August conference of teachers of Nazarbayev Intellectual schools
“New realities – new opportunities”
Chairperson of the Board K.N. Shamshidinova
I congratulate you on the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year! In 2020, we have witnessed unprecedented changes in our lives – businesses and cities have been locked down in many countries, many people have been isolated. Work, learning and communication have been significantly impacted by the pandemic. No one could have predicted the scale of changes brought by COVID-19 to our lives.
On 1 September, we are starting the new school year online. All of us understand the importance of quality education and pastoral work for the present and future of our country. This school year is not going to be an easy one. Thanks to the common efforts of our team, parents and students, we successfully completed the previous academic year in the format of distance learning. I hope that we will continue working with great responsibility, providing timely help and support to each other!
Schools have been closed in almost every country in the world, more than 1.6 billion students and about 40 million preschoolers lost their learning opportunities. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres emphasised, “now we are facing a catastrophe of an entire generation, which could lead to the loss of untapped human potential, undermine the progress of recent decades and increase deeply-rooted inequality”.
During quarantine, children spend all their time with their families, and, on the one hand, this is perceived as a chance to get closer and get to know each other better, on the other hand, some parents are extremely stressed. They suddenly found that they had to take care of children, learn and work at the same time.
Students experienced isolation and had limited interactions with teachers and classmates during distance learning, and at the same time they were often deprived of important social experiences. We know from research how important these are for emotional development, for learning new skills, self-expression, identity formation, and developing peer relationships.
According to experts, the impact of COVID-19 on education will have long-term negative implications on the welfare and well-being of the entire society if we do not take measures to fill in the gaps caused by distance learning. According to experts, the expected earnings of students affected by the closure of schools due to the pandemic will decrease by about 2.9% in the future (since a year of study increases earnings by an average of 8%). This could lead to total economic losses of up to US $1.9 billion annually.
Yes, in 2020 we have faced a new reality, but at the same time these are new opportunities for implementing new approaches in teaching, learning and assessment.
RESULTS OF DISTANCE LEARNING
In term 4 of the last academic year, our main priority was to organise and implement the learning process without losing the quality of education.
The transition was unexpected and rapid for everyone; no one was ready for the online educational process on such a scale. The mankind has witnessed the destruction of traditional models of behavior, learning, and, accordingly, “teacher-student”, “student-student”, “teacher-parent” interactions.
We understood that the quality of the educational process will largely depend on how we formulate and explain the process of learning and interaction to our teachers, students and their parents.
During the distance learning in term 4, more than 250 thousand online lessons and more than 75 thousand online consultations were held in our schools.
According to the survey, parents and students assessed the quality of the lessons positively. Teachers and administration of all schools demonstrated high competence in organising the educational process, despite the difficulties in implementing technical and methodological components of online teaching.
The results of the survey on implementing distance education in the Intellectual schools showed that the majority of teachers (73%), children (83%), and parents (64%) believe that due to the transition to distance learning the teaching load has increased, while the educational programme requirements have remained the same. Teachers reported that they work on average about 10 hours a day, including 4 hours to prepare lessons and tutorials.
And this is understandable, distance teaching has changed the conditions for the teacher’s activity – the lesson duration, the requirements for scheduling, teaching methods, assessment, providing feedback to students and checking homework. The technologies and mechanisms successfully used in the classroom-lesson system of teaching sometimes were not applicable; therefore it required more time to prepare for lessons.
The fact that during the quarantine, lessons are provided not only to children, but also to their parents, should be taken into account. Lesson records were reviewed by CoE specialists. The above said caused particular emotional stress among teachers. They had to adapt the existing pedagogical experience, including the experience of communication with students and parents, to new unusual conditions.
According to a national survey of teachers in Australia (Ziebell et al., 2020), teachers believe that the main focus of schools and governments should be on the social and emotional impact of distance education on students, accessibility of learning and the increasing workload of teachers.
Therefore, in the new academic year, the school administrations, psychological services, NIS departments need to provide mechanisms for psychological support, expand the possibilities of teacher methodological support to relieve emotional stress.
Meanwhile, international studies show that more disciplined and diligent students have more easily adapted to distance learning. According to the “School Barometer” survey conducted among students, parents, teachers and school administrations in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, it was found that students who spend 25 hours per week or more (31% of the total number of children surveyed) consider that they can learn more via distance learning than in a traditional classroom; they find it easier to wake up in the morning and do routine activities, they plan their day and exercise a lot at home (Huber & Helm, 2020). Therefore, distance learning has advantages that should be skillfully used in the educational process.
