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How Kazakhstan is making education more accessible

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A classroom in Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan has adopted a number of reforms to improve the quality of its education system

Formal schooling is not just a right and the foundation for every individual’s further training and career growth; it is also a key aspect of the social and economic development of every country. Its importance in the modern world cannot be overstated: a lack of access to formal education increases the risk of social problems such as poverty and unemployment.

Governments around the world are increasingly recognising the importance of quality primary education for the achievement of long-term sustainable development goals and the creation of just societies. Addressing education issues has become a strategic objective for many countries. State-led efforts alone are often not enough, however; the private sector’s involvement in finding solutions to these issues, on a pro bono basis, by sharing social responsibility, can be incredibly important. Kazakhstan can serve as an example of this approach.

Kazakhstan has adopted a number of reforms to improve the quality of its education system and is increasingly applying international standards and best practices. Significant efforts have been made in recent years to upgrade school infrastructure, but, despite these efforts, a number of problems remain unresolved.

A population explosion driven by a rising birth rate and rapid urbanisation led to two problems: a lack of secondary schools and a shortage of teaching staff. The government allocates significant funds every year for the construction and modernisation of schools. In addition, the authorities have started implementing the Comfortable Schools national project, which calls for the construction of 369 new schools; over the past three years, 626 schools have opened across the country.  

Nevertheless, the pace at which new schools are opening is not keeping up with demographic and migration processes, especially in large cities. According to official data, the country has 270,000 more pupils than places for them in its schools.

In recent years, Kazakhstani businesses have been getting involved, including on a pro bono basis, in resolving problems of educational infrastructure and improving the quality of education in the country. With state support for private businesses that invest in education, the number of private schools in the country has increased over the past two years, and 558 private schools in Kazakhstan are financed through government contracts.

It is important to note, however, that businesses in Kazakhstan are investing heavily not only through public–private partnerships but also on a philanthropic basis, where schools are being built using private capital and then handed over to the state free of charge. This type of public–private arrangement made it possible to build a school in the fast-growing city of Kosshy, on the outskirts of Astana, in a year, providing a solution to the city’s education problem, whereby schools were operating three shifts a day.

The local government sought the assistance of the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation to build a school for the city.

A fully equipped three-storey school in Kosshy for 1,500 pupils was built by the Foundation in a year and then handed over to the state at no cost. The school, which now has 3,000 pupils attending classes in two shifts, opened on September 1st this year. It is the first school in Kazakhstan to meet the standards outlined in the Comfortable Schools national project. In addition to physics, chemistry and biology laboratories, the school also features workshops, computer classes and specialised furniture like transformer desks that can be adjusted based on the size of each pupil. The school building itself has been adapted for children with special needs. The new school has enabled the city to fully resolve its problem of three-shift education.    

The Bulat Utemuratov Foundation has started building two more schools in the Almaty region, each of which will cost $17.5 million. They will also be turned over to the state at no cost. The value and importance of formal schooling, which is an investment in the country’s future, is a priority for the Foundation.

At the same time, when it comes to developing education in Kazakhstan, the private sector is doing more than just building schools; businesses are also covering the costs involved in incorporating new educational programmes, including from other countries.  

Examples of such initiatives include the Haileybury schools (British private schools) in the cities of Almaty and Astana, which are social responsibility projects run by Kazakh businesspeople and philanthropists. Both of these schools are non-profit organisations, and the funds contributed are reinvested in development and scholarship programmes for gifted children. Children are given an opportunity to study tuition-free in highly qualified international A Level and International Baccalaureate programmes. Many Haileybury graduates have gone on to study at prestigious universities abroad.  

Philanthropic programmes in Kazakhstan are providing support for training personnel and improving the quality of education for schoolchildren.

There are a number of other philanthropic programmes in the country that are providing support for training personnel and improving the quality of education for schoolchildren. Notably, the Jas Leader Akademiiasy programme, implemented by the Bulat Utemuratov Foundation, supports and develops leadership qualities among schoolchildren; it is the first initiative of its kind in Kazakhstan involving the widespread, systematic incorporation of leadership development classes for schoolchildren in grades 5–11. And greenhouses have been installed at 36 public schools as part of the Green School project. The project’s creators explain that lessons taking place in greenhouses supplement the school curriculum with practical classes and are a good opportunity for teachers to conduct interesting elective lessons.    

It is important to keep in mind that the state should play a leading role in improving the education system by investing heavily in the construction of new schools and the training of teachers. The private sector cannot replace the state in finding solutions to the problems facing socially important sectors such as education, but private investment provides essential support, as it helps resolve urgent problems such as the lack of educational institutions and overcrowding in schools, and the example of Kazakhstan is proof of this.

