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Critical thinking as culture: Teaching post-Soviet teachers in Kazakhstan

Abstract

This paper explores the question of whether critical thinking can eventually become part of the cultural fabric in Kazakhstan, a country whose Soviet educational system not only trained teachers to memorise, lecture and intimidate students but also created a culture in educational institutions fraught with many fear-based behaviours engendering competitiveness, intolerance and other hostile behaviours antithetical to critical thinking and an open, democratic society. While educational reform can have profound effects on a nation, education is but one system in a complex network of governmental and cultural systems, and change must be borne by many. This paper reviews literature and presents qualitative data gathered through interviews with Soviet-trained teachers. The authors recommend that teachers should embrace student-centred techniques and critical thinking methodologies, as well as shift from a fear-based, authoritarian, top-down system of relating to students and colleagues to one of cooperation, openness and fairness. Such a reform will take repetitive, intensive and experiential training as well as regular assessments of progress.

Résumé

La pensée critique comme culture : formation des enseignants post-soviétiques au Kazakhstan – Les auteurs de cet article soulèvent la question de savoir si la pensée critique pourrait s’introduire dans le tissu culturel du Kazakhstan. Le système éducatif soviétique de ce pays formait les enseignants à mémoriser, réprimander et à intimider les élèves, et instaurait en outre au sein des institutions éducatives une culture lourde de comportements fondés sur la peur et engendrant la rivalité, l’intolérance et d’autres conduites hostiles, à l’opposé de la pensée critique et d’une société ouverte et démocratique. Si une réforme éducative peut profondément marquer une nation, l’éducation n’est qu’un système inséré dans un réseau complexe de structures gouvernementales et culturelles, et le changement doit être porté par un grand nombre. Les auteurs recensent la documentation et présentent les données qualitatives collectées lors d’entretiens avec des enseignants formés à l’époque soviétique. Les auteurs recommandent que les professeurs adoptent des techniques centrées sur l’apprenant et des méthodologies qui développent la pensée critique, et par ailleurs passent d’un type de relation avec les élèves et collègues qui est autoritaire, vertical et fondé sur la peur, à un système de coopération, d’ouverture et d’équité. Une réforme de ce type exigera des mesures répétées, intensives et expérientielles de formation ainsi que des évaluations régulières des progrès.

Zusammenfassung

Kritisches Denken als Kultur: postsowjetische Lehrerbildung in Kasachstan – In diesem Artikel geht es um die Frage, ob kritisches Denken eines Tages Bestandteil des kulturellen Gefüges in Kasachstan werden kann. Das sowjetische Bildungssystem des Landes setzte in der Lehrerausbildung auf Frontalunterricht, Auswendiglernen und Einschüchterung der Schüler und erzeugte zudem in den Bildungseinrichtungen eine generelle Angstkultur, was zu Konkurrenzdruck, Intoleranz und anderen feindseligen Verhaltensweisen führte, die dem kritischen Denken und einer offenen, demokratischen Gesellschaft entgegenwirkten. Zwar können Bildungsreformen eine Nation tiefgreifend verändern, doch ist die Bildung nur ein System in einem komplexen Geflecht politischer und kultureller Systeme und ein Wandel muss von vielen ausgehen. In diesem Artikel werden vorhandene Veröffentlichungen besprochen und qualitative Daten präsentiert, die aus Gesprächen mit Lehrkräften stammen, deren Ausbildung in die Sowjetzeit fiel. Die Autoren empfehlen, dass sich Lehrkräfte mit schülerzentrierten Techniken und Methoden des kritischen Denkens vertraut machen, sich von autoritären, von Angst geprägten und hierarchischen Lehrer-Schüler- und Lehrer-Lehrer-Beziehungen verabschieden und zu einem System der Zusammenarbeit, Offenheit und Fairness übergehen. Eine solche Reform erfordert wiederholte, intensive und erfahrungsbezogene Schulungen sowie regelmäßige Erfolgskontrollen.

Resumen

El pensamiento crítico como cultura: capacitación de docentes post-soviéticos en Kazajstán – Con este trabajo, los autores analizan el interrogante de si el pensamiento crítico puede llegar a formar parte del tejido cultural en Kazajstán, un país donde el sistema educativo soviético no solamente entrenaba a los docentes para memorizar y aleccionar e intimidar a los estudiantes, sino que también creaba en las instituciones educativas una cultura cargada por muchos comportamientos basados en el miedo y que engendraban intolerancia y otros comportamientos hostiles, completamente opuestos a un pensamiento crítico y una sociedad abierta y democrática. Si bien una reforma educativa puede producir efectos profundos en una nación, la educación no es más que uno de los sistemas que integran una compleja red de sistemas gubernamentales y culturales, y el cambio necesita de muchos orígenes. En este trabajo, los autores pasan revista a la literatura y presentan datos cualitativos, recabados mediante entrevistas que realizaron a docentes formados bajo el régimen soviético. Los autores recomiendan que los educadores adopten técnicas centradas en el estudiante y metodologías de razonamiento crítico, y que cambien un sistema basado en el miedo, autoritario y verticalista de relato a estudiantes y colegas por un enfoque de cooperación, con las mentes abiertas y actuando con justicia. Esta reforma exigirá un entrenamiento repetitivo, intensivo y empírico, así como una evaluación periódica de su evolución.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Foundation for Critical Thinking, a non-profit, California-based organisation, works with teachers, administrators, parents and businesspeople to develop their critical thinking abilities through the cultivation of fair-mindedness.

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Correspondence to Nancy Burkhalter.

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Burkhalter, N., Shegebayev, M.R. Critical thinking as culture: Teaching post-Soviet teachers in Kazakhstan. Int Rev Educ 58, 55–72 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11159-012-9285-5

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Keywords

  • Critical thinking
  • Kazakhstan
  • Soviet pedagogy
  • Comparative education
  • Educational reform
  • Fear in learning
  • Post-Soviet reform
  • Education policy