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Distance learning, epidemiological situation, provision of villages with Internet — how educational process organized in Kazakhstan

Thursday, 10 September 2020, 23:45:25

Today at an online press conference, Deputy Prime Minister Yeraly Tugzhanov, Minister of Healthcare Alexey Tsoy, Minister of Education and Science Askhat Aimagambetov, Minister of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry Bagdat Mussin spoke about the organization of the educational process for 2020-2021 academic year taking into account the epidemiological situation, as well as the results of the first week of training in quarantine.


Distance learning is aimed at protection of children's health

Deputy Prime Minister Yeraly Tugzhanov noted that knowledge of children is very important, but health is the main priority. This is under the direct control of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

In general, the epidemiological situation in Kazakhstan is stable, the daily increase is 0.1%.

To date, 86 new cases of COVID-19 infection have been registered. Since July 5, 2020, the need to provide patients with beds has decreased by 6 times, the number of emergency medical calls on CVI issues — by 5.5 times. 99% of patients recovered, this indicates the correct treatment tactics, but the risks remain.

As for the state of COVID-19 in the world, the threat still remains. More than 250 thousand patients and 5 thousand deaths are registered daily. In Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Great Britain, Turkey, an increase in the incidence has been observed over the past month.

There is also a danger in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (Russia — 0.5%, Uzbekistan — 0.9%, Tajikistan — 0.4%, Kyrgyzstan — 0.1%).

Therefore, the decision to transfer the work of schools, the educational process to distance learning is caused by the goal of maximizing the health of children.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2,400 Kazakh children have contracted the coronavirus. Today 34 children are undergoing treatment.

In these conditions, the task of the government is to maximally protect Kazakhstanis, first of all, children, from a dangerous virus.

“At the same time, even if children carry the coronavirus in a mild form, adults are at risk. They can subsequently spread the virus to others and create a new outbreak of infection. We are familiar with this experience,” said the deputy prime minister.

In this regard, it was decided to transfer the bulk of students to a distance learning format in the first quarter of the academic year.

More than 100 countries of the world followed this option.

There are 3 million 400 thousand students in Kazakhstan. Of these, 77% of children started learning in a distance format (2.6 million).

Taking into account the epidemiological situation at the first stage, duty classes and small schools with a total contingent of 800 thousand students (23% of students) were opened.

To date, the Ministry of Education and Science has developed proposals for the second stage of resuming the work of schools in a regular mode.

These proposals will be comprehensively considered by the Government, and weighted decisions will be made on them, first of all, meeting the interests of Kazakhstanis and the safety of children.

“Given the epidemiological situation, I warn you once again about the need for distance learning for children. As a reminder, in May, after quarantine, we opened kindergarten duty groups. Then, in the city of Nur-Sultan, West Kazakhstan region and other regions, the registration of coronavirus among children began. Because the chain of spread of the virus from one child to society is very simple. See for yourself: child - class - school - parents - their colleagues - society,” Tugzhanov explained.

Therefore, this direction is under the strict control of the Head of State, each stage of the continuation of the educational process is considered, and the monitoring results are analyzed.

Each incoming question is considered and an answer is given urgently. Today there are a lot of questions and problems related to the distance learning system. At the same time, a very large amount of work is being done.

“Undoubtedly, regular school learning is more effective, efficient and of high quality. But preserving the health of our children is our common task. Among these children are the future Satpayevs, Margulans. Well-being is the main thing. For its part, the state is taking all the necessary measures for this,” Tugzhanov said.

Answering a question from journalists, the deputy prime minister said that distance education should not cause problems for parents.

“I don’t see such big problems with regard to parents who have jobs. Because parents who want to work can easily go to work. Children can be in duty groups,” said Yeraly Tugzhanov.

At the briefing, a question was asked whether the state will compensate for the loss of part of the income to those parents who quit their jobs or take unpaid leave to help children with distance learning.

“With regard to those parents who are forced to stay at home in a distance learning format, all the necessary possible support has been provided today. All measures have actually been taken by the government. I think you are well aware of this today. For those companies that were forced to stop working during the quarantine period, a number of specific support measures were taken. We also took all the necessary measures with regard to even these companies. Therefore, the question that you are raising, the state is taking measures as much as possible today,” Tugzhanov said.


435 thousand computers provided for temporary use during distance education

Minister of Education and Science Askhat Aimagambetov, in turn, noted that due to the pandemic, most of the schoolchildren are now studying in a distance format — 2.6 million children. 800 thousand children study in a traditional format. 250 thousand children study in a traditional format in schools with up to 180 children. This is 7.3% of the total contingent. In general, 24% of schoolchildren study in the traditional format. Also, out of 7 thousand schools in the country, 3 thousand, including in remote small schools, continue their education in the traditional format.

