Education is another central element in President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s "Kazakhstan–2030" program, about which he spoke at length in his January 7 speech, delivered at Almaty’s Kazakhstan State University. (See yesterday’s Monitor) While not making any new promises, Nazarbaev reminded his audience of other current policy initiatives, notably a bill on education, computerization of both schools and universities, and a shake-up of university curricula.
Falling educational standards are causing the authorities considerable concern. According to one report, 19 percent of Kazakhstani children aged 6-12 are not attending school. If this trend continues, it could mean that some 20 percent of the population will be illiterate in ten years’ time. (The United Nations Human Development Report of 1997 put the non-attendance figure only slightly lower, at 14 percent.) (Delovaya nedelya, January 9) A major culprit seems to be a sharp fall in the amount of state funding available for education since 1991, plus a deterioration in the health of children of school age. Sharp regional differences in educational levels are also causing concern, and it will be hard to raise school attendance in the face of rural economic poverty where families often cannot afford clothes or shoes to send their children to school. At the university level, students and lecturers alike complain openly about widespread bribery which nullifies objective grading.
The speech was another occasion for Nazarbaev to publicize his strategy for the year 2030, launched last year. Subtitled "Prosperity, Security, and the Ever-increasing Welfare of Kazakhstan’s Citizens," it aims to ensure successful social and economic development and to serve "as a fine example to other developing countries". Most important is the strategy’s third section, which lays out seven long-term priorities: national security; domestic political and social stability; economic growth; health, education and welfare; power resources; infrastructure and a professionally-trained state cadre. ("Kazakhstan-2030", 1997)
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