How Kazakhstan is making education more accessible

January 08, 2024

Formal schooling is not just a right and the foundation for every individual’s further training and career growth; it is also a key aspect of the social and economic development of every country. Its importance in the modern world cannot be overstated: a lack of access to formal education increases the risk of social problems such as poverty and unemployment.

Governments around the world are increasingly recognising the importance of quality primary education for the achievement of long-term sustainable development goals and the creation of just societies. Addressing education issues has become a strategic objective for many countries. State-led efforts alone are often not enough, however; the private sector’s involvement in finding solutions to these issues, on a pro bono basis, by sharing social responsibility, can be incredibly important. Kazakhstan can serve as an example of this approach.

Kazakhstan has adopted a number of reforms to improve the quality of its education system and is increasingly applying international standards and best practices. Significant efforts have been made in recent years to upgrade school infrastructure, but, despite these efforts, a number of problems remain unresolved.

A population explosion driven by a rising birth rate and rapid urbanisation led to two problems: a lack of secondary schools and a shortage of teaching staff. The government allocates significant funds every year for the construction and modernisation of schools. In addition, the authorities have started implementing the Comfortable Schools national project, which calls for the construction of 369 new schools; over the past three years, 626 schools have opened across the country.  

Nevertheless, the pace at which new schools are opening is not keeping up with demographic and migration processes, especially in large cities. According to official data, the country has 270,000 more pupils than places for them in its schools.

In recent years, Kazakhstani businesses have been getting involved, including on a pro bono basis, in resolving problems of educational infrastructure and improving the quality of education in the country. With state support for private businesses that invest in education, the number of private schools in the country has increased over the past two years, and 558 private schools in Kazakhstan are financed through government contracts.

It is important to note, however, that businesses in Kazakhstan are investing heavily not only through public–private partnerships but also on a philanthropic basis, where schools are being built using private capital and then handed over to the state free of charge. This type of public–private arrangement made it possible to build a school in the fast-growing city of Kosshy, on the outskirts of Astana, in a year, providing a solution to the city’s education problem, whereby schools were operating three shifts a day.

The local government sought the assistance of ‘Bulat Utemuratov Foundation’, to build a school for the city.

A fully equipped three-storey school in Kosshy for 1,500 pupils was built by the Foundation in a year and then handed over to the state at no cost. The school, which now has 3,000 pupils attending classes in two shifts, opened on September 1st this year. It is the first school in Kazakhstan to meet the standards outlined in the Comfortable Schools national project. In addition to physics, chemistry and biology laboratories, the school also features workshops, computer classes and specialised furniture like transformer desks that can be adjusted based on the size of each pupil. The school building itself has been adapted for children with special needs. The new school has enabled the city to fully resolve its problem of three-shift education.    

Bulat Utemuratov Foundation has started building two more schools in the Almaty region, each of which will cost $17.5 million. They will also be turned over to the state at no cost. The value and importance of formal schooling, which is an investment in the country’s future, is a priority for the Foundation.

At the same time, when it comes to developing education in Kazakhstan, the private sector is doing more than just building schools; businesses are also covering the costs involved in incorporating new educational programmes, including from other countries.  

Examples of such initiatives include the Haileybury schools (British private schools) in the cities of Almaty and Astana, which are social responsibility projects run by Kazakh businesspeople and philanthropists. Both of these schools are non-profit organisations, and the funds contributed are reinvested in development and scholarship programmes for gifted children. Children are given an opportunity to study tuition-free in highly qualified international A Level and International Baccalaureate programmes. Many Haileybury graduates have gone on to study at prestigious universities abroad.  

Philanthropic programmes in Kazakhstan are providing support for training personnel and improving the quality of
education for schoolchildren | Photo Credit: Bulat Utemuratov Foundation

There are a number of other philanthropic programmes in the country that are providing support for training personnel and improving the quality of education for schoolchildren. Notably, the Jas Leader Akademiiasy programme, implemented by Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, supports and develops leadership qualities among schoolchildren; it is the first initiative of its kind in Kazakhstan involving the widespread, systematic incorporation of leadership development classes for schoolchildren in grades 5–11. And greenhouses have been installed at 36 public schools as part of the Green School project. The project’s creators explain that lessons taking place in greenhouses supplement the school curriculum with practical classes and are a good opportunity for teachers to conduct interesting elective lessons.    

It is important to keep in mind that the state should play a leading role in improving the education system by investing heavily in the construction of new schools and the training of teachers. The private sector cannot replace the state in finding solutions to the problems facing socially important sectors such as education, but private investment provides essential support, as it helps resolve urgent problems such as the lack of educational institutions and overcrowding in schools, and the example of Kazakhstan is proof of this.


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