“We said that we are ready, with the consent of the parents, to accept 100% of students in grades 1-4 in schools. However, at the moment, the number of schoolchildren studying in offline format does not reach 50%,’’ Minister Aimagambetov said.

For example, the occupancy rate in the first grades is 55%, in the second grades — 35%, in the third grades — 27%, in the fourth grades — 24%. In general, there are 1.3 million children in primary school across the country, parents of only 547 thousand children have agreed to study at school. And this is only 16% of the total number of students.

435 thousand computers were given for temporary use for distance learning. Akimats are dealing with these issues today. In the near future, more than 300 thousand computers will be transferred to students from needy families.

“Regarding the loan, in 2014 a decision was made on it and in 2018 the loan was supported by the deputies. But you must understand that when any project is being implemented, there is a plan and program for this project, there are certain regulations and provisions, including those of the World Bank, and according to this plan, the purchase of computers was planned for 2021. Accordingly, these funds were not in the 2020 budget. Nevertheless, when in March it became clear that we needed a large amount of equipment, we applied to the World Bank, but according to the provisions, these are competitive procedures that take up to 9 months. Considering the fact that the akimats as a whole allocated funds from the budget for computers, it was decided to exclude these computers. Because there was no need to duplicate and additionally purchase computers in addition to the purchased ones,” the minister said.

On average, 2 million lessons are taught per day. Lessons on online platforms are gaining 70-80 million views per day. 12 million users use educational platforms per week, more than 2 million daily.

Only in Kundelik, about 700 thousand assessments are given daily, and the number of assignments reaches 1 million.

“This suggests that our colleagues are doing a lot of work. In addition, 1 million 730 thousand assignments and multimedia exercises, 110 thousand interactive lessons were prepared on only one platform. On another platform — 7 thousand video lessons, 75 thousand tasks. A lot of work has been done. Today, children receive relevant knowledge based on prepared assignments,” the minister emphasized.

Television lessons are also held. Over 6 thousand TV lessons have been recorded. Since Sep. 1, TV lessons are being filmed by the Khabar agency.

Kazakhstani teachers were trained in the summer in the framework of several courses.

In addition, Askhat Aimagambetov commented on the rumors about the allocation of $70 million for distance learning.

“Regarding the allocation of funds for distance learning. Someone says that $70 million has been allocated. This information does not correspond to reality, because distance learning began to be introduced only this year, from April, and in general, when we talk about implementation in the fourth quarter, no funds were allocated from the budget for distance learning. All resources opened access free of charge, there was a state of emergency, we applied and all our colleagues responded vividly to our appeal. In addition, TV lessons were also filmed free of charge and were shown and shown free of charge,” he said.

According to Aimagambetov, the Internet speed in rural schools is from 4 Mbps. Overall, 96% of schools have the ability to connect to the Internet at a speed of over 4 Mbps.

“2-3 years ago 4 Mbps. the speed was good enough. But now we see that there is a possibility of connecting both 8 and 16 Mbit / s. Therefore, now we are working to increase the tariff plan, to change it, to increase the data transfer speed. We measure data transfer rates by various metrics. We have schools where, unfortunately, the speed is still low. Additional work is being carried out on them by akimats, departments, education departments,” the minister said.

Also Aimagambetov expressed confidence that it is impossible to compare traditional full-time education, to which parents, teachers and children are accustomed, with a distance learning format.

“There are international studies, now diagnostics is being carried out in many countries. Yes, there are questions, you cannot compare. Our task is to do everything so that there is no decline in the quality of education. Even for those moments and gaps that may arise, we carry out diagnostics. We will carry out diagnostics for each child in order to catch up with this program later, if necessary. And fill these gaps,” he said.

The journalists reminded the minister of education and science about his words regarding the fact that homework is not needed in distance education. Meanwhile, teachers continue to give assignments.

“Indeed, many questions are asked. You see, when a child learns in a traditional format, it is clear that he learns in the classroom, school, here he is given certain lessons during the class. He performs them, answers the teacher's questions, and so the work is carried out. Further, then additional tasks are given at home for repetition. This is such a format,” Askhat Aimagambetov said.

According to him, when a child learns remotely, he is already studying at home. He should be given study assignments separately, which he actually does at home; it is not advisable to give home assignments to them twice.

“Therefore, in order not to overload children, we just saw this on the example of other countries, there is special research, on the basis of this we made guidelines. We say that there is no division into study and homework. There are only study assignments. They are all the same to those who study at home, in fact, are given home. Therefore, the volume of tasks should not exceed the one recommended by us,” the minister noted.

In general, the ministry has recommendations for each discipline and class. The volume is indicated depending on the age and other characteristics of the children. Here it is necessary to differentiate these two concepts.

