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Schools in Kazakhstan have more favourable disciplinary climates in science lessons compared to other OECD countries, according to students’ reports in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015, with an index of disciplinary climate of 0.93 (the OECD average index value was 0.00). The PISA 2015 index of instructional educational leadership (measuring the frequency with which principals report doing leadership activities specifically related to instruction) was also above the OECD average at 0.55 (the OECD average was 0.01) (OECD, 2016[1]).

National data collected in 2018 indicated that 90.5% of teachers teaching in general secondary education in Kazakhstan have a higher education degree. In 2018, the OECD’s Education Policy Outlook Country Profile for Kazakhstan reported that the average student-teacher ratio across primary and secondary education is 10, although this varies significantly within the country (OECD, 2018[364]). This is below the OECD average of 15 at primary level and 13 at secondary level (OECD, 2018[2]).

According to national data from 2011, teachers with a higher-education qualification and 15 years of experience earned between 25% and 30% of the average salary of a worker in another sector with comparable academic credentials. Similar data from across a range of OECD countries indicates that on average teachers in OECD countries earn 91% of the average salary of a full-time, full-year worker with tertiary education. However, in 2016 Kazakhstan introduced a new model of civil servant remuneration that led to salary increases of 19.3% for secondary teachers and 17.2% for primary school teachers (OECD, 2018[364]). According to the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) 2018, 67.3% of teachers in Kazakhstan said that if they could choose again, they would still become a teacher; this was lower than the OECD average of 75.6%. Furthermore, 63.4% of teachers felt that the teaching profession was valued in society, compared to an OECD average of 25.8% in 2018 (OECD, 2019[3]).

Schools in Kazakhstan are currently undergoing reform processes for external evaluation. In 2017, 60.6% of the schools that underwent the accreditation process received a favourable decision (OECD, 2018[364]). Every five years, teachers in Kazakhstan are also required to undergo an accreditation process based on professional standards. This takes into account teachers’ results in a national qualification test and a self-prepared teacher portfolio.

The share of students enrolled in secondary schools whose principal reported in PISA 2015 that standardised tests are used to make decisions on students’ promotion or retention was 76.8%, which was above the OECD average of 31.3% (OECD, 2016[1]).

In 2014, 70% of Kazakhstan’s total expenditure on higher education came from private rather than public sources (OECD, 2018[364]). By way of comparison, across all OECD countries, 30% of funding came from private sources in the same year (OECD, 2018[2]).

Evolution of key education policy priorities

Kazakhstan’s key education policy priorities have evolved in the following ways over the last decade (Table 8.17).

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Table 8.17. Evolution of key education policy priorities, Kazakhstan (2008-19)

Identified by

Selected OECD country-based work, 2008-191

Evolution of responses collected by the Education Policy Outlook, 2013-192

School improvement

The OECD identified as a priority the need to strengthen the teaching profession by making it more attractive and raising qualification standards. [2014; 2015]

Kazakhstan reported efforts to improve clarity for the teaching profession on expectations of the profession. [2016-17]

Evaluation and assessment

The OECD also found that Kazakhstan could benefit from ensuring the quality and validity of its data, strengthening transparency, and ensuring that assessment results inform teaching and policy. [2017]

Challenges exist in ensuring the quality and validity of education data and using it more consistently to inform teaching. [2016-17]


According to OECD evidence, Kazakhstan needs to allocate more autonomy to schools and improve the dissemination of information about activities at the school and local levels. Limiting opportunities for misuse of resources and corruption should be an urgent priority. For higher education, there is a need to reinforce linkages between institutions and employers, as well as to adopt a whole-of-government approach to international higher education with a robust policy framework and a national strategy that aligns with goals for human capital development. There is a need to improve the transparency of governance in public and private higher education institutions. [2015; 2017]

There is a need to address the high degree of centralisation within a hierarchically organised system of government. [2016-17]


The OECD identified the need to invest in infrastructure and ensure that expenditure allocation is equitable. Public spending on education as a share of GDP is comparatively low. Most spending went to teachers’ salaries and less than needed to infrastructure or investment. Expenditure allocation is also not equitable. Despite progress, the system remains highly centralised, which leaves little political, administrative and fiscal authority to lower levels. [2014; 2015; 2017]

Challenges include the efficiency and transparency of funding in education, including a comparatively low allocation of funding to education.