METHODOLOGICAL SUPPORT OF TEACHERS
According to numerous publications in mass media, the main challenge for many countries in this difficult period was the lack of methodological support for teachers in the organisation of distance learning.
To ensure the successful implementation of distance learning, we have provided various levels of support to schools.
The Centre for Educational Programmes and the Centre for Pedagogical Measurements have developed instructional and methodological materials on the lesson content and assessment of student learning outcomes to help teachers.
Due to the transition to distance learning, a special section was created at NIS official website to support the participants of the educational process. NIS created a working group for prompt decision making on organisational and technical issues, and issues related to the content and assessment of learning. Call centres were created to monitor the learning process and provide support to teachers on issues related to the lesson preparation and delivery.
A Telegram bot (@Teams_manual_bot) has been launched to support the distance learning process, here one can find training instructions and videos on using Microsoft Teams, get recommendations on organising distance learning, and contact the technical support chat of each Intellectual school.
To support teachers during this period, online post-course methodological support was provided based on the specific professional needs of teachers. The Webinar.ru, Zoom and MS Teams became the main platforms for educators to meet and improve their teaching excellence.
Observation of online lessons was organised to provide methodological support to teachers. CoE trainers observed 305 online lessons in grades 7-11.
The observation allowed us to highlight the strengths and weaknesses in the organisation and delivery of online lessons.
The results showed that both teachers and students have the ICT skills necessary to connect and take an active part in the lesson. The learning materials of all lessons included links between the studied theme and the previous one. Cross-curricular links were evident, students applied knowledge from different areas to solve practical problems. During an online lesson, teachers name students, this helps strengthen communication between teacher and students. A number of online lessons used methods of active student engagement. Most of the teachers were proficient in using videos, interactive resources and functions of the programmes used. This made it possible to conduct laboratory works and visualise physical effects.
Based on the observation results, schools received analytical reports with methodological recommendations for teachers and administration, 20 webinars were held in 14 subjects in the Kazakh and Russian languages on the most challenging issues. The webinar participants highlighted that needs focused approach was useful and effective for them in immediate problem solving.
It was these measures that allowed us to start and conduct distance learning in term 4 in an orderly manner, without failures.
As noted by the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini, while in the early days of school closure the focus was on making decisions on the introduction of distance learning, now it is on the academic and emotional support of teachers and families.
Besides the existing ones, we take additional measures, aimed at supporting teachers. Thus, 16 online subject groups led by subject specialists have been created to advise on content and assessment. A unified resource bank for all subjects, grades and languages is created and supplemented weekly in TEAMS by NIS teachers with methodological and consulting support from the Centre for Educational Programmes. Methodological recommendations on conducting practical and laboratory work in the context of distance learning; on the organisation of independent work of students, on alternative strategies for distance learning in case of technical problems with video communication were developed and sent to schools.
Information Technology Centre, together with IT specialists of Intellectual schools organised a 2-level technical support service for teachers and students to ensure easy access from school portals through various messengers and chat bots.
We also work with general educational schools. In March, the Centre of Excellence prepared 9 explanatory videos for teachers, students and their parents with recommendations on the organisation of distance learning. The videos were watched by more than 840 thousand people. In April-June, more than 5 thousand events were held, to be attended by about 250 thousand people.
To analyse the work of teachers in the context of distance learning, 2 monitoring studies were conducted in 1020 leading schools (more than 18 thousand respondents). 93.5% of respondents note that the freedom to choose the time and pace of lessons, the experience of independent study of learning material, the ability to study additional material in depth, developing the skill of working with the online learning system are the advantages of distance learning. At the same time, 85.3% of teachers feel the need for external methodological assistance in assessing the learning achievements of students, providing effective and constructive feedback, self-discipline and self-regulation of students, cooperation with parents.
The results of observing online lessons and monitoring studies formed the basis of a massive open online course “Learning to teach online”. Since 27 July, more than 300 thousand teachers of all levels of education have completed the course.
The experience of organising and conducting online training courses, methodological support for teachers is huge. We had to change not just the format of training, but the entire philosophy of developing and delivering the learning content (what the trainer should focus on and what the trainees can learn themselves), ethics of behavior in the digital environment (we leave footprints, therefore it is necessary to develop certain skills of working online), thinking of managers at all levels (the sphere has become wider, there are issues of personal data, it is necessary to build reliable and secure business processes). Secure, system storage of data is becoming a priority. This includes both the storage of intellectual work and personal data of all participants in the educational process.
The work on organising courses and post-course support in a distance format will be continued. The results of our and international studies dictate the need to develop and conduct courses capable of addressing the urgent needs of a teacher, in terms of content and format. The professional development system should become more personal, allowing the teacher to choose the courses that will help them grow professionally, taking into account the results of self-assessment, their experience and future prospects in work.
