Kyrgyzstan: System Change in Primary Education: Liberating Learning through Revision of the National Standards Framework and Subject Standards in Kyrgyz Republic [CIES 2024 Presentation]

The changes in the labor market, the re-organization of work worldwide, the increasing pressure to improve economic competitiveness in a context of global inter-connectedness, less job security and stagnant or dropping standards of living alongside accelerating climate change have led many countries to rethink education. A common starting point is to consider the relevance of curricular content against this backdrop of complexity, with particular attention to social-emotional skills, competencies and flexibility. Curriculum is fundamental to teaching and learning processes. Its various components have wide-ranging consequences on the quality of education. Over time, a range of successful educational systems have prioritized competence-based curricula, learner-centered pedagogy, and continuous assessment. Other countries, including Kyrgyz Republic, are looking to learn from these ‘global education policies’ in order to update their educational systems. With a competence-based educational framework already in place, Kyrgyz Republic used this as the starting point for reform. A competence-based curriculum was introduced in Kyrgyzstan in 2014 in the form of a State Standard Framework. However, primary grade standards were not revised afterwards to align with the framework. As part of its Okuu Keremet! project (2019-2024), USAID supported the Ministry of Education and Science (MOES) to develop a Road Map that would outline the process for arriving at robust standards. The process would then be used to actually revise primary grade subject standards. This presentation will cover: 1. The government-led collaboration that took place to develop subject standards, including data analysis, the broad-ranging discussions in the working group and the involvement of practitioners. 2. The process of using a Road Map to arrive at the standards that were ultimately approved by MOES 3. The lessons learned with respect to fostering institutional capacity, creating an institutional memory for future reference, and cultivating government ownership. 4. Next steps: how the standards will be put in practice and monitored; the need to develop textbooks aligned with standards; orienting teacher education and in-service teacher training in line with the standards. During 2021-2022, MOES and Okuu Keremet – together with various multi-stakeholder technical groups – revised four primary subject standards: Mathematics, Kyrgyz and Russian Language and Reading, and “Me and the World” (basic science). The process followed the Road Map plan through four stages: 1) analysis of existing educational standards in the country and international trends; 2) review of primary level learning outcomes; 3) alignment with the country’s competence-based educational framework, and 4) consultation with diverse education experts and a community of specialists. The subject standards define the expected learning outcomes and how they relate to competencies. Subsequently, a curriculum map was formulated which depicts how these competencies will shape and prepare students for the real world, such as the job market and life skills. The Kyrgyz Academy of Education – responsible for standards among other things – organized a series of working meetings among a range of stakeholders to arrive at the first four subject standards. It then followed the overall Road Map to develop standards for the remaining six primary school subjects. All of the standards produced were approved in October 2022 and slated for implementation in the 2023-2024 academic year. One of the challenges that arose during the process was related to the lack of experience among the KAE experts in the analysis of assessment data. Understanding the outcome of learning assessment is necessary to setting a level of standards that is ambitious yet feasible for where students currently are in terms of learning per grade. Assessment results also enable KAE staff to understand international and national trends in a context where the country explicitly aims to perform better with respect to international assessments such as PISA. The formulation of measurable and achievable learning outcomes per grade was also a challenge. One of the important decisions made by the working group was to define expected outcomes at the end of the primary cycle. as a starting point. There was attention given to ensuring consistency in the transition from preschool to primary school and from primary to secondary school. Subject standards are only the starting point for changing the content of education. It needs to be accompanied by a range of key components that support the competences, such as appropriate teaching materials, the education of new teachers and the training of existing teachers, and the importance of both formative and summative assessment to know if learning outcomes are going in the desired direction. Moreover, the learning outcomes need to be made clear to communities of parents in every-day language so that they can support the process at home. So far, this has not been done in Kyrgyz Republic. As outlined in the Road Map, once standards are developed, a plan of implementation is needed, followed by assessment and, if necessary, adjustments. This cycle is expected to take a five years before the next round of review according the MOES regulation. CONCLUSIONS The collaboration of the KAE together with Okuu Keremet! and a spectrum of actors and individuals over the past three years to liberate learning shows that: 1) learning outcomes are at the core of the competency-based curriculum and these outcomes need to be clear and achievable for teachers, students, and parents; 2) standards development, revision, implementation and assessment form a unified cycle in leveraging change in the primary education system hence all parts of the cycle must be aligned. Other parts of the education system will also need to be aligned over time with competences forming the core reference point. Continuing fragmentation and incoherence will not achieve the change that Kyrgyz Republic hopes for its students, even if one piece or another is well-designed on its own.