The Republic of Kazakhstan is the largest of the five Central Asian countries that gained their independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite its immense size (almost four times the size of the state of Texas), Kazakhstan's population is just over fifteen million, making it smaller in population than Uzbekistan to the south. The native Kazakhs, a mixture of Turkic and Mongol people, make up a slight majority of the population. Ethnic Russians, who immigrated to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic during the 50s and 60s, constitute nearly one-third of the country's population. The country still maintains close ties with Russia; their northern neighbor is Kazakhstan's largest import partner, as well as the top destination for Kazakhstani students who study abroad. The country's capital was moved from the southeastern city of Almaty to the northern city of Astana, in part, to maintain close ties with Russia and improve relations with the Russians living in its borders. Russia also leases the Baykonur Cosmodrome from Kazakhstan and bases its space program from this complex.
Prior to 1991 Kazakhstan had no heritage as a sovereign nation. Independence posed many challenges to the country and its neighbors. Despite these challenges, Kazakhstan's economy has prospered, mostly due to the presence of large oil and gas deposits and the government's achievements in exploiting these resources in the global market. The country is now investigating ways to diversify its industry to ensure an economy that is not solely dependent upon energy production. Agriculture has met with mixed success mainly due to the initial failure of its food products to meet international standards for export.
Of all the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Kazakhstan was the only one to inherit a nuclear arsenal, receiving international acclaim for its decision to voluntarily remove these weapons from its borders. Other legacies of the Soviet era include chemical and radioactive pollution from the defense industries located in the area. Excessive fertilization and the rerouting of rivers for irrigation have caused major problems for agriculture, as well as producing environmental hazards in the region-the most notorious of which is the wasting away of the Aral Sea. Narcotics are smuggled through the country from Southwest Asia to Russia and the European markets.
Kazakhstan inherited its education system from the Soviet Union. Though they are attempting to modify their system to better integrate into the international education market, remnants of the Soviet system still remain. Control of education at all levels is centralized through the Ministry of Education and Science.
Primary and Secondary Education
Secondary education is free and compulsory until the ninth grade. After completion of grade nine, students receive a certificate of incomplete secondary education. Students who wish to go on to university must complete an additional two years and receive an Attestat or Attestation of Middle (Complete) Secondary Education.
Please note that Kazakhstan's university system is undergoing a transition to a "credit-hour system" similar to that of the US and the ECTS. In 2004 the country conducted its first national entrance examination for graduates of secondary school. No doubt these changes will be just the beginning of education reform in the Republic of Kazakhstan.
First and Second Cycles
Students who gain entrance to a university may complete a "bachelor's" degree after four years or a Specialist's Degree, also referred to as a Diplom Spetsialista after five years. A Master's Degree is awarded after two additional years following the Bachelor's Degree or one additional year after the Specialist's Degree.
Kazakhstan's education system is undergoing significant change. There are plans to extend the secondary system to twelve years-adding an additional year to compulsory secondary education-but this expansion has yet to be fully implemented.
The system retains the candidate of sciences and the doctor of sciences of the Soviet System. A student must hold a "specialist's" degree or a "master's" degree before pursuing a candidate of sciences. A doctor of sciences is usually pursued well after completion of a candidate of sciences and is awarded after significant publication and contributions to the field of study.