Kazak Government Halts Controversial Teacher Tests

Authorities cave in to demands from teachers and politicians to put new examination system on hold.

Kazak Government Halts Controversial Teacher Tests

Authorities cave in to demands from teachers and politicians to put new examination system on hold.

Thursday, 12 February, 2009
The Kazak government has postponed a new test which teachers were due to sit this year. The decision follows pressure from teachers and government ministers.

At a meeting with representatives of the Ministry of Education and Science on January 22, Prime Minister Karim Masimov instructed minister Janseit Tyimebaev to halt the computer-based testing process, which was already being rolled out.

A trial of the test was held on January 8 and 9, with an official exam to follow later in the year.

But the plans have now been shelved following a campaign by a group of teachers in southern Kazakstan, who sent a series of letters to the ministry asking it to delay the process.

The teachers complained that the new system had been introduced in haste, and demanded more time to prepare.

After sitting the trial exam, they asked for improvements, complaining that some questions were unclear as a result of a poor translation from the original Russian into Kazak.

They also reported technical difficulties, such as having to wait in long queues to get into the test rooms, computers freezing during the test, and delays in the release of results.

Following the teachers’ letters, a group of members of parliament backed their demands and requested the prime minister to look into the complaints.

Since the early Nineties, Kazak teachers have been required to sit an exam every five years after attending special courses on their specialist subjects. If they do badly, this is reflected in their salary scale.

A different testing system was to be introduced this year after the education ministry introduced a new set of rules in April 2008.

Under the new scheme, the authorities were going to continue to peg salary rises to test results. However, the new test was to be computer- rather than paper-based, and include a broader range of questions. In addition, tougher penalties were to be imposed on those who performed badly.

According to the new procedures, the new test was designed to last 150 minutes and contain 100 questions, relating to the individual teacher’s specialist subject as well as Kazakstan law, psychology and teaching methods.

Those teachers who passed the test would then be given a performance appraisal.

However, those who failed would have to wait six months to re-sit the test and would not be allowed to return to teaching until they passed.

At a parliamentary session on January 17, when the tests were debated for the second time, member of parliament Raisa Politschuk cited this controversial aspect of the new regulation.

While the authorities have acceded to the demand to delay the new testing procedure, it is not clear whether they plan to revive the plan.

Teachers are concerned that if the education authorities decide to impose the system of harsh penalties at a later date, this could lead to an greater shortage of teachers.

Kazakstan’s state schools are short of staff, and many attribute the declining numbers to the low salaries paid to teachers. The Kazak Federation for Education and Science Trade Unions says the average teacher's salary is 27,000 tenge (223 US dollars) a month.

Russian language teacher Elena Morozova from Shymkent said that if the penalty system were to be imposed, she would not be able to afford to stay in the profession.

“If you answer [too many] questions wrong, you’ll be deprived of your teacher’s status and your salary will be cut,” she noted.

“Since a teacher’s salary is very low, I think it would be better to find another job, even one that doesn’t match my qualifications.”

Yet education ministry officials and others maintain that tests are an effective mechanism for evaluating teachers’ competence.

Amirjan Kosanov, a political scientist and deputy chairman of the National Social Democratic Party of Kazakstan, said the tests would help weed out incompetent teachers.

However, he also acknowledged that imposing strict penalties on those who fail could drive teachers out the profession. To prevent this happening, he said, it was important to make teaching more attractive as a provision by improving working conditions.

Olga Shevchenko is an IWPR correspondent in Almaty.
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