Members of the press, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to start by warmly thanking the Government of Kazakhstan for inviting me and for giving their full support to my visit. I was pleased by the spirit of openness and cooperation shown during the last eight days.
I would also like to thank the UN Country Team and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for their support in the organization of my visit.
During my stay, I met with various Government authorities, including the Minister of Education and Science, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, the Ombudsman of the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Secretary of the Human Rights Commission, the Vice Chair of the Assembly of People of Kazakhstan and the Deputy Mayor of Almaty. I also met with many representatives of United Nations agencies and numerous civil society organizations working in Kazakhstan. I finally had the privilege to visit universities in Astana and Almaty and a number of schools in these cities and in rural areas of the Almaty Oblast, and met their directors, teachers and students.
I take this opportunity to warmly thank all those who have given their time and shared their experiences.
Today, I will limit myself to some preliminary remarks on some of the issues that, along with others, will be explored in more detail in the report I will present to the Human Rights Council in June 2012.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Over the last two decades, Kazakhstan went through historical political and economic developments. The coming celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan offer a good opportunity for the State to reaffirm its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, including the universal right to education.
The Government of Kazakhstan has already made clear commitments to protect and promote the right to education while ratifying treaties such as the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These commitments are also reflected by the Kazakh constitution which ensures everyone’s right to education free of cost. Expanding framework of education laws further reinforces this right and equal treatment in education.
In line with these commitments, Kazakhstan achieved Millennium Development Goals 2 on universal primary education and 3 on gender parity ahead of time. Kazakhstan is also making advances in higher education through initiatives such as the Bolashak Programme and the integration of university system into Bologna process. The long term education development strategy (2010-20) is another promising step.
Despite all these great developments, there is still much more room for improvement. And I was very happy to witness that the Government is open to recognize its deficiencies and ready to respond to them. In this sense, ensuring an inclusive education system paying particular attention to those marginalized is a central concern, as expressed, for example, by the MDG+ agenda.
Disparities between urban and rural schools in Kazakhstan must be treated with attention as society quickly changes. Dedicated efforts are needed to ensure that the same quality of education is available in cities and rural areas. The deployment of qualified teachers and transportation require additional support in remote areas. At the same time, as cities continue to grow, urban schools must have their capacity enhanced to avoid overcrowding.
If there is one important reason for the success of Kazakhstan in the almost universal enrolment of children in both primary and secondary levels, it is the provision of education free of charge in this country. It is thus crucial to permanently monitor practices at local level, to ensure that no costs are imposed on parents with low income. The existing investments in social assistance support schemes to promote the inclusion of those living in poverty into the education system are also important steps to ensure education is truly universalized.
In this respect, the situation of persons with disabilities is still an important concern. Available information indicates that a significant number of children with disabilities are still not enrolled in educational programmes. Among those who have access to education, a portion is schooled within their homes or special boarding schools excluded from mainstream education. Even if I was impressed by the work of the school for children with hearing disorders that I visited, I must say that, whenever their physical conditions permit, the integration of these children in the mainstream education system is crucial not only to ensure their right to education but also to promote their full integration in society. I take this opportunity to call upon the Government to ratify the United Nations Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.
I am also concerned by the situation of migrants and refugees who due to the lack of appropriate registration are reported to face obstacles in their school enrolment. Human rights treaties are clear: nationality or residence status should not be a barrier for access to education. In this regard, I also call upon the Government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
One of the strengths of Kazakhstan is its unique cultural diversity and education in multiple languages is essential to preserve and promote such a precious asset. In this regard, I call the Government to continue and enhance its support to minority language schools and to the Sunday school programmes ensuring adequate quality standards in all these initiatives.
Developing and implementing national norms for quality in education is crucial to ensure education across the country meets uniform standards of quality. National learning assessment standards, for example, are an essential tool to measure progress.
Providing good working conditions for teachers and guaranteeing that they are qualified are central elements in this respect. Only attractive career prospects can make teachers more dedicated.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
All the efforts I listed here certainly require enhanced financial support. Happily, thanks to its growing economy Kazakhstan can and must increase Government expenditure on education. Not only the education budget needs to further increase, but resource allocation must be reviewed to ensure support to underfunded areas such as the pre-school sector, where the capacity of the public system is clearly inadequate to respond to the needs of a growing population. Enhanced support is also necessary for vocational and technical education in response to needs of the industry and economy.
Investing in education at all levels is not only an obligation established by national and international legal instruments but also a crucial step in the consolidation of democracy and economic development in Kazakhstan. If economic growth quickly changed the landscape of some Kazakh cities with its impressive modern buildings and industries, only the consolidation of an inclusive education system, paying special attention to marginalized groups and to the preservation of cultural, will truly transform the lives of people, ensuring no one is left behind. Education should indeed remain high on development agenda.