit from learning about another culture.
Next stop was Terekty. Terekty is also a small little village with a single school of 197 students (ranging from 4 year old pre-school to grade 9). Previously we had written our bike out here in summer and spent some 5 days in the village, so weren’t strangers to it. The sole English teacher here was a 20 year old 2nd year student teacher (studying English at a college) coming out to teach English two days a week. She was very enthusiastic about our project however, as were the students, some of which we had met the year before. They were very excited about the prospects of having online penpals, to learn more about the Australian way of life, and to share their culture and traditions with the schools in Australia. Being a very new Teacher, and having only learnt English for a few years, both she and her students were looking forward to practicing their English by conversing with students in Australia
Our last stop in our tour of the least developed schools in the Zhezkezgan region was Malshybai. Malshybai is a very remote village of some 400 people, but the population is rapidly declining as people move away. The main industry here is herding animals in a semi-subsistence lifestyle, the horses here outnumbering the people themselves. When it snows here, the village is cut off from the rest of the world, due to lack of access. The school itself has 57 pupils and no science labs to do experiments. A lot of this is due to the lack of infrastructure in the region – where there are equal numbers of hours when there is electricity and where there is not, where there is no mobile phone reception, and where there is no telephone lines connecting to the village (they communicate with radio telegram, which again spends more time out of action than working due to the sporadic electricity). The school here only goes up to grade 9, since they do not have any pupils wanting to continue studying beyond that, since most pupils just want to get into the workforce ASAP. The education system in Kazakhstan however, provides for education in years 10 and 11. In year 9 there are 8 students, in year 8 there are 8 students, in year 7 there were 7, and in the remaining years it alternates between 4 and 5 students.
Interestingly enough there were more students in the higher grades than in the lower grades, again showing how the village population is decreasing. By the time most students finish year 9, most have never done a science experiment, sent an email or learnt more than a few basic words in English. Some people had left this village to go to the further away(a few hours drive) big towns since the school was so ill equipped, so it is hoped that by providing them with better resources/infrastructure, this does not need to occur so much. The School director here is also the most recent ex-Akim of the village. This school is in dire need of adequate English learning resources, as well as infrastructure to be able to connect to the outside world. Currently we are working with a few people to see what we can come up with in terms of electricity and telephone lines, before progressing onto the issue of computers and internet, as well as providing them with better English learning resources.
Keep up to date with our progress at www.steppebysteppe.com.au/schools.
We have also posted up 100 (yes 100!!!) new videos on Youtube today, documenting our travels in Central Asia so far. Only a fraction of these are up for display on our website, so if you want to see all of them, please check them out at www.youtube.com/steppebysteppe