Re-conceptualising inclusive education: opportunities and challenges for school principals in the post-soviet context of Kazakhstan

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Over the past twenty five years a continual shift in world geopolitical order has transformed many countries in the central Asian region due to the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. As a result of stable leadership and oil reserves Kazakhstan has emerged as a more politically and economically stable post-soviet country than those on its borders. To achieve its goal of entering the top 30 global economies by 2050, the president of the Republic of Kazakhstan has placed an emphasis on education reform recognizing its importance as a driving force of change (Nazarbayev, 2012). As Kazakhstan has signed international agreements that concern inclusive education such as the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) and Education for All (UNESCO, 2004), the burden has been placed on a range of stakeholders in education to meet the country’s international obligations. Not only is Kazakhstan placed between Asia and Europe resulting in competing paradigms of understanding and definitions of inclusive education, additionally, inclusive education in Kazakhstan has emerged from the soviet educational approach of ‘defectology’. This approach can be best described as a medicalized and segregated version of what many western countries understand as ‘special education’. As a result there is confusion between historical and contemporary definitions of inclusive education leading to the fragmentation of reforms. Despite government legislation that supports education for students with disabilities, there is no formal educational policy for inclusive education. Many students with disabilities are marginalized or excluded by being placed in special schools, home schooled, or segregated into correctional classes in mainstream schools. The decision of who is in and who is out is on the recommendation of pedagogical psychologists and often against the wishes of parents who would prefer their child to attend mainstream classes. The burden of mediating this process is placed on the shoulders of school principals and decisions are dependent on their understanding and beliefs of inclusive education. Research has shown (Cook, Semmel, & Gerber, 1999; Praisner, 2003, Sharma & Desai, 2008) that the attitudes of school principals towards inclusive education play a part in the successful development of inclusive schools. This paper will discuss empirical research that explores the attitudes and experiences of six principals from three regions of Kazakhstan. Data was collected through a series of semi-structured interviews concerning their experiences and views on inclusive education. These data place in focus the nature of the barriers involved in reconstructing and re-conceptualising (Slee, 2010) the notion of inclusive education in a post-soviet context, and highlight some of the opportunities and challenges faced by school leaders as part of transforming and creating a more inclusive educational landscape for Kazakhstan.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • inclusive education, leadership, school principals

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