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Bolashak researchers in the Netherlands:
learning from top universities and the Minister herself

Kazakhstan and the Netherlands may be far apart geographically, their citizens are more and more aware of each other’s countries. Many Dutch speed skaters cherish warm feelings for the Medeo icerink, where they achieved the best results in the seventies and eighties. Alma Ata had a mythical status for the Dutch public in those days. Nowadays the Astana cycling team captures the hearts of our sport lovers, as the Tour de France is very popular in the Netherlands. Our two nations steadily improved their cooperation in the last twenty years. It was no coincidence that the president of the republic Nursultan Nazarbayev was standing beside king William and queen Maxima during the recent Nuclear Summit in The Hague. The Dutch noted him as a prominent guest.

Another example of long standing and intensifying cooperation is the field of education and knowledge development. The Netherlands is known for its efficient and high quality education, reflected in the OECD educational rankings and the position of its research universities on the international lists for best universities. The Dutch educational and research system is also accessible; foreign students can easily follow standing MA and BA programmes. Due to its historical international orientation the Netherlands is a multi-ethnic society, which makes it quite easy to participate in daily life after class hours. Moreover the Netherlands is a small country, so it is easy to organise visits to relevant organisations in the educational value chain.  If need arises, some major cities are just a stone throw away from Amsterdam, Leiden or The Hague. Take for example Brussels and Paris that also host various relevant institutions. Having said this it was only a matter of time before Bolashak stipends understood the possibilities of the Netherlands as a place to spend their scholarships.

However the specific concept of the Bolashak research scholarships is new for Dutch academic and applied universities. The scholars come as a group for a relatively short period of time to study and gain new insights in their work field. They follow a tailor made programme, composed of the academic programmes of various universities, combined with the day-to-day practice of field institutions. Dutch AcAdemic Services (DAAS), based in Leiden, is the developing and organising company of these scholar programmes. DAAS is specialized in training programmes and working visits for executives from emerging countries in the fields of education and public administration. The company is independent and a respected partner of various Dutch universities, which makes it well placed to offer programmes fully geared to the needs of the Bolashak stipends. The universities work with DAAS because it supports them in programming, implementation and management.

For the current themes Theory and Methods of Education and Corrective Pedagogics DAAS worked closely with Leiden ICLON Institute for educational research and applied teaching. But the concept could be well applied to other research fields in the Netherlands. ICLON is responsible for research and capacity building for Dutch universities and it also provides services for other educational institutions especially in the field of quality control, curriculum development and ICT in education. The programmes took place in autumn 2013 and spring 2014.

It takes three steps to tango: co-creation between Kazakh and Dutch researchers To ensure that maximal outputs are achieved, the Kazakh researchers are engaged in forming their own group and individual programmes based on their initial research plan. This creates more commitment and supports that after return to home base the impact of insights gained in The Netherlands will be introduced and used in the Kazakh organisation.  The scholarships programmes are built up in three distinguished stages: familiarisation, exploration and conclusive phase. During the familiarisation the researchers are being introduced with the status and issues and the organisation of their work field in the Netherlands. They make inventory visits to gain an overview of the state of affairs, and attend interactive classes during which they start to get a better insight in current theoretical developments. To avoid the “best practices” fallacy — the misconception that Dutch practices can be copied — the scholars are also introduced to the wider social, historical, economical and cultural aspects that created the specific context and hence understand which issues can be applied or are specific Dutch. Part is also visiting the Kazakh embassy in The Hague and some of the most important cultural highlights, linking these with the topic addressed. For example: on Dutch seventeenth century paintings one can already see how the Dutch dealt differently with their children in comparison to the French or the English.
Based on two Bolashak programmes our experience is that the familiarisation phase creates many new insights for the scholars,  that are used to formulate the next step in the programme, that of the exploration phase. This part of the scholarship has the following building blocks that are closely interconnected:

A. An action research theme; aiming to enrich the research capabilities of the researcher, i.e. acquiring state of the art research skills in a particular field relevant for the scholar;
B. cognitive development; how do they do this in the Netherlands; making an individual inquiry on a specific topic based on various research methods. Topics in the past two programmes were specific parts of Dutch education policy, such as accreditation in the Netherlands, organisation of Ph.D research, kindergardens, the relationship between special and inclusive education, teaching of children with hearing and speaking deficiencies, modern ICT for English teaching and so on. This part results in a paper that will be used in Kazakhstan and in some cases it will be used for international publications;
C. The capstone of the programme; developing a project plan for improving or introducing a new approach in the home organisation in Kazakhstan. The researchers now combine the skills of block a. and b. whilst developing a project on a specific topic, with a specific goal, activities and budget plan. For example:. making an inclusive school in Astana, introducing modern training with cochlear implants in Kazakhstan, using relevant aspects of Dutch kindergarden in Kazakhstan;
D. New training methods; training and knowledge sharing is an important part for most of the participants. Therefore they are offered new educational and didactical methodologies, such as flipped class room, digital learning environment, blackboard, prezi, and so on.

What makes this stage exciting for the scholars is that apart from regular classes, the researchers are offered the possibility to pay individual visits and discuss their research with all key organisations. Hence in the two first programmes visits were paid to among others the Dutch Minister of Education Excellency Jet Bussemaker; an international conference on Hearing impairment at the University of Utrecht; the Netherlands Association of Universities (VSNU); the Netherlands Organisation of Accreditation; Numerous (inclusive and corrective) secondary schools, primary schools, NGOs, consultancies, medical centres for cochlear implants, speaking and hearing therapists.

During the last week of the programme we host the grand finale sessions. During these sessions all the researchers present their results to an international panel of experts and the colleagues from visited organisations. After the presentations and discussions the scholars are being awarded their well deserved certificate.

As organising party DAAS has been working for many international groups, but in relation to the Bolashak researchers we permit ourselves some special closing remarks. Dutch professors and teaching staff were very much in praise of both groups, their commitment toward acquiring new research skills and their capability to transform their experiences into practical solutions for their own institutions. Moreover we received feedback that due to the meticulous preparation of the visits the Bolashak scholars were in the true sense of the word excellent ambassadors of Kazakhstan. Some organisations mentioned that they look forward receiving new groups indeed. So ‘dank je wel en tot ziens’, or to stay in Kazakh:  Rachmet, Sau Bolynyz.

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