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Reform at Scale: Teacher Development in Kazakhstan

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Abstract

This paper will add to the growing body of work that provides empirical evidence for the

multidimensional nature of teacher education reform at scale. In this article we outline the rationale

and theoretical underpinning for a Kazakhstan country-wide teacher education reform programme and

draw on interim findings at the end of the first year of the extended programme. Although expanding

the reform to multiple settings is a necessary condition for scale, it will not guarantee that the

programme will achieve the key aim of changing learning and teaching practice in classrooms so that

students’ learning becomes the focus. We explain how we have tried to bring about conceptual

changes and build capacity within schools so that there is a consequential change in classrooms

which is sustained and over time.

Background

The Kazakhstan 2011 – 2020 education strategy set a target of developing ‘the training system and

professional development of the pedagogic staff of Kazakhstan’. In response to this target, in May

2011, the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan set up the Centre of Excellence (CoE)

programme under the auspices of the Autonomous Education Organisation (AEO) ‘Nazarbayev

Intellectual Schools’ (NIS). The strategic plan included a target of training 120,000 teachers by 2016;

that is, approximately 40% of the 307,000 comprehensive schools teachers of the Republic of

Kazakhstan. In October 2011 the University of Cambridge became strategic partners in this

educational reform process.

The main aim of the Teacher Education Reform programme is to develop the learning and expertise

of teachers in the public school system,so that the young people of Kazakhstan will become global

learners in the 21st century. A further aim is also to establish a network of professional development

centres. These centres will provide leadership throughout the regions of Kazakhstan to aid the

development process, so that it will be more likely to be sustained beyond the joint CoE – University

of Cambridge (UoC) stages of training. 2

Educational Reform at Scale

To introduce external reform initiatives at scale is a complex endeavour. The process not only



requires spreading reform to multiple teachers, schools and districts, but also involves sustaining

change in a multilevel system characterized by multiple and shifting priorities (McLaughlin & Mitra,

2001). Educational research has tended to define scale in a one-dimensional way, rationalizing this as

the expansion of numbers of schools reached. However, this is a rather narrow definition which does

not take into account the simultaneous and complex nature of the challenges. A more helpful start is

to conceptualize the problem of introducing reform at scale as a fundamentally multidimensional

process.

Defining Scale as a Multidimensional Process

Previous research studies on scale tend to define this process as “scaling up” an external reform in

quantitative terms, focusing on increasing the number of teachers, schools, or districts involved

(Datnow, Hubbard & Mehan, 2002; Fullan, 2000; Hargreaves & Fink, 2000; Hubbard & Mehan, 1999;

Legters, Balfanz, Jordan & Mc-Partland, 2002; McDermott, 2000). In a concise formulation of the

predominant view, Stringfield and Datnow (1998, p. 271) define scaling up as “the deliberate

expansion to many settings of an externally developed school restructuring design that previously has

been used successfully in one or a small number of school settings”. Within this definition, scale

involves replication of the reform in greater numbers of teachers and schools (Cooper, Slavin &

Madden, 1997; Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998; Slavin & Madden, 1996; Taylor, Nelson & Adelman, 1999) or

emphasize a process of mutual adaptation (Datnow et al. 2002; Hubbard & Mehan, 2002; Klein et al.

1995; Stringfield & Datnow, 1998) whereby schools are encouraged to adapt reform models to the

needs of their local context. Another variation of this theme incorporates concerns for geographic

proximity, defining scale in terms of an increase in the number of schools involved in a reform effort to

achieve a critical mass in a bounded area such as a school district (Bodilly, 1998). The replication,

mutual adaption and geographic proximity of reform at scale is largely assessed at an instrumental

level and provides a straightforward but intuitive and easily measured parameter. However, this

conceptualization of scale is narrow and does not take into account the nature of the change

envisioned or enacted or the degree to which it is sustained, nor does it take into account the degree

to which schools and teachers have the knowledge and capacity to continue to grow the reform over

time. By focusing on numbers alone, traditional definitions of scale often neglect these and other

qualitative measures that may be fundamental to demonstrate teachers’ capacity to engage with a

reform effort in ways that make a difference for learning and teaching (Coburn, 2003).

In this article, we outline the rationale and theoretical underpinning for a Kazakhstan country-wide

teacher education reform programme and draw on interim findings at the end of the first year of the

extended programme. Although expanding the reform to multiple settings is a necessary condition for

scale, it will not guarantee that the programme will achieve the key aim of changing learning and

teaching practice in classrooms so that students’ learning becomes the focus. We explain how we

have tried to bring about conceptual changes and build capacity within schools so that there is a 3

consequential change in classrooms which is sustained and over time.

Coburn (2003) defines reform at scale as comprising of four interrelated dimensions: spread, depth,

sustainability and shift in reform ownership. In the next sections we explain how we have devised a

development programme which addresses Coburn’s four dimensions of scale. In addition, we draw on

emerging evidence after one year of the CoE programme based on data collected from the concurrent

monitoring and evaluation processes.

The Centre of Excellence Programme: Reform at Scale

Bringing About and Sustaining Changes to Practice

Recent international studies of educational change management point to four key school-based

strategies that are common to education systems where successful change has taken place (Levin,

2012), such as setting clear simple goals and promoting a ‘can do’ approach, while building capacity

to help sustain the development. The fourth condition is linked to the public perception of teachers

and teaching as profession. To raise the status of teaching the Kazakhstan Ministry has agreed to

increase the salary of teachers who successfully complete the training programme.

i) Clear simple goals

Successful programmes focus on a few really important and ambitious goals. The mission of the CoE

programme is driven by the universal desire within the country to improve the learning of pupils in

Kazakhstan so that the young people can become global citizens equipped with 21st century skills

and knowledge.

ii) Create positive cultures which support innovation

Secondly, team leaders are the key players who promote positive, collegial and convivial cultures. It is

also the leaders’ role to support teachers to take risks and encourage Kazakhstani specific innovation.

The CoE programme aims to develop a climate for learning and discussion about how to manage and

organise change so that this becomes sustained and embedded.

iii) Ways of thinking, ways of working, and tools for working

To bring about change and to help to train teachers in this widest sense the Cambridge professional

development programme has introduced Kazakhstani trainers to new ways of thinking, new ways of

working, and to tools to bring about change (see Table One, p. 4).

iv) Core Ideas

At the core of the change process is the belief that it will be what teachers do in classrooms that will

have the most profound effect on pupils’ learning. To achieve this will require teachers to explore the

basic principles of leading learning in their own classrooms through small scale development work 4

and in engaging in small-scale project work focused largely on improving school-based practice. This

approach is underpinned by four central tenets, with How children learn at the centre. The other three

areas include: What to teach; How to structure sequences of learning and How to assess if you have

been successful.

 


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