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.

Kyrgyzstan: Technology Enhanced Monitoring of Learning [CIES 2024 Presentation]

The small, landlocked mountainous nation of Kyrgyzstan occupies an important space in Post Soviet Central Asia – as the only parliamentary democracy in the region since independence in 1992. While the country has admirably maintained near-universal enrollment rates in primary and lower-secondary levels, these important gains in educational access have not been accompanied by adequate learning outcomes. As evidenced by the 2017 National Sample Based Student Assessment, about 60% of grade 4 students in Kyrgyzstan lagged in age-appropriate comprehension level. By all estimates, these learning gaps have worsened due to school closures and economic disruptions caused by COVID-19. While improvements are necessary in many aspects of Kyrgyz school education, few issues are as pressing or as consequential as strengthening the system that prepares and supports the 75,000 public school teachers in the country. In this paper we present innovative models of teacher support structures that hold promise for creating an enabling environment for public school teachers in Kyrgyzstan to grow and succeed in their profession. Specifically, the paper will present insights from two complementary on-going initiatives (each led by one of the co-presenters) that focus on structured observation, feedback, and mentoring mechanisms, and creatively use simple technology applications to promote instructional quality in the classrooms and a community of practice across the system. Our paper will situate the scope of these initiatives in the ecosystem of teacher development practices in Kyrgyzstan and discuss their broader policy applicability. We submit that these insights would be relevant for other resource-constrained education contexts that are aspiring to improve support systems for teachers. The first initiative in focus is the technology-enhanced mentoring model of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program of the Institute of Education (IOE) at the American University of Central Asia. Launched in 2018, the program – open to both aspiring and in-service teachers – embeds digital pathways in its structure, curricular content, and delivery processes. At the core of the program is a web-video based mentoring model that assigns experienced teachers as mentors for the MAT candidates (mentees). Both mentors and mentees use a lesson observation rubric and simple digital tools (YouTube, Google Form, Google Classroom, Zoom, etc.) to observe, analyze, and reflect on classroom instruction videos, all under the watchful guidance of a dedicated Faculty Advisor from the MAT program. The teaching observation rubric used is a modified version of the evidence-based Danielson Framework for Teaching. Besides providing constructive feedback to the mentees, the mentors are encouraged to model good practice for their mentees and help them identify possible areas of focus and improvement in the subsequent lessons. In other words, these non-hierarchical dialogs are meant to be both evaluative and generative, specific, yet holistic – attentive to mentees’ relative strengths and weaknesses in the context of the specific classroom where they need to perform. Evidence from the assessments by mentors over four cohorts of MAT practicum indicates that thanks to the video-based observation-reflection-feedback loop, the mentees are able to take ownership of their own growth and demonstrate qualitative improvements in their classroom instruction by the end of the practicum. Internal program evaluation data also suggest that the mentors themselves are appreciating benefits of their engagement in the IOE model. Additionally, having dedicated Faculty Advisors overseeing the mentoring program has not only created a support structure for the mentors, but the entire program has also resulted in a broader community of practice. While these are promising results, the scope and scale of a university-based selective program is limited when compared to the needs of the broader education system. This is where the second initiative of this paper - Okuu Keremet! (Learning is Awesome! in Kyrgyz language) is particularly significant. The ongoing USAID funded Okuu Keremet project (2019 – 2024) is designed to help improve learning outcomes in reading and mathematics of more than 450,000 students in Grades 1‒4 in 1,682 target schools in Kyrgyzstan. The project is implemented by RTI (Research Triangle International) in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sciences of Kyrgyzstan. To date, around 15,000 teachers have completed special pedagogical training in teaching read and math in the primary grades. An important way the project has integrated technology in the improvement of instructional practice is by creation of a Coaching app that is contextualized for easy access and usage by Kyrgyz school teachers and teacher educators. This app assists methodologists to mentor teachers through classroom observations. The program uses a classroom observation rubric / checklist that is easy to interpret, and to update, using the app interface and based on country’s teacher professional standards. Around 3,500 school administrative staff and methodologists of district education departments were trained to mentor teachers in primary schools. The app is being used in 1,682 target schools. Both the IOE model and the Okuu Keremet project underscore the significance of technology-enhanced mentoring in improving instructional practices of classroom teachers in Kyrgyzstan. Data from both initiatives will be presented at the CIES Conference. As leaders of these respective initiatives, we recognize that the promise of our approaches derives from leveraging the power of digital technologies in learning-rich professional development processes for current and aspiring teacher in ways that are evidence-based, context-informed, cost-effective, sustainable, and scalable. Ongoing implementation and refinement of our respective initiatives have uncovered strong levers and weak links in the broader teacher development structures of Central Asia. One critical area is the importance of framing mentoring as a holistic approach to teacher development that goes beyond benchmarking against a rubric and attends to the intersecting concerns of teachers by promoting an ethos of growth mindset and social-emotional support. We submit that developing such holistic mentoring skills and attitudes among skilled and experienced teachers is a policy priority that must be attended to by the Ministry of Education of Kyrgyzstan and its development partners.