1. See Annex A (OECD publications consulted).

2. See Reader’s Guide (years and methods of collection).


Selected education policy responses

School improvement

  • Kazakhstan established several measures to improve teacher quality. Since 2011, teachers can participate in professional development courses at the National Skills Upgrading Centre (ORLEU). The centre offers teachers the opportunity to improve their professional qualifications and thereby become eligible for promotion and financial compensation. Every five years, teachers are expected to take seminars and workshops, according to their rank. Teachers are also eligible for other professional development opportunities. The Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) finances these mandatory professional development activities. Principals are in charge of administering the activities of the teachers in their schools. Teachers can receive financial compensation if they have: 1) completed a three-level qualification course; 2) received a positive teacher appraisal that is expected to lead to a higher qualification degree; 3) obtained English-language certificates above B1 level (for teachers in physics, chemistry, biology and information technology). According to national information reported to the OECD, in response to OECD recommendations on teachers (OECD, 2014[366]; OECD/The World Bank, 2015[367]; OECD, 2017[368]), Kazakhstan introduced the Atameken professional standards for teachers (2017), including a revision of the qualification requirements. This also led to the introduction of an additional teacher category, now listing five in total. At present, there are five categories of teachers (previously four): teacher, teacher-moderator, teacher-expert, teacher-researcher and teacher-master). Teachers who want to upgrade their category must pass the national qualification test and undergo a stocktaking process. Teachers can apply up to two times per year to upgrade their category. Category upgrades are associated with some increases in salaries (OECD, 2017[368]).

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Progress or impact: According to a 2017 survey conducted by the National Skills Upgrading Centre on the practical application of the courses attended in 2016, nearly half of participating teachers reported observing changes in their teaching methods, and 40% stated that students are more motivated to learn. Concerning professional standards for teachers, an OECD report stresses the importance for Kazakhstan to continuously monitor the implementation process to ensure that it supports the teaching workforce to improve its practice (Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, 2018[369]; OECD, 2018[364]). According to national information reported to the OECD, in response to further OECD recommendations on improving monitoring and implementation processes to ensure that they support the teaching workforce and improve practices (OECD, 2014[366]), Kazakhstan introduced a new model of accreditation that intends to increase teacher status. Teachers who successfully pass the national qualification test may receive financial surcharges (Government of Kazakhstan, 2019[370]). The model pays a surcharge of 30-50% of the official salary for each increase in teacher categories. For example, a teacher-master receives a surcharge of 50% of the official salary; a teacher-researcher receives 40%; a teacher-expert receives 35%; and a teacher-moderator receives 30%.

  • Kazakhstan has been moving towards a more competency-based pedagogical approach since 2016. Some private schools and the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) have started to teach their students high-order skills. Also, in 2017, Kazakhstan updated the State Compulsory Standard (SCS) of Primary Education and SCS for General and Secondary Education. It also established assessment criteria for student knowledge and curricula and programmes for primary and general secondary education. The new standards are no longer based on a fundamentally subject-based approach. They include social and emotional skills, such as critical thinking and creativity, and a focus on competencies rather than rote memorisation is being integrated into updated textbooks since 2016. As part of the reform, Kazakhstan intends to place greater emphasis on English as a foreign language and language of instruction in subjects related to science, technology and engineering from kindergarten to upper secondary education.

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Progress or impact: With regard to the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, an OECD study pointed out that teaching methods that work for gifted pupils in NIS schools may not work as well for children with a disadvantaged background or in village schools (OECD, 2014[366]). Therefore, the OECD stressed the importance of designing curricula and programmes (including teacher training programmes) that serve the needs of all ability levels (OECD, 2014[366]).

In 2017, around 153 pilot schools began to instruct classes in physics, chemistry, biology and information technology in 10th and 11th grades in English (National information reported to the OECD). Since 2016/17, teachers in these fields receive English language courses as part of their professional development. Additionally, since 2017, teachers in these fields who have obtained a language certificate above B1 level receive a 200% compensation of their base salary. Another 357 schools are offering additional classes in English, such as extracurricular activities and vocabulary lessons. Since 2016, English is taught in pre-primary education, for children over five years old (National information reported to the OECD).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries

School improvement

  • In Kazakhstan, a national pilot was initiated in 2012 to introduce resource centres to support small-class schools (also known as ungraded schools), by integrating all available resources and compensating for missing resources. It only targets students in grades 8, 9, 10 and 11 (12). The number of resource centres opening up has continuously increased (National information reported to the OECD). From 2011 to 2018, 177 resource centres (52 of them are boarding schools) were established for 589 ungraded schools. The plan is to extend to 200 resource centres. The regional distribution of research centres in 2016 was: 28 in the Karaganda region; 19 in Pavlodar oblast; 18 in Akmola oblast; 17 in Kostanay oblast; 17 in North Kazakhstan oblast; 14 in West Kazakhstan oblast; 12 in Aktobe oblast; 10 in Zhambyl oblast; 9 in Almaty oblast; 9 in South Kazakhstan oblast; and 8 in East Kazakhstan oblast (JSC Information Analytic-Center, 2017[371]).

Evaluation and assessment

  • In Kazakhstan, the Unified National Testing (Единое национальное тестирование, UNT) was divided into two separate tests in 2017: 1) a final exam for end-of-school certification, which includes five subjects, of which four are compulsory, and one is elective; 2) a test for university admission and state grant distribution, which includes five subjects, two of which are elective.


Selected education policy responses


  • In Kazakhstan, at the school level, the creation of boards of trustees (2007) opens up avenues for improved transparency and reporting procedures at the school level. Comprised of parents, community representatives and other local leaders, these bodies have important formal functions, including participating in the design of school development strategies, appointing key personnel and overseeing the financial performance of schools.

