10 SES 07 D, Language and Teacher Education
Reforming the secondary education in Kazakhstan within the last decade touched upon different aspects of schooling: starting from the national curriculum to the shift in teaching paradigms, and has led to the imperatives to change teachers’ practices (Bridges, 2014). Revisiting the role of teachers and skills that should be taught at school, the Kazakhstani policymakers have prioritized critical thinking as an essential skill necessary for students’ success in life, in general, and their employability, in particular (MoES, 2010; Felix, 2016). In addition, a big emphasis is currently put on trilingual policy in school education (Irsaliyev et al., 2017) aiming at increasing the human capital capacity and joining the global economic arena.
Similar to critical thinking, the English language has become an indispensable transferrable skill of this rapidly changing world. It is crucial that both English and critical thinking be taught efficiently, especially when they are mutually beneficial: as Pishghadam (2011) notes, the class of English has its distinctive features, among which are the opportunity for students to talk on many topics of social, political, and cultural character, the variety of activities that can be applied within a classroom, cross-cultural component, and many other peculiarities. However, Atkinson (1997) underlines that teaching a foreign language by means of the CT approach is a challenging task and EFL teachers should be cautious about using critical thinking in their classroom with non-native speakers. Apart from the cultural differences, there are other challenges that educators might face in aiming to teach for CT. Thus, in the context of Kazakhstan, Burkhalter (2013) and Burkhalter and Shegebayev (2012) suggest that the Soviet background or the legacy left by the communist education hamper teachers’ adequate shifting to student-centred teaching in general, and using critical thinking in their classroom, in particular. In contrast, other researchers find that the tradition of fostering students’ thinking skills was peculiar to the Soviet pedagogy (Fimyar, 2015; Fimyar & Kurakbayev 2015).
Examining the experience of educational reforms of the former Soviet republics that implemented many processes of European integration and curriculum innovation, the scholars imply that there is a gap between the policies and teachers’ responses to them (Dundua, 2003; Kesküla, Loogma, Kolka, & Sau-Ek, 2012; Rubene, 2009). As many studies show, teachers’ classroom practices are closely interconnected with their professional development and beliefs (Borg, 2011; Sahlberg & Boce, 2010; Timperley, 2011). Thus, if we want to change the ways of present teaching, it is important to explore what beliefs teachers hold about current educational reforms (Fives & Buehl, 2012) if they are ready and competent to implement what is recommended top-down.
The purpose of this paper is to explore EFL teachers’ beliefs about critical thinking in the secondary education in Kazakhstan. To achieve this, the paper will answer the following questions:
- What are teachers’ beliefs about the emphasis on critical thinking in the national curriculum?
- What beliefs about critical thinking do teachers hold in relation to their classroom practices?
- Do teachers’ beliefs about critical thinking differ depending on their education, training, experience, and type of school?
- What factors influence teachers’ beliefs about critical thinking?
The study is located in North Kazakhstan to explore teachers’ beliefs of the particular region, focusing on schools with the Russian language of instruction. This research can provide valuable information for the design of effective teacher education and professional development programmes in this and other regions of Kazakhstan, on the post-Soviet space, and elsewhere.
To answer the research questions, a mixed methods research was carried out. Participants included secondary school teachers of English from North Kazakhstan region. Convenience sampling procedures were used to recruit the participants for this study. To ensure that the collected data is broad and not biased, the participants differed in their age, educational background (Soviet and modern Kazakhstani education), teaching experience, types of school, and school location (urban and rural area). In total, 217 teachers completed a questionnaire, among them eight English teachers were interviewed on a face-to-face basis and 16 teachers took part in 3 focus group discussions. And two more experts of teachers’ professional development were individually interviewed for an outside perspective. Parallel mixed data analysis (Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009) was applied to processing the collected data. The questionnaire asked teachers to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement to a series of statements on a 7-point Likert scale, regarding their conceptions, beliefs, and practices around critical thinking. Quantitative data was analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics: principal component analysis and multivariate analysis of variance were conducted to examine statistical differences on teachers’ beliefs by years of experience, education and special training, and location of the school (urban/rural). The thematic analysis of semantic themes was applied to the qualitative data inductively, i.e. themes emerged from the data “without trying to fit it into a pre-existing coding frame” (Braun & Clarke, 2006, p. 83). In the context of this paper, such themes as teachers’ individual experience of learning and teaching for critical thinking, their beliefs regarding integrating critical thinking into the curriculum, its purpose and efficiency, and general issues of teaching English at school were identified and analyzed. The quantitative and qualitative data complemented each other in the discussion to report on the important findings: what teachers with different background emphasize when defining CT, what they found beneficial and challenging in critical thinking implementation, and what factors influenced their beliefs and practices.
