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Yerkin Tatishev on Education: It Is Not About What Teachers Teach, But What the Students Learn

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(Credit: Courtesy) Yerkin Tatishev Kusto Group Kazakhstan
October 13
4:40 PM 2020

The Kazakhstani entrepreneur Yerkin Tatishev believes that his native country must change its learning methods in schools in order to compete with the rest of the world.


Over the years, the overall quality of secondary education in Kazakhstan has declined, but new learning methods can turn the downward spiral around, according to the Kazakhstani entrepreneur and founding chairman of Kusto Group, Yerkin Tatishev.

When the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) published its newest global PISA study last year, it was a major setback for Kazakhstani education.

The PISA study measures students’ performances in math, reading and science in 79 countries every third year, and Kazakhstan had its worst performance in the history of the country’s participation in the most recent report.

The Central Asian country ranked 69, which Yerkin Tatishev calls tragic.

While the Kazakhstani government believes that the bad outcome is a result of technical issues because the tests were taken on computers for the first time, Yerkin Tatishev sees it differently.

For 15 years, he has been giving grants to talented Kazakhstani graduates for admission to universities through his Yerzhan Tatishev Foundation, and in addition, he founded the High Tech Academy in Almaty in 2017.

According to Yerkin Tatishev, Kazakhstan needs to revise its educational programs in order to compete with other countries.

“If we continue in the same way, we will have an uneducated population. We will have graduates who have the skills of 14-15-year-olds at 18. The wave of social problems will grow because education is not a ‘crust’; it is the ability to think, analyze, solve complex problems and understand how to build your life,” he says.

Yerkin Tatishev stresses that students need to be able to create new solutions, as the world is ever-changing.

“The world becomes more and more turbulent; abrupt changes in exchange rates and prices for oil and other resources, epidemics, political and economic crises, and there will be more and more of such fluctuations. This must be accepted as part of life; there will be no stability. We must not only survive these storms, but move from survival to creation, and this requires the right quality education,” Yerkin Tatishev states.

Teaching students how to cope with real life


At Yerkin Tatishev’s High Tech Academy, they use project-based learning, one of the first schools in Central Asia to adopt this method.

According to Yerkin Tatishev, this approach prepares the students for the real life, as they solve real problems of the society they live in. 

From the very first day, the High Tech Academy also introduced social and emotional learning (SEL), which Yerkin Tatishev sees as the foundation for quality education.

Through SEL, students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills required to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions and understand other people’s backgrounds.

Research shows that SEL not only improves academic learning outcomes, but also increases future income levels and career readiness. Furthermore, it creates a better school climate and teacher-student relationships.

SEL has also proved to decrease emotional distress among students, bullying and behavioral issues.

Yerkin Tatishev believes that the implementation of SEL across Kazakhstan could improve the level of education in the country.

He also thinks that teachers should provide motivating feedback aimed at improving future results and explanations to the students on why they need to learn new material.

“Several years ago, I met with the Deputy Minister of Education of Singapore, and he shared their new motto with me: Teach Less, Learn More. It is very similar to the rule for teachers at High Tech Academy. It is not about what you teach, it is about what the students learn,” Yerkin Tatishev says.

He has made it clear that he and the High Tech Academy are ready to share the school’s experience and working methods with teachers and administrators of other schools.

Later this year, the High Tech Academy teams up with the Korda Institute for Teaching to launch a project-based teacher training program.

“We are convinced that the introduction of the project-based method in public and private schools will significantly increase the motivation of kids to learn and give them the opportunity to really master the skills of the 21st century,” Yerkin Tatishev notes.

Yerkin Tatishev: Technology is key


Another thing Yerkin Tatishev points out is the lack of high-quality online learning in Kazakhstan. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, schools have been closed in Kazakhstan, forcing teachers to move tuition from the classroom to the web, and it has not been a success in the Central Asian country.

Yerkin Tatishev does not believe that the Kazakhstani education system nor the teachers were ready for that change.

“If there is no constant training of teachers to master new technologies, if there is no convenient platform, if technologies are not part of the educational process, then it is pointless to wait for the results,” he says.

At High Tech Academy, they quickly adapted to the new reality, as the school already used online educational platforms before the pandemic.

A survey among parents has shown that 90% are very satisfied with the quality of distance learning at High Tech Academy.

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