The education system of Kazakhstan has changed dramatically since the country gained its independence in 1991. Soviet education was focused on fundamental, theoretical knowledge. Primary, secondary and higher educations were free of charge. Every citizen has the right for an equal, free of charge and high-quality education. Twenty-five years of independence resulted in numerous reforms in education. Among them Kazakhstan joining the Bologna Process, the introduction of a credit system, lifelong learning, three-tier higher education (bachelor-master-doctor), decentralisation of education sphere, privatisation and focus on the critical thinking. Along with these reforms, education institutions divided into private and public, fee-paying and free of charge. Although primary, secondary and partially higher education is free of charge, the issue of whether everyone has equal access to quality education is debatable. There are private elite schools, for example, Miras, Haileybury, Almaty International School, Tamos Education, Dostar and etc. However, the government tries to regulate this difference and open new schools for talented students (Nazarbayev schools, Daryn).
Primary education is compulsory and free of charge (although there are fee-paying schools). Students accepted to primary schools from kindergartens or pre-school organisations at the age of 6-7. Education in primary schools takes 4 years (1-4 grades). Main languages of instruction are Kazakh and Russian. Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan regulates education content, programs, periods and quality. A certain level of freedom is provided in private schools. Usually, students study in two shifts in the morning or afternoon. Education Year consists of four terms and three ten days holidays after 1-3 terms and 3 months of summer holidays after 4 terms.
Secondary education consists of two stages: middle school and senior school. Middle school lasting five years (5-9 grades, 10-16 years old) is compulsory and free of charge (although there are fee-paying schools). After graduating middle school students get ‘Attestat o nepolnom srednem obrazovanii’ (Certificate of Secondary Education) and choose one of three possible options: 1) to continue education in senior school, 2) to continue education in vocational school or college and obtain a working qualification; 3) not to study further. So at the age of 15 students make an important decision on which pathway to go - whether to continue education or not.
The period of education in senior school is two years (10-11 grades, 17-18 years old.). Senior school is not compulsory but free of charge (there are fee-paying options). At the final stage, students undertake graduating exams in schools to achieve ‘Attestat o srednem obrazovanii’ (Certificate of General Secondary Education). Graduates of senior schools and colleges can enter Higher Education Institutions.
Kazakhstan has ambitious plans to be in the top 30 developed countries of the world. This goal requires the development of economics, industry and education. In light of development strategies, Higher Education is implementing and transferring successful Western and American policies. Overall, Kazakhstan has 127 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) with around 450,000 people. HEIs are divided into national, state and private. Both national and state HEIs are state-owned and fully funded from the national budget. Private HEIs are funded from private capital. Thanks to the market economy, Higher Education of Kazakhstan has developed into a competitive environment. Universities have to compete for clients and constantly improve the quality of services and education. Universities take part in national and international rankings and accreditations. In 2015-2016, eight Kazakhstani Universities entered top 100 of QS: Eastern Europe and Central Asia Rating.
The entry requirements to universities are Certificate of General Secondary Education and UNT or CT Certificate with required scores. UNT is a Unified National Testing for graduates of schools, CT is a Complex Testing for college leavers. Higher education provision in the country is both free-of-charge or fee-paying. Annually, the Government allocates a certain amount of budget for State Scholarships, which cover tuition and a monthly stipend. School and college graduates can apply for the State Scholarship Competition. A successful scholarship recipient is defined by the UNT or CT grades and achievements at national and international competitions. In the 2015-2016 academic year, around 30% of students were allocated State Scholarships and 70% were fee-paying.
Since Kazakhstan entered the Bologna Process and became part of EHEA (European Higher Education Area), all HEIs implemented a credit system and an ECTS system. As a result, Kazakhstani HEIs are cooperating with many foreign partner universities to promote the academic mobility of incoming and outgoing students and staff.
Universities provide education programs in Kazakh (63%), Russian (34%) and English (3%). The Soviet five-point grade system is substituted by the American 4.0 GPA model (grade point average). Education programs consist of compulsory and optional components. Optional components are elective courses chosen by students.