A researcher is examining inclusive educational practices from around the world in the hope of improving vocational education in Kazakhstan. 

Arman Assanbayev, a PhD student at the Graduate School of Education at Nazarbayev University, is encouraging policymakers, schools and colleges to improve educational opportunities for adults with visual impairments. Arman has agreed to share a little more about his research with us.

Can you sum up the key purpose of your study?

The purpose of the study was to explore the best practices of inclusive education for adults within TVET settings throughout the world, as well as to define which of them are applicable in Kazakhstan. We have to find solutions to the following questions:

  • Which practices promote inclusion of adult students with disabilities in a Kazakhstani technical vocational education and training?
  • How is inclusive education understood within TVET?
  • How is the inclusion of adult students with disabilities applied in TVET?
  • Which practices are known to promote inclusion of adult students with disabilities in TVET internationally?
  • Which of those practices could be applicable to the Kazakhstani TVET system?

How did you conduct the research?

The research explored international academic literature and policy papers detailing the best ways of promoting inclusive vocational education. This was followed by a case study examining the experiences of three adult learners with visual impairments studying massage therapy at a college in Kazakhstan.  

What did the research find?

Studying academic literature and policy papers revealed a large amount of varied best practice for promoting inclusive vocational education. 

Interviews with visually impaired students, however, found a number of barriers to learning in the college. Teachers had not received training in how to accommodate the needs of students with visual impairments. This meant that resources were used that the visually impaired students could not read and that teaching was too theoretical and not practical enough. The visually impaired students found that not enough time was provided to learn by touch. The students had no choice over their modules and visually impaired students felt as though some subject were inaccessible and wouldn’t help their career prospects. The building was not suited to the needs of visually impaired students and supportive equipment such as voice recorders were often not used because they didn’t have enough memory. The students also said they didn’t have enough interaction with potential employers during their course. 

How do these findings help schools, colleges and policymakers?

From this analysis, I was able to make a number of recommendations to improve the provision of vocational education for adult learners with disabilities. The main recommendations were:

Invest in teacher training in order that they can meet the needs of their students by offering appropriate resources and balancing theoretical with practical work.

Ensure all resources are distributed in accessible formats and can be understood by all students. Adapt buildings to the needs of visually impaired students. This may involve making changes to bathrooms and building special pavements and walkways. Support students during and after their time at college. Create opportunities for them to interact with potential employers. 

What was the political context for your research?

Kazakhstan has launched a significant number of policy reforms concerning inclusive education, with the focus on underrepresented citizens, namely adults with disabilities. This is an important change. Previously, policy makers had not paid attention to adults, even those without disabilities. Inclusive education was therefore only associated with children at schools. Post-compulsory education, such as university or technical vocational education training (TVET), was targeted at young adults aged between 18 and 25.

Adults with disabilities are the subject of two intertwined reforms to lifelong learning and inclusive education. The reforms, which will be implemented simultaneously, have the same objective: to provide meaningful educational opportunities to adults with disabilities in order to enhance their lives by providing them with qualifications and skills for future employment.

Why is your research important at this time?

There are around 534,000 adults with disabilities who are ready to be trained and could help meet demand in the economy. TVET providers need theoretical and practical guidelines about how to make their courses more inclusive, and a conceptual framework should be developed that will help future implementation of inclusive lifelong learning. In order to provide such guidelines it is now necessary to analyse the best practices from abroad and conduct research that will give definition to inclusive education in TVET in Kazakhstan, as well as develop a conceptual framework for the inclusion of adults with disabilities in education.

What are the challenges to implementing your research?

Lifelong learning by adults with disabilities is a very complicated issue in Kazakhstan. The concept requires establishing a culture which encourages learning throughout life, which is new for Kazakhstan. Until recently, it was common for people to focus solely on learning just once, at university, which would provide education for the whole of a person’s professional life.

Following independence from the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan embarked on the process of globalisation, which brought new challenges to its people and policy makers. Democratic principles encountered underrepresented people, such as people with disabilities. Interaction between people and the government raised issues that were not given a voice before. Such issues included the future employment and employability of low qualified citizens who required training or retraining.

The TVET system in Kazakhstan now aims to facilitate adult educational opportunities, but in order to achieve this a framework and research are needed. Until now, little research has been conducted in relation to vocational education training in Kazakhstan, especially from the perspective of inclusive education for adults. As an agent of change, TVET needs to facilitate meaningful lifelong learning for adults with disabilities in order to encourage employment and competitiveness in the labour market for its students after graduation.

Why should our readers be interested in your research?

There has been a gap in academic literature for a study of this kind. This study provides practical and theoretical knowledge on inclusive education practices worldwide, which can be applied in a World Skills framework and to the context in Kazakhstan.

The hope is that this research will mean adults with disabilities for whom the reforms are initiated in Kazakhstan will be more likely to have access to meaningful lifelong learning, improving their employability.