Kazakhstan well poised to tackle digital learning but challenges remain

Kazakstan's education and skills policies will be crucial for the Central Asian country's economic recovery and digital transition. [Shutterstock/Ann in the uk]

This article is part of our special report Kazakhstan: recovery and renewal.

Kazakstan’s education and skills policies will be crucial for the Central Asian country’s economic recovery and efforts to avoid the digital divide, experts say.

Some 78% of Kazakhstan’s population are internet users and the country has one of the lowest prices of mobile data globally, with a cost of less than $0.5 per gigabyte of mobile data it is the sixth cheapest in the world.

The country’s relatively advantageous digital position makes its transition to digital learning particularly interesting to watch, Arthur van Diesen, UNICEF’s representative in Kazakhstan told ‘Astana Finance Days’, an online conference held last Wednesday (29 June).

After mapping all the schools in Kazakhstan and their level, “we see that the vast majority of schools are connected at above 3 Mbit/second,” van Diesen said.

Nevertheless, van Diesen pointed out that Kazakhstan faced the same problems as other countries globally: network capacity and connectivity issues, limited access to devices within a single household, lack of curated and appropriate digital learning material as well as a different approach needed for children with special learning needs.

Moreover, new skills would have to be developed both on the side of the parents and teachers to accompany children on their learning journey.

“One big worry we have at UNICEF is that there is still a digital divide. And this digital divide actually risks deepening educational inequities.”

“If we push too quickly to digital, some children are going to lose out, and it’s likely to be those children who are already challenged in terms of getting a full quality education. I think there is a real desperate need for blended learning modalities for, I would say, a portfolio of pathways to learning,” van Diesen added.

Earlier this year, Kazakhstan agreed to lead UNICEF’s global school connectivity initiative called GIGA in Central Asia, with the aim to connect every school to broadband internet.

The country’s digitisation has been at the top of the government’s agenda before the coronavirus.

The authorities launched the “Digital Kazakhstan” programme in 2017 with the aim to digitise the economy, implement the China-led digital aspects of the New Silk Road and transition to a digital state.

“Lots of activity has shifted online and this has been problematic for several underrepresented groups and certain vulnerable groups across all countries, which in the case of Kazakhstan are communities in rural areas and workers employed in the informal economy,” said Stefano Piano, a policy analyst at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Piano is part of the team developing a national skills strategy for Kazakhstan, with the hope that recommendations will be elevated to the state level and provide policymakers with an agenda.

Piano pointed out that quality interactions with good teachers are especially important for vulnerable children and for performance later in life.

“So a teacher is not only someone who can help pupils develop their skills, but also someone who can become a role model, raise your aspirations and show you a different way of  leading your life from what might be happening in families.”

A similarly vulnerable group are adults with lower education or lower levels of cognitive skills who require ‘contextualised learning opportunities.’

“You can imagine that many of these people have quite daunting experiences of school and so they really require a learning approach that links what they are learning with their daily reality or lives, be that the workplace, community, the family and so forth.”

With a view to developing the country’s human capital, Nur-Sultan’s financial hub, the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC), has proposed launching a centre for the development of educational technological programs (EdTech), as well as an Educational IT Alliance with universities.

Nur-Sultan's financial hub to be at heart of Kazakhstan's recovery and greening

With the support of authorities and growing green credentials, the Astana International Financial Centre (AIFC) is well placed to play a key role in the country’s recovery and sustainable economic development, experts say.

“The development of human capital is no longer just the task of relevant government departments and educational institutions,” AIFC Governor Kairat Kelimbetov said last Tuesday (30 June).

“Human capital is an urgent agenda and an acute challenge for all sectors of the economy from small businesses to large holdings and national companies,” Kelimbetov added.

Kazakhstan adopted in May an integrated recovery plan to tackle the fallout of the pandemic that includes digital and labour market policies such as the expansion of public employment services.

“I think it’s a comprehensive plan that is introducing some good measures that can help Kazakhstan deal with the current shock but as with these recovery plans, the devil will be in the details,” Piano told EURACTIV and cautioned:

“To be successful, the plan will require effective implementation and strong cooperation, as well as coordination between implementing ministries, which might prove challenging, especially with this very short timescale.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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