Quarantine and forced isolation have created an even greater demand for the development of psychological resilience and well-being of students.
We understand that anxiety and stress associated with worries about the health of loved ones and about the future, together with a decrease in physical activity and a lack of real live communication can negatively affect the mental health and emotional state of children.
On the one hand, experts regard these challenges as opportunities that “toughen up” our children and enhance their adaptive abilities. Such challenges lay the basis for psychological resilience, allowing a healthy person to withstand difficulties, unfavourable pressure of circumstances, to maintain health and work performance in various challenges. On the other hand, it is known that not all children can cope with difficult life situations equally well. Less resistant children do not fully use their learning opportunities, are less adapted, and therefore become more prone to neurotization and various behavioural disorders.
Priority areas for ensuring student well-being during distance learning are:
- addressing the psychological implications of the pandemic – there are children who have lost their loved ones, whose parents are in a difficult economic situation, children who need our support – various forms of individual counseling will be provided to them,
- adaptation of grade 7 students, work with final year students – it is necessary to continue the implementation of the Strong Family programme, adapting it to distance learning, to continue the implementation of programmes to adapt grade 12 students to university, which were first introduced in term 4 of the previous academic year,
- support for parents on various issues related to the education and pastoral work,
- consultations of psychologists for teachers on identifying children in difficult life situations and providing support to them.
Distance learning was a complete surprise not only for us, teachers, but also for parents. Parents also had to adapt to changing conditions. Now we see how the role of parents in learning has changed dramatically. While in traditional education parents were responsible for the presence of the child at school, now they are responsible for the completion of tasks and attendance at lessons, for organising the workplace, and providing technical means. The parent responsibility for the study of educational programmes by children has increased. Parents have to take control of the learning process.
The above stated increase anxiety and stress in parents, which ultimately affects the children well-being. So, according to the researchers of Harvard and Berlin Universities, a lot of stress factors during quarantine contributed to the growth of disagreement and tension in families. In the United States, anxiety and despair have increased among children due to abuse and physical safety concerns. Unfortunately, in our country, cases of domestic violence increased by 25% during the quarantine period.
Within the framework of the survey among the Intellectual schools, the majority of students reported a positive emotional state during distance learning, however about a third of children experienced some difficulties. 69% of children and 80% of parents mentioned the lack of real live learning. 35% say that it is inconvenient for them to learn at home, 32% do not assess their emotional state as positive. This emphasises the importance of psychological support for both students and parents.
A recent survey of teachers in Australia (Ziebell et al., 2020) found that distance learning will lead children to appreciate the concepts of friendship, belonging, empathy and kindness. In this case, the family plays a key role to minimize the negative consequences of distance learning on the child’s social life. Issues of social and emotional well-being can now become an important part of the school curriculum.
Therefore, during distance learning, parents will be provided with qualified comprehensive support; special training webinars, reminders have been developed at the request of parents, continuous counseling will be organised by psychologists and teachers.
The massive open online course for parents “Happy parent – successful child” in the Kazakh and Russian languages starts in the end of August. During the course, parents and grandparents of schoolchildren will get acquainted with the work of Kazakhstani and international platforms, receive recommendations on organising a comfortable learning atmosphere at home, on building relationships with children of different ages, on parent-school interaction.
With the transition to distance learning, the educational system faced a question: how the assessment process will be administered? The World Bank reports that it will be very difficult for educational systems to conduct high-stakes examinations online.
A global rapid analysis conducted by UNESCO in April this year showed that countries addressed this issue in different ways: 58 countries postponed, and 11 countries canceled the exams, 23 countries presented alternative methods such as online or home-based testing, 22 countries administered the exams.
To ensure the safety of students, Cambridge Assessment decided not to conduct international A-level exams in all countries, including Kazakhstan.
However, recognising the high importance of the Certificate for Intellectual school graduates, Cambridge decided to award the 2020 graduates with Certificates without taking a real examination, but maintaining high requirements for external summative assessment and ensuring comparability with the Certificate of previous years’ graduates.
Cambridge has developed a model for external summative assessment of graduates based on a wide range of evidence of their academic performance. This model was first used in Kazakhstan and ensured reliability and validity of assessment, adherence to the principles of academic honesty.
In general, in the network of Intellectual schools, the results of the external summative assessment this year turned out to be the same as those of the previous year, when the students passed the real exam. At the same time, the share of A* (excellent) and B (good) grades increased by 1.0%. Based on the results of external summative assessment, 112 students received grades A* and A (excellent) in all subjects, 995 students – grades A*, A, B, C (excellent and good). 112 graduates confirmed the “Altyn belgi” award, 214 – a certificate with honors, taking into account the results of external summative assessment.