Aimagambetov commented on whether grades are needed in a distance learning format.

“Since 2016, when they began to implement the updated programs, completely different calls have been made. When, in principle, the marks were canceled, when each time formative assessment was carried out as before on a five-point scale, each lesson instead was normative assessment, which as a whole assessed and diagnosed where the child is and what topics he does not learn or, on the contrary, learns, whether he reaches objectives of the lesson. Then we were told that please return the daily assessments to us, without these assessments we cannot. Now in 4 years, due to the fact that we have distance learning in the fourth quarter, 70-80 percent of applications were just about these assessments,” Askhat Aimagambetov said.

The minister admitted that during distance learning it is uncomfortable for parents not to see which topics their child is mastering and which ones are not.

“That is, he is given a task, he sees the result only in the form of summative assessments of SORs and SOCHs, and parents want to see a certain assessment of the child every day, so the methodologists, together with experts, during the preparation for the new academic year, decided that temporarily for convenience parents and children specifically for the format of distance learning, this is done in many other countries, we made an exception and gave teachers the opportunity to evaluate the actions of our children in a formative way every day, as before,” the minister said.

But this does not mean that the teacher has to give marks every day.

“Just as it was before, with a five-point traditional grading system, if there are 25 children in a class, the teacher did not give all 25 grades. The same situation is with us. If we say that about 2 million lessons are held, we see that about 700 thousand are awarded. Therefore, assessments, I think, are currently needed as a form of a certain part of diagnostics and as an opportunity for feedback, just in distance learning,” Aimagambetov added.


Today it is too early to talk about stable epidemiological situation in schools

In turn, the Minister of Healthcare Alexey Tsoy informed that in order to prevent a possible second wave of coronavirus infection, some of the restrictive measures have been preserved. Including the format of distance learning in schools of all forms of ownership from Sep. 1. This measure has been forced.

“Now we are working on possible issues of relaxation, but this will be done in stages. The preservation of the online learning mode for educational organizations is due to the following reasons. First, despite the disunity of organized groups and the quarantine regime, 2,418 cases of coronavirus infection among children have been registered in Kazakhstan since March. Of these, 98% of children have recovered, 34 are receiving treatment. The formation of organized closed groups creates a high risk of infection transmission,” said Tsoy.

Second, as the minister noted, according to WHO information, children under 12 years of age are less intense, but still transmit coronavirus infection. And at the age of 12 years and older they play an active role in the transmission of coronavirus infection and can be sources of infection for households, people at risk, and these can be people with chronic diseases, and over 60 years old.

“Third. Despite the established requirements for schools for full-time education, such as non-contact thermometry, class size, social distance, mask mode, flow regulation, restriction of the movement of children inside the school, we understand that if they are not followed, the goal of controlling the incidence of CVI has not been achieved. We are well aware that it is quite difficult to ensure their full compliance within the walls of a school. Especially children of elementary school due to their psychological development. For example, it is quite difficult to keep them in one place for a long time,” said the minister.

Moreover, the concentration of a large number of children in closed rooms in case of non-compliance with the established requirements of the quarantine regime has a critical level of risk that creates threats of the spread of the disease. The risk of transmission of the infection increases many times than in another adult group.

Fourth. When registering cases of the disease in educational institutions, the number of close contacts also increases significantly. For example, if one student in a class gets sick, then the whole class and teachers go to a 14-day quarantine only at school, and there are also family contacts. And if it is established that the sick person was in contact with someone else outside the classroom, then, accordingly, quarantine will be imposed on these persons. Thus, with the registration of even one case, there is a high risk of quarantine by classes and even schools.

“Fifth. International experience today already demonstrates to us the negative effect of full-time education. Germany switched to full-time education in August. Already, cases of CVI have been registered in many cities and schools are being quarantined. Schools in several US states have closed after testing positive for COVID-19 in children and staff. England, France, Poland - Dozens of schools have reported COVID-19 outbreaks, prompting some to close, while others have sent staff and students home to self-isolate. Schools in Korea are returning to distance learning. Schools, colleges and educational institutions in India remain closed to students,” said Tsoy.

Sixth. According to the minister, today it is too early to talk about a stable epidemiological situation in schools, since Sep. 1, even one incubation period has not yet passed — 14 days to assess the situation, taking into account online education in duty classes and schools with up to 180 students.

“Seventh. We should not forget about the annual rise in the incidence of SARS and influenza. Up to 70% of the incidence of ARVI and influenza is recorded among children under 14 years of age. And children who have had acute respiratory viral infections and influenza due to a decrease in immunity are most at risk of infection and CVI disease,” said Tsoy.

The minister, answering a question from journalists about the reasons for the sharp fluctuations in the incidence of coronavirus pneumonia, replied that the fluctuation of statistical data is observed systematically, from week to week. Basically, these data are tied to weekends.