Olivia Miller is a journalist and blogger regularly collaborating with media outlets and writing about entrepreneurship, brand authority and corporate social responsibility (CSR).

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Project aiding homeless receives £1.4m research grant

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A homeless person on the street
The three-year project aims to better connect the care system and add creative health approaches such as arts and sports to it. | Photo: Jon Tyson

Researchers working to transform the infrastructure of support available for people experiencing homelessness have been awarded £1.4m from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The three-year project, led by Northumbria University, aims to better connect the care system and expand it to include creative health approaches such as art, crafts, sports, gardening or cooking to provide holistic support tailored to individuals.

At present, support services are not always integrated and often try to address in isolation the issues which can contribute to homelessness – such as abuse, trauma, addiction and mental or physical health challenges.

But in reality, these complex and varied health and social care needs can rarely be treated in isolation, explained Professor Monique Lhussier, one of the lead investigators of the research from Northumbria.

“When available, support for homeless people is often only for a short time, not coordinated with other services and fails to meet all of a person’s needs,” said Professor Lhussier, a social scientist with expertise in marginalisation, welfare and wellbeing.

Fellow lead investigator Dr Christina Cooper, from Northumbria’s Department of Social Work, Education and Community Wellbeing, said: “While most services see people who are homeless as having lots of needs, few also see them as people with strengths, talents, resilience, and aspirations. Despite evidence showing the positive impact of creative initiatives, these assets have not typically been considered a core part of support services.”

The project aims to grow the care system, so it includes creative health approaches, with the research informed and guided by people recruited as experts by experience.

“This is about working in direct and equal collaboration with people who have experienced homelessness so that all people can have access to the support they need, when they need it, and in the way they need it,” added Professor Lhussier.

“What we want all support services to be working collectively on is enabling that growth for each individual. To be thinking about people in terms of their future potential rather than as a list of problems that can’t be figured out.”

Driven by six key organisations – Tyne HousingGroundswellAlphabetti TheatreArt GeneChilli Studios and Helix Arts – a network of housing providers, arts organisations and healthcare services from across the North East and Cumbria will participate in the project. The research will also be supported by two regional community interest companies, Media Savvy and Roots and Wings design, making the project highly collaborative and grounded within the kinds of organisations it aims to engage.

The aim is to develop a model which supports the move from siloed working and crisis management to collaborative partnerships for early intervention and prevention. This will inform the development of an evidence-based regional policy for homelessness and a website featuring details of all support services available in one place.

Dr Cooper added: “Bringing together organisations from creative industries and the wider homelessness sector is important because it offers people who need it opportunities to be part of something which supports them to grow, and to reintegrate into society in a positive way. And to shed some of the very negative labels which are often placed on them through no fault of their own.”

Artistic and Executive Director at Alphabetti Theatre, Ali Pritchard, is a Northumbria University graduate and founded the theatre, which is now a registered charity, in 2012 with the belief that the arts should be accessible for all.

He said: “Alphabetti Theatre is now an established community hub in the city of Newcastle which is already engaging with diverse audiences. I’m delighted that we can offer further support to people who need it most by being one of the cultural collaborators on this project.

“We’ve never been afraid to do things differently, while championing the development of performing arts in the region, and recognise how lives can be enriched by opportunities to interact with the creative industries.”

Community Engagement Coordinator at Alphabetti Theatre, Audrey Cook, is taking the lead on the theatre’s contribution to the project. They said: “It is an exciting prospect that arts and culture is included as a necessary tool for improving wellbeing and eliminating stigma. Alphabetti Theatre is a dedicated warm space as well as a vibrant hub for local art and culture for absolutely anyone.

“The inclusion to prioritise exposure to art and creativity within this project alone, contributes to the necessary conversation that art shouldn’t be treated as a luxury. I am eager to see what creative outcomes come in the coming years of this project and I’m endlessly grateful to be apart of it. Not just myself, but all of us here at Alphabetti.”

The research, Making every community asset count: improving health and reducing inequalities for people experiencing homelessness, is part of the third phase of projects funded through the Mobilising Community Assets to Tackle Health Inequalities programme. The UKRI programme is led by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in collaboration with and the National Centre for Creative Health.

It builds on an earlier award of £250,000 which saw Northumbria academics working with Tyne Housing to create a virtual directory of 192 support services for those facing homelessness across the wider region. Both awards have been obtained in collaboration with Newcastle University, building on a longstanding, collaborative relationship between the two organisations.