In the assessment, particular emphasis will be put on the quality of assessment procedures, the reliability and validity of the results, the observance of the principles of academic honesty by all participants in the educational process. This is especially important in the context of distance learning.
Understanding the obvious role of timely pedagogical diagnostics to identify gaps in the knowledge and skills of students and provide constructive feedback, NIS will conduct online monitoring in September. The results of the monitoring will keep students, teachers, parents motivated in their relationships in a “new learning triangle” where everyone needs support.
IMPROVING THE EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMME TO DEVELOP UNIVERSAL COMPETENCIES
We have been implementing our own educational programme – NIS-Programme for 8 years. It is internationally recognised and comparable to international programmes such as A/As-level (UK), O-Level (Singapore), International Baccalaureate.
The effectiveness of the NIS-Programme is confirmed by high results of the Intellectual schools students in the international study PISA-2018. According to the results of mathematical and scientific literacy, students of the Intellectual schools were ranked “fourth” and “sixth”, and in reading literacy – “eleventh”. Moreover, in mathematical and scientific literacy we are in the top five, and in reading literacy – in the top ten countries.
Nevertheless, the content of the educational programme requires constant improvement, in the light of the changes in society, which often exceed the pace of updating the education content. We cannot be satisfied with what has already been achieved. Otherwise, it is highly likely that the knowledge and skills acquired at school will not fit the constantly changing labour market.
In the time of increasing uncertainty, the development of transformative competencies of the younger generation becomes more and more relevant. This is what the OECD experts say in the framework of the project “The Future of Education and Skills: Education 2030”. Creating new values, reconciling tensions and dilemmas, taking responsibility are essential competencies for students to succeed in our world.
We have a lot of work to do to improve the content of the NIS-Programme. The system of learning objectives should be revised with focus on the formation of epistemic and procedural knowledge, applied literacy such as financial, environmental, legal, medical, entrepreneurial, etc. We need to broaden the range of values in order to develop emotional and social skills.
First, it is necessary to conduct a deep analysis of the curriculum, using modern tools and methodology for curriculum review. This will require the study of relevant scientific and didactic material, a deep literature review and review of own research.
This analytical work will become the starting point for a phased renewal of the curriculum content, assessment system and teaching methods in terms of the formation of universal competencies. When revising the system of learning objectives, it is necessary to define concepts, subject-specific and meta-subject skills, and categorise them by types of learning activity and assignment. Methodological recommendations on the organisation of adaptive learning should be included in the curriculum.
Extracurricular activities in schools should support the curriculum implementation to ensure achieving learning outcomes. Accordingly, the proposed elective courses should be applied and develop practical skills of students, provide an initial professional perspectives.
All changes will be comprehensive, including tools for external assessment, in-service teacher training programmes and transformation of the physical educational environment. We will make efforts to create conditions for students to apply the acquired knowledge in practice. First of all, we will continue the work on creating engineering laboratories in our schools.
The renewed subject programmes will be piloted, followed by monitoring and training of Intellectual school teachers on the peculiarities of developing new knowledge and types of literacy.
A resource bank will be created, textbooks will be revised, and an online platform for personalised learning will be created in order to provide methodological support to teachers in the formation of universal competencies.
Improving the curriculum content is a complex process that will take time. This will be facilitated by participation of NIS in discussions at international level.
Personalised education is becoming a priority vector for the development of education worldwide and is seen as the “core” of digital transformation. Personalised learning as a new educational model is first implemented through the development of the student’s independent choice.
The forced transition to online learning has accelerated the widespread use of digital technology in the educational process and has shown the potential for improving learning. Taking advantage of modern technology to personalise learning is a priority. The introduction of machine learning, artificial intelligence and Big data into the educational process will allow not only personalising training, but also adapting it for each student with respect to his needs and abilities.
We will undertake the further work on the formation of digital educational content, improving the IT infrastructure of schools, and creating virtual laboratories. In order to increase the involvement of students, elements of gamification will be gradually introduced in the educational process. The above stated implies the development of a portal for personalised and adaptive learning, as an aggregate of the benefits of IT technology that saves the personal field of the participant.
In the previous academic year, 2 models of personalised learning were piloted in the Intellectual schools: “Accelerated Learning” (programme of 8-10 grades in 2 years) and “Individual educational route”.
