Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policies in Kazakhstan, 

Central Eurasia

Kazakhstan in comparison to its neighboring Central Asian states followed a more aggressive strategy towards the market reform (Alam & Banerji, 2000, 1). Similarly, the state has been very active in internationalizing its Higher Education in the recent years (Djuraeva, 2013). However, it didn’t show much of a movement in changing radically its language policy and planning in the first decade after its independence in 1991. The most recent history of the country is associated with the Soviet Era. The former colonizer of the Central Asia made tremendous educational changes in the region that resulted in high literacy numbers over the years. Nevertheless, the unifying language of all the union states was Russian, as imposed from above. There was a phenomenon of the spread of Russian as a language in Kazakhstan, which was observed to have a widespread language shift (remarked by J.A. Fishman in his introduction to Kreindler 1985:vii). The language shift in this context means the abandonment of the ethnic language, which is Kazakh, and high preference for the Russian language in all spheres of life. Due to a large number of Russpohones it was hard for the Kazakh language to become the only official language of the country. Numerous protests held by Russian diasporas resulted in Russian being announced as a second official language of the state, or a language for inter-ethnic communication in 1997 (Literaturnaya Gazeta 5, March. 1997, 5). Second, the country’s president, Nursultan Nazarbaev has a pluralistic policy according to which Kazakhs should be trilingual in Russian, Kazakh and English by 2030. Currently, Russian is still a highly preferred as a LOI for most Kazakh citizens, nevertheless the state has been conducting actions in strengthening the Kazakh language as well as English and some Turkish are observed to be other popular LOI.

Nowadays there is a hot debate going on among the Kazakh elites and academics over Nazarbaev’s decision, which was postponed twice, to finally switch the script from Cyrillic to Latin. Creating a curriculum that up brings Kazakh patriotism is highly emphasized in Kazakh Education Development program, 2011. This is indeed exemplified in the increasing demand of HEIs in Kazakh historians and Kazakh language teachers. Also the courses on Kazakh language and history as well as what it means to be Kazakh citizens are necessary parts of HE curriculum. In lieu with the vision of creating a Kazakh citizen, MOES’s minister Baqytjan Zhumagulov (2012) says the following: “… There is a national plan to train a Kazakh citizen who can think critically and independently and is a lifelong learner... .”  The recommendation made by OECD and WB (2007) also highlights the need of Kazakh HEIs “to place more emphasis on preparing globally minded, locally responsible, and internationally competitive students. This is very interesting and peculiar situation. On one hand, Kazakh government tries to embrace the ideas of global citizen and lifelong learner that resonate well with recommendations made by foreign donors and Bologna act. On the other hand, there is a mass mobilization of all available forces and knowledge directed towards youths who would identify themselves as Kazakh citizens, having a deep knowledge of Kazakh national identity, culture, history and language. One of the examples to such efforst is the creation of the Kaztest, a national Kazakh language testing exams that is targeted to assess the level of Kazakh proficiency not only of foreigners studying Kazakh, but also the citizens of Kazakhstan as well. Currently, this test is administered to the applicants of Bolashak program, and at the Nazarbaev University (NU). At NU, a leading English-medium university in the capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, along with the test, students are required to take minimum of 3 to 9 credits of Kazakh language, history or culture related courses. Again these great efforts by the Ministry of Education in Kazakhstan are responsive to the large Russian speaking population in the country and globalization. The vision of the president of the country is to educate a Kazakh citizen who is equally bilingual in Russian and Kazakh, with the strength in English by 2030.



Ministry of Education and Science, Kazakhstan, via:


Zhumagulov, B. (2012). On modernization of education system, via:

Kazakhstan: Officials Adopt Low-Key Approach on Language Policy.

The System of Evaluation of the Level of Kazakh language Knowledge.


  • The Concept of education development of the Republic of Kazakhstan by 2015. Astana, 2004.
  • Landau, J.M & Kellner-Heinkele, B. 2001. Politics of Language in the Ex-Soviet Muslim States. Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan Press.
  • Dadabaeva, G. Kazakhstan language policy in context of state building processes.
  • Djuraeva, M. (2013). Comparative analysis of language policy in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, School of Education.
  • Fierman, W. Language and Education in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan: Kazakh-Medium Instruction in Urban Schools.
  • Ministry of Education and Science, Kazakhstan, via:
  • Kazakhstan: Officials Adopt Low-Key Approach on Language Policy.
  • The System of Evaluation of the Level of Kazakh language Knowledge.
  • Zhumagulov, B. (2012). On modernization of education system, via:


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Djuraeva, M. (2013). Language Education Policies in Kazakhstan, Central Eurasia. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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