As of September, 33 middle schools in Kazakhstan’s largest city will start teaching some of the main subjects on the curriculum in English.
The pilot project to bring in trilingual education — in Kazakh, Russian and English — is the brainchild of modernizing education minister Yerlan Sagadiyev, many of whose innovations have provoked a mix of approval and indignation.
In the schools where this experiment is being carried out, pupils from the eighth grade upward will be get classes in physics, chemistry, biology and IT in English, according to the head of the education department in Almaty, Rahat Shimayev.
When the academic year is out, education officials will evaluate the results to see how best to organize timetables in future.
To compensate for the burden of having to teach in a foreign language, teachers participating in the pilot scheme will receive extra pay.
Shimayev said that another novelty coming up is that Wi-Fi networks are being created in 133 schools in Almaty.
Sagadiyev, the mind behind many of these innovations, is far from popular with everybody. Among his most avid critics are grassroots movements concerned that he is doing too little to preserve the Kazakh language. And his detractors say that his newfangled ideas have been poorly implemented and will create more problems than they are solving.
Commentators on social media, who are typically more receptive to modernizing impulses, approve of Sagadiyev’s vision, however. They argue that trilingual education will put young people in Kazakhstan in a better position to integrate with the international economy and learn more quickly about other cultures.
Most importantly for Sagadiyev, he has the backing of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, who spoke in an address to the nation on January 31 about the need for the country to gradually transition to trilingual education.