From this week’s Private Eye (no. 1317)
School Report from Astana
A feature article mildly critical of the British education companies queuing up to accept work from the oil-rich authoritarian regime in Kazakhstan sparked almost a full page of letters in the Times Education Supplement this month, complaining about the “tone” of the piece.
Those grumbling about any suggestion that Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev might be a teeny bit of a despot included Andrew Wigford, MD of Teachers International Consultancy, and Diane Jacoutot, general manager of Teachanywhere, both companies involved in recruiting staff for the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools scheme to set up 20 new elite grammar-style schools in the country, teaching in Kazakh, Russian, and English.
“We should applaud Kazakhstan for its desire to improve its education system,” wrote Jacoutot. “I, for one, am honoured to be part of it.”
But then, in April 2010 teachanywhere advertised for adventurous teachers to work in “one of the most exciting and unique expatriate haunts of the Muslim world” – yes: that was in Gaddafi’s Libya.
If anything, the TES was being kind to Kazakhstan, describing its democracy as “fledgling at best” despite elections being condemned by international monitors in February after opposition parties and candidates were banned from standing. And human rights organisations have called for allegations of torture to be investigated after 34 oil workers and others were jailed this month in relation to the Zhanaozen protests last year in which more than a dozen people died after police opened fire on unarmed strikers (Eye 1310).
The TES article and its associated comments are here. From that article is a striking image of English teaching existing in the gap between use-value and exchange-value (or perhaps even being created from it, fuelled by petrol):
British teachers are already heading to the landlocked country to work in the first seven of a new network of 20 elite government grammars, set up using wealth generated by large gas and oil reserves. Experienced teachers are being targeted to teach their subjects while mentoring Kazakh teachers and helping to develop the curriculum. About 20 British teachers started work there last September, but the figure is expected to rise to 80 a year from August.
The authorities hope that they will be lured by attractive packages including free accommodation, two free flights a year and wages of between $4,000 and $5,000 a month.
The commentors seem to have taken umbrage at the idea that the schools were not pleasant to work or study in (which is precisely nowhere in the article). Guys, we understand. It’s nice to work in an international school, and to live in an expatriate haunt. Going to one of these schools does get you better results, does make you into a rounded, confident, ambitious person (you’ll fit in well in a large company or governmental body). But that’s not really the problem now, is it?