According to the opinions of school administration who took part in the survey, students began to value their time as a resource. Most of the children enrolled in the Individual Educational Route programme reported to have more free time, because they learn the programme faster. They got the opportunity to engage in other subjects, hobbies, and to have rest during the day, which has a positive effect on their well-being. Both students and parents noted that the transition to personalised learning develops independence in children, their time management skills, self-regulation, and also increases responsibility for learning. The attitude and interest of children in learning has improved. There were difficulties associated with the workload of students and the workload of teachers.
While in term 4, we were focused on measures to organise the educational process online and to prevent the loss of quality of education, now we already have experience in distance learning and know what we need to work on. In the first term of the upcoming academic year, distance education will be the norm. And we need to improve all educational processes, to ensure balanced implementation of planned activities and initiatives, such as personalised learning, in the context of this new norm.
To this end, we will undertake further work on building the capacity of employees and educators to create a platform and transform educational content to facilitate the introduction of adaptive learning.
CULTURE AND ETIQUETTE OF COMMUNICATION IN VIRTUAL SPACE
Teaching requires us to observe a new culture and etiquette of communication in the virtual space, in particular “digital hygiene” of each participant in the educational process, including responsibility for the safety of data and own behaviour in online communities.
As a communication tool available to everyone in modern society, social media challenges teachers and other professionals in society, urging to decide whether to use these tools and, if so, how – as an individual (personally) or as a teacher (professionally). There are contradictions between personal and professional use of social networks. Teachers are in the public eye, people look up to teachers, so this issue is not easy to solve. It is important to keep teachers safe, avoid social pressure and realise the potential negative impact of digital footprints on their future professional activity.
Some scholars have raised the issue of social media policies in public schools with a particular focus on teacher-student interactions on the Internet (e.g. Isaacs et al. 2014). However, research on this topic is extremely limited. Experts agree that more constructive guidance on professional social media interaction/communication etiquette is needed.
Dear colleagues, before posting materials in the virtual space, stop and ask yourself:
1. Is your intention to post the material caused by personal or professional reasons?
2. Can the material you post have a negative impact on you, your school, family, employer or teaching profession?
3. To what extent the information you post is credible and reliable?
4. How consistent is it with the principles of academic honesty?
Our team has drafted Professional Guide on Digital Etiquette for teachers of Nazarbayev Intellectual schools. We hope that the discussion of this document will be productive.
When schools open, teaching teams will continue their work with teaching and communication experience gained.
We are also working on a plan for the gradual transition to school-based learning after the quarantine. When we are allowed to return to our school buildings, it's will not be just going to school and sitting at the desks. We will have to get to know each other again, revise our approaches to organising the educational process with the maximum use of the capabilities of digital technology.
Despite the challenges caused by the global pandemic and the unprecedented closure of schools in term 4, the 2019-2020 academic year was full of events and achievements of our students.
Thus, the Nazarbayev Intellectual schools were internationally recognised and awarded the UNESCO Wenhui Prize for successful work with universities within the country and abroad, innovation and improvement of the quality of educational services. This is unprecedented achievement for the educational community of Kazakhstan.
12132 students became prize-winners of republican and international Olympiads and scientific competitions. More than 200 copyrights, utility model patents and innovative projects have been protected.
Last year 2170 students graduated from the Intellectual schools. More than 30% of them (655 graduates) received invitations to study at the Nazarbayev University, including 434 graduates accepted to the 1st year, without Foundation. Three graduates were invited to Ivy League universities: Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. I would like to emphasise that two of them received 80% of educational grant. In addition, 45 graduates received invitations to study for free in the top universities of the world according to the QS WUR. We hope that all our graduates will become well-deserved students of the selected universities.
We are going through a period of uncertainty not only in the education system, but also in all areas of our life and work. Changes are taking place everywhere, and they are always unexpected. The reality is that any change is unexpected.
Today we live in a time of shocks, increased responsibility for each other, self-discipline, determination and empathy. Many of us feel painful separation from our loved ones. Over the past few months, we have become different. We understand what the pain of losing a loved one is, how it is to feel constant anxiety for the health and life of relatives. Our team, together with the whole country, supports our citizens who find themselves in difficult life situations. Recently we provided school uniforms and 36 personal computers to 719 students of secondary school No.22 named after K. Amanzholov in Orgebas village and secondary school No.20 named after G. Musirepov in Zhenis village of Maktaral district, Turkestan region, affected by the flood. These were purchased at the expense of our employees’ personal funds. The challenges have consolidated us, and we move forward together with the entire country, supporting each other in our common efforts.
We got through a lot in last 5-6 months. We got sick. We recovered. Many of us were bereaved of relatives, friends and colleagues. But we did not give up. We supported each other and tried to do good. We believe that we have a bright future ahead! And we are starting the new school year with great responsibility. I wish all of you a successful new school year!
Thank you for your attention!