Tensions between policy aspirations and enactment: investigating institutional and ecological concerns about English Medium Instruction (EMI) in the public schools in Kazakhstan

Project: FDCRGP

Project Details

Grant Program

Faculty Development Competitive Research Grant Program 2021-2023

Project Description

The project aimed at promoting Kazakhstan as a highly developed country where three languages are used: Kazakh as a state language, Russian as a language of interethnic communication, and English as a language of integrating into the global economy. In the presidential address of December 2012, trilingualism was considered as a unifying factor of all citizens of the country. This basically meant that English should also feature in the linguistic repertoire of the people along with existing Kazakh and Russian languages. The ‘Trinity of Languages’ project initially received a warm welcome and was accepted with enthusiasm, but it subsequently met with much resistance and criticism when it came to implementation it on a large-scale. Half-baked policy implementation mechanisms accompanied by confusions and misinterpretations at each level have made trilingualism a highly controversial issue in Kazakhstan(Karabassova, 2020). The development of trilingual education was increasingly emphasized in official documents, programs, and Presidential addresses over the last 10 years. Seeking to achieve higher strategic aims, the “State Programme of Education Development in the Republic of Kazakhstan for 2011– 2020” (MoES 2010) ambitiously announced that the number of trilingual schools would be increased from 110 to 700 by 2020. However, it is critical to note that the Ministry did not identify any risks or challenges in the process of implementation. To translate the project of trilingualism to actual policy, the government of Kazakhstan undertook an array of initiatives in the direction of developing fluency in Kazakh, Russian, and English. Several schools, including 29 Bilim-innovation lyceums (BIL), 33 trilingual “Daryn” schools, and 20 Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) were designated as trilingual schools. Thus the trilingual education project started in phases in the academic year of 2007-2008 with the MoES setting up a total of 33 specialized schools for gifted children. The government-financed Scientific Practical Center “Daryn” oversee these schools. These schools use trilingual policy by teaching one or several Science and Mathematics subjects through English. In addition, Kazakh language, Kazakh literature, and History of Kazakhstan are taught through Kazakh, whereas Russian language and literature are taught through Russian language. Another network of schools where Kazakh and English had long been used before the launch of the trilingual policy was the network of BIL under the KATEV (Kazakh Turkish Egitim Vakt) foundation. The next important initiative of the trilingual education reform agenda was the launch of the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) in the year 2008. The government established a total of 20 schools under Autonomous Educational Organisation (AEO). The NIS adopted a model of trilingual schooling which required the use of Kazakh and Russian for instruction in Grades 7–10, and teaching most subjects through English in the senior years (Goodman & Karabassova, 2018; Karabassova, 2018). In the next phase, the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) identified a total of 153 mainstream schools for teaching STEM subjects through English (zakon.kz 2018). According to the Ministry data (Nigmatulin, 2019) as presented at a Parliament meeting in June, 2019, 352 schools were said to currently teaching STEM through English. Other 5,922 teachers were implementing some elements of EMI, and only 818 were teaching entirely in English (Karabassova, 2020). On the one hand, Kazakhstan ambitiously pushed for large-scale rapid English language teaching reforms, whereas on the other hand, it is also important to discuss the same kind of English teaching reforms in a number of other Asian countries. Those countries also have nearly same sociolinguistic settings where English functions either as a second or as a foreign language. Therefore, we believe that contextualizing and discussing the situation in those countries could help understand the complexities and challenges underlying English teaching and learning.
Effective start/end date1/1/2112/31/23


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