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Progress or impact: According to OECD evidence from 2015, only about half of the schools in Kazakhstan had an established board of trustees. Further, in most, their responsibilities were not yet fully realised, and their role was unclear, with activities at that time consisting of assisting in the organisation of social and cultural events, similar to parent committees (OECD/The World Bank, 2015[367]). In 2017, guidelines were established concerning the organisation of the work of the boards of trustees. These guidelines aimed to increase the scope of decisions taken by the boards, especially regarding strategic, financial and personnel decisions, and to clarify their assigned roles. To date, 6 910 schools (or 98%) have established boards of trustees (NEBD, n.d.[372]).

  • In Kazakhstan, governing boards (also known as boards of trustees, supervisory boards or boards of directors) (2007) aim to support higher education institutions. Initially, these bodies had no formal governance authority but represented a first step towards building a non-governmental body to advise higher education institutions (HEIs). Additional guidelines established in 2012, 2015 and 2016 granted boards of trustees responsibility over the allocation of sponsorships, charitable assistance, and funds received from non-government sources, including the allocation of any net income the state permits an institution to retain, as well as more authority over the appointment of university rectors (during 2016-19, a total of 22 rectors of state universities were elected by boards of trustees on the basis of competitive selection), according to national information reported to the OECD. Boards of trustees may make proposals to the ministry on the participation of the state-owned institutions in other legal entities and on “other substantive matters”. According to Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan (MESRK) guidelines, boards are to be composed of education institution stakeholders, employers and social partners, representatives of public organisations and foundations and sponsors.

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Progress or impact: In 2018, over half of the universities in Kazakhstan (70 of 131) had established governing boards, and 28 state-owned universities had boards of trustees, according to information reported to the OECD. Further national information puts forward that the boards induced the following changes: 24 authorities were transferred from the Ministry of Education and Science to universities, and mechanisms for rector selection were introduced (National information reported to the OECD).

Additional education policies of potential interest to other countries


  • In 2018, the law on increasing HEIs’ academic and organisational autonomy came into force in Kazakhstan. The law considers providing academic, organisational, and financial autonomy to higher education institutions. According to national information reported to the OECD, academic autonomy (defined as the higher education institution’s authority to independently determine the content of its study programmes) has extended to up to 80% at the undergraduate level, 85% at the master’s level and 95% at the doctoral level. The reform allows universities to create endowment funds, open international campuses and create startup companies that work in HEIs. By early 2019, 28 state universities had established governing boards that introduced a mechanism for the selection of rectors, according to national information reported to the OECD.

  • The Committee of Control in the Field of Education and Science (2011) and the regional offices (in the oblasts, or regions, Almaty and Astana) were created to introduce an external school evaluation system in Kazakhstan. The committee has since become instrumental in identifying mismanagement in the system and promoting compliance with operational norms. Kazakhstan established advisory councils in 2012 at different levels (national, sectoral and regional), where employers were meant to play a central role in the development and establishment of good practices in vocational education and training (OECD, 2018[364]). The advisory councils were replaced by the General Assembly of WorldSkills Kazakhstan in 2018 (National information reported to the OECD). Placed under the authority of the Minister of Education and Science, it includes strategic, technical, industrial and organisational committees. The Assembly is responsible for developing professional standards, assessing specialists’ qualifications, devising economic strategies and preparing for the WorldSkills competition.


  • In Kazakhstan, the new funding model (2018, envisaged for full implementation by 2020) aims to reduce staff costs, provide funds for school development and enhance transparency in the distribution of funds. It combines a per-student formula with incremental costs through two main components related to education processes (salary costs, instructional materials and performance bonuses for staff) and education environments (utilities, maintenance costs, student meals, transportation and other expenses). Under this new funding scheme, the bulk of expenditures (funds for education processes) will be determined at the central level and transferred from the ministry to schools, via the respective oblast and rayon, which implies a partial recentralisation of school finances. As of mid-2019, the model was being piloted in 73 schools across Kazakhstan with anticipated full implementation in an additional 85 public and private schools by 2020. Once introduced, the new model will be applied to all schools, except small-class schools and specialised schools. While the new model represents a positive step towards improving the efficiency, transparency and equity of the funding system, challenges identified include that it will limit flexibility to adjust allocations to the diversity of conditions in which schools operate. Also, the model does not include a mechanism to address the differences between schools’ theoretical and actual needs. To support the implementation of the new funding model in schools, Kazakhstan has introduced other changes, such as the creation of boards of trustees (as mentioned above).

  • Since 2006, the annual National Report on the State and Development of the Education System of the Republic of Kazakhstan provides information on the state and development of the whole education system from pre-school education up to higher and postgraduate education (IAC, 2019[373]). According to further national information, the findings of the reports are used to develop strategic education goals, address emerging or persisting challenges and to determine the priorities for further development in each level of education (from primary to tertiary).

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