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London Air Ambulance raises £1.2 million in charity gala

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Prince William giving a speech at the London Air Ambulance charity Gala
Funds raised will be used by the charity towards the replacement of two aging helicopters

A Black and White Gala event in London has raised over £1.2 million for the London Air Ambulance, surpassing all previous galas promoted by the charity. 

The event was attended by a number of VIP guests, including US actor Tom Cruise, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Grammy-award winning band Sister Sledge who performed during the evening. Generous supporters bid for the several money-can’t-buy prizes throughout the auction. 

“As a former pilot for East Anglia Air Ambulance, I know just how vital the work of air ambulance teams across the country is and the truly life-saving difference it can make to deliver urgent medical care wherever injury strikes. Here in London, the current aircraft have served magnificently. But our capital city needs a new fleet. And we are Up Against Time. The clue really is in the appeal’s name. By September, we need the two new red birds – decked with the latest kit such as night vision – in our skies,” said His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, William who attended the evening and met with some of the London Air Ambulance’s medical and operational crew.

VIP attendance: Tom Cruise and Prince William attended the London Air Ambulance charity this week

Funds raised will be used towards the replacement of two aging helicopters, for which the charity needs £15 million.

Also speaking at the gala was Milana Hadji-Touma, both a patient of the service and a member of the gala committee. She said: 

“I am best placed to say that this really can happen to anyone. I wouldn’t wish it to happen to anybody ever. But if it does, we need to make sure London’s Air Ambulance can be there to save their life too. Together, tonight, we can make sure that London’s Air Ambulance Charity is able to give another person that chance.” 

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Aid Pioneers awarded for innovative humanitarian efforts

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Aid Pioneers awarded for innovative humanitarian efforts
The event was presented by the Hamburg Initiative for Human Rights (HIM) | Photo: Volker Renner

Aid Pioneers, a young NGO committed to making a difference in low- and middle-income countries, has been awarded the prestigious 2024 HIM Award for their humanitarian efforts throughout the past year. Presented by the Hamburg Initiative for Human Rights (HIM), this award recognizes individuals, organizations, and initiatives that go above and beyond in upholding, protecting, and promoting human rights.

Founded by a group of passionate humanitarians, Aid Pioneers believes in harnessing the potential of local, on-the-ground visionaries already leading effective initiatives within their communities. With a strong understanding of their community’s unique needs, local leaders are well-equipped to launch projects with profound and lasting impacts. Yet, they often lack crucial resources for their work, like medical or solar equipment. Aid Pioneers serves as a bridge maker by connecting global corporations, volunteers and donors with local organizations to supercharge local changemakers’ impact without pushing them out of the driver’s seat.

Julian Adler, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Aid Pioneers, emphasizes the importance of collaboration and connections. “Aid Pioneers aims to create lasting impact by leveraging local structures in crisis areas, steering away from implementing external solutions devoid of a deep understanding of the local context,” says Adler. They have created a lean, efficient method for enacting change by channeling global resources to the most effective local initiatives. “Our objective is to enhance the effectiveness of the non-profit sector by opening it up to any corporation, donor or volunteer eager to contribute, emphasizing collaborative international efforts that resonate with our local partners, rather than imposing our own,” continues Adler. 

Aid Pioneer’s key strategy is investing in locally-led initiatives because local visionaries understand the unique needs of their communities, leading to a more profound and lasting impact. Their partnership with Tuyoor Al Amal, a local organization in northern Lebanon, is an excellent example of how these projects bear strong local buy-in and thrive even after global attention has shifted to new crises. In this case, the school faced significant energy expenses and unreliable electricity supply challenges. Aid Pioneers stepped in to help supply schools and hospitals with affordable solar systems, ensuring the community’s right to education and healthcare.

Aid Pioneers: non-profit organization is promoting sustainable development across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East | Photo: Volker Renner

Aid Pioneers’ collaborative approach has yielded remarkable results, with the value of goods and services provided to local visionaries increasing fivefold, surging from $1 million in 2022 to an impressive $5 million in 2023. These achievements include vital medical supplies shipments to conflict areas and the installation of solar power systems in partner organizations grappling with energy crises.

Prof. Dr. Susanna Hegewish-Becker, the founder of HIM, applauds Aid Pioneers’ innovative approach.

“Their way of working is courageous, intelligent, and unconventional and is therefore more effective than the often outdated methods used by established organizations,” says Dr. Hegewish-Becker.

As they move forward, Aid Pioneers remains dedicated to creating sustainable development across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, aiming to unlock healthcare, education, and gender equality for communities most in need. Their ongoing commitment to creating meaningful change through supporting local leaders and fostering collaboration is increasingly gaining recognition. Aid Pioneers serves as a shining example of the profound impact a team driven by passion, dedication, and persistence can achieve.

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