“Registration of cases at the level of the polyclinic link, hospitals record that polyclinics are closed on weekends, citizens do not apply on weekends, but rather wait for a new week to go to medical institutions. Basically, the surge occurs at the beginning of the week. At the end of the week, this indicator is decreasing. Most importantly, you do not need to compare the indicator from day to day, but compare the weekly indicators. Now we see a steady decline if we compare the weekly indicator of overall morbidity,” Tsoy said.

The minister also named the criteria that may contribute to the tightening of quarantine in the country.

“One of the key criteria is the bed capacity over 70%. If we see that our bed fund, which is now only 15% full of the existing beds, will be overflowing when we see that the capacity of the resource health care system will be at its limit, then we will make such decisions and propose such decisions to the state commission. Now we are monitoring the epidemiological situation, and it is stable at the moment,” said Tsoy.

When asked by journalists about the purchase of a vaccine against coronavirus infection, the Minister of Health noted that any vaccine or any medicine that undergoes clinical trials goes through certain procedures.

“On the Oxford vaccine, there is a question about the possible side effects. As for the Russian vaccine, any restriction on the groups of use of this vaccine comes from the stages of clinical trials. It must be understood that the vaccine will be allowed to Kazakhstan only if it receives official registration. That is, after testing for the effectiveness, for the safety of this vaccine. Any vaccine that has side effects or will not be proven, of course, it will not be allowed on the territory of Kazakhstan,” Tsoy explained.

As for the Kazakh vaccine, according to the Minister of Healthcare, it is now entering a phase of 1-2 trials.

“We have high hopes for it. After passing the stages of clinical trials, if we see a persistent effect that was seen in preclinical studies, accordingly, this vaccine, after passing all the tests, will be registered in Kazakhstan and subsequently allowed to the market. Therefore, we carry out all this work thoroughly. There is a very scrupulous approach to each vaccine. All our experts are dealing with this issue,” Tsoy said.


More than 4 thousand settlements have Internet access

Minister of Digital Development, Innovation and Aerospace Industry Bagdat Mussin spoke about how teachers and students of the country are provided with access to the Internet and how telecom operators plan to bring broadband Internet to all villages in Kazakhstan.

As the minister noted, there are 6,459 settlements in the country as a whole, of which 4,646 have access to the Internet using various technologies.

“It is clear that the highest quality is optical communication, but we have settlements where the Internet is connected via copper cables, radio relays, and other technologies. We understand that optics are the most reliable and therefore three years ago a project was launched to bring optics to 1,257 fiber cable villages. As of today, optics have been carried out up to 1,071 rural settlements. We plan to complete the project by the end of the year,” informed Mussin.

The project involves carrying out optics to the settlement, to the school, to the state institution. The operator is installing a base station and 3G, 4G antennas.

“In this case, we say that broadband Internet has been installed to the village. In other cases, it is radio relay and other types of communication,” Mussin noted.

As the minister explained, the waves from these antennas are the same as from a microwave oven. They are not hazardous to health, as information is now spreading on social networks.

“When people say remove such a station from my house, it is harmful, such statements do not correspond to reality,” Mussin assured.

According to the minister, there are problems with the quality of the Internet, but in any case, these are infrastructure projects and they cannot be done in a short period.

Also Mussin commented on the information on social networks that in settlements, due to the lack of the Internet, children are forced to climb onto the roofs of houses and catch the connection.

“This was one specific case in the village of Esken, where a very small number of residents live. The student was supposed to study at the boarding school full-time, but several students from the village refused full-time education and tried to study remotely. For 20 people, we cannot conduct the Internet. There is a railway station nearby and we are running the Internet there now,” the minister explained.

Also, according to Mussin, the ministry offers another way to improve the quality of the Internet. A dedicated website bailanys.bar has been created. This site may pick up a weak internet signal. If a person visits the site and a weak Internet signal is recorded in the ministry's database, then it remains and it becomes possible to control such geo-locations.

Mussin noted that all operators that have been issued licenses, including mobile operators, fixed-line operators - all must provide high-quality communications. Quality control remains with the ministry.

“Therefore, in order to collect more information about the quality of the Internet, we made such a site. By collecting information, we will know how to proceed further. The country is big and we must correlate all plans with the real capabilities of the operators,” said Mussin.

When asked by journalists about the multi-billion dollar funds from the budget for Internet projects, the minister explained that this is not state funding.

“Internet has been provided to specific schools, 8 MGB have been provided. But in order to improve the quality in about 1,200 settlements, and this is not only schools, about 60 billion tenge will actually be spent. But this is not budgetary funds, but money from investment projects of telecom operators,’’ Mussin explained.

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