Overall, the Kazakhstani teachers of English hold diverse beliefs about critical thinking, its nature and purposes. Some educators are rather selective about critical thinking as a method of teaching a foreign language, and understand it as a system of particular tools, as it has been presented in previous research (Burkhalter & Shegebayev, 2012; Ward, Beach, & Mirseitova, 2004). That is, teachers define critical thinking as a pedagogical approach in EFL teaching based on the variety of techniques and exercises used to develop major language skills of listening, reading, writing, and speaking. In addition, they tend to justify the rationale for using critical thinking in their teaching, but to a limited extent. Relating my qualitative data to Kesküla’s et al. (2012) study on teachers’ responses to the change in educational policies, the majority of interviewees accept the focus on critical thinking due to institutional requirements and at the same time the teachers have to adapt the prescribed curriculum to their own needs and knowledge, while as the most of focus groups participants admit they are not sure they are teaching for critical thinking in a proper way. The findings concerning the influence of Soviet legacy on teachers’ beliefs contrast to what Burkhalter (2013) states, and support Fimyar & Kurakbayev (2015) who suggest that some forms of critical thinking were developed and widely applied during the Soviet period but under a different name of the pedagogy. Depending on the participants’ educational and professional background, some statistically significant results in teachers’ beliefs have been identified due to the essential difference in the opportunities for professional development for urban and rural teachers. A discussion on how EFL teachers’ conceptions of critical thinking influence their practice and recommendations for future teacher education in the region and Kazakhstan, in general, will be provided.
Atkinson, D. (1997). A critical approach to critical thinking in TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 31(1), 71-94. Borg, S. (2011). The impact of in-service teacher education on language teachers’ beliefs. System, 39(3), 370-380. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. Bridges, D. (Ed.). (2014). Educational reform and internationalisation: The case of school reform in Kazakhstan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Burkhalter, N. (2013). Overcoming Resistance in Post-Soviet Teacher Trainees in Kazakhstan. The Asian EFL Journal Quarterly, 248-279. Burkhalter, N., & Shegebayev, M. R. (2012). Critical thinking as culture: Teaching post-Soviet teachers in Kazakhstan. International Review of Education, 58(1), 55-72. Dundua, S. (2003). The legacy of the Soviet education system and attempts to introduce new methodologies of teaching in Georgia. Childhood Education, 79(6), 347-350. Fimyar, O. & Kurakbayev, K. (2015): ‘Soviet’ in teachers’ memories and professional beliefs in Kazakhstan: Points for reflection for reformers, international consultants and practitioners. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29(1), 86-103. Fives, H., & Buehl, M. M. (2012). Spring cleaning for the “messy” construct of teachers’ beliefs: What are they? Which have been examined? What can they tell us. APA educational psychology handbook, 2, 471-499. Irsaliyev, S., Karabassova, L., Mukhametzhanova, A., Adil, A., Bekova, M. & Nurlanov, Y. (2017). Teaching in three languages: International experience and recommendations for Kazakhstan. Kesküla, E., Loogma, K., Kolka, P., & Sau-Ek, K. (2012). Curriculum change in teachers’ experience: the social innovation perspective. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 20(3), 353-376. MoES (Ministry of Education and Science ) (2010). State Program of Education Development for 2011-2020. Astana: MoES. Pishghadam, R. (2011). Introducing applied ELT as a new paradigm. Iranian EFL Journal, 7(2), 9-20. Sahlberg, P., & Boce, E. (2010). Are teachers teaching for a knowledge society? Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice, 16(1), 31-48. Rubene, Z. (2009). Topicality of critical thinking in the post-Soviet educational space: The case of Latvia. European Education, 41(4), 24-40. Timperley, H. (2011). Realizing the power of professional learning. UK: McGraw-Hill Education . Teddlie, C., & Tashakkori, A. (2009). Foundations of mixed methods research: Integrating quantitative and qualitative approaches in the social and behavioral sciences. Sage. Ward, A., Beach, S. A., & Mirseitova, S. (2004). Teachers’ understandings of critical literacy. Classroom, 5(3), 15-22.
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