Climbing higher and higher: How children learn literacy skills using the Akelius platform

A seventh-grader shares her experience with a literacy program for children in migration processes

UNICEF Kazakhstan
Botagoz Bauyrzhankyzy, an Akelius student, at home
23 May 2022

Botagoz Baurzhankyzy, a 12-year-old girl, attends secondary school No. 186 in Akzhar village, Almaty region. It is one of nine pilot schools in Kazakhstan that offers language classes utilizing the Akelius-based literacy course created with the support of UNICEF.

Botagoz and her family moved to Almaty in 2017. Botagoz herself was born in Nur-Sultan and grew up in Kyzylorda. Botagoz’s health condition required elective surgeries, and the girl and her mother had to travel to clinics in other cities. Her parents made the decision to settle in Almaty permanently before her final eighth surgery. They were able to find housing near the Aksai Republican Children’s Clinical Hospital to make it easier for the doctors to monitor the girl’s health. According to Botagoz’s mother, the relocation has simplified their access to quality services of a speech therapist, orthodontist and other specialists.

“Botagoz’s health is our priority, the first and foremost reason for moving to Almaty,” shares Gaukhar Jumanbaeva, Botagoz's mother.

The education of their children is another priority. But at the same time, children who need support in filling the gaps in their education often have difficulty accessing school and other extracurricular activities, or don’t have this opportunity at all. They need special classes to get them off to a good start so they can successfully communicate with their peers and integrate into the community and education system.

“People used to make fun of me because I could hardly speak due to my illness,” Botagoz recalls.

Botagoz Bauyrzhankyzy, an Akelius student
Botagoz Bauyrzhankyzy, an Akelius student, on her way to school Almaty, Kazakhstan.

According to Botagoz and her mother, it was very difficult at first after she moved to Almaty, especially with settling in and starting off in a new school. But thanks to her persistence, Botagoz got up to speed within a year and is now doing well with her workload.

As the eldest daughter in a family of eight, she tries to study well, attend extra classes, help her parents at home, and read books in her free time. Her favorite work is The Path of Abay by Mukhtar Auezov, and her favorite school subjects are Kazakh language and literature.

However, Gaukhar always wanted her daughter to be able to speak several languages fluently: her native Kazakh and also Russian, and for this she required additional lessons. That’s how Botagoz met Assel Abubakirova, a school teacher of the Russian language and literature who is trained to use the Akelius platform. The group was formed by the beginning of the current school year, Botagoz together with five other children began their course in September.

“There are many levels in the program, each level has new tasks that get more complicated, but thanks to the exiting teaching process, they are easy to master. If I didn’t get or memorize something from what I’ve heard and read, Assel Sabitovna explains it to us in detail later in class,” said Botagoz.

Instructor Assel Abubakirova helps Botagoz with a follow up on the lesson on the Akelius platform
Instructor Assel Abubakirova helps Botagoz with the lesson of the Akelius platform at 186 Kopbayev Secondary School in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

To make the learning experience comfortable, the lessons should be conducted in a fun, playful way. This motivates students a lot. In addition, there are peculiarities and features of the program that teachers need to learn themselves before they work with students.

In order for school teachers to acquire the technical skills, experts consult them on an ongoing basis on the use of the Akelius platform and the equipment purchased under the project for the pilot schools. In addition, there are seminars on the ethical principles of communicating with children in migration processes and children who have come from conflict zones, as well as on blended learning using various proven methods, effective progress evaluation, and other relevant teaching topics.

The program accounts for theoretical knowledge and practical skills. In an opening lesson, students learn a new topic, the next time they explain and tell the teacher what they have learned and understood from the previous lesson. Each lesson is divided into everyday-life topics, where they practice listening, pronunciation, reading, writing and composing simple sentences. The Akelius online classes are held every day before school starts, for one academic hour.

“I click on program icon and see a picture of mountains, where each new level is at a higher point. That means I climb higher and higher in my level of language. We make sure to take the tablet with us to school because we use it to learn new lessons and follow up on what we’ve learned before,” Botagoz explains.

Botagoz takes a quiz in the Akelius app on a tablet
Botagoz takes a quiz with the Akelius app at Kopbayev Secondary School No. 186 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The project also aims to develop computer skills in teenagers. In addition to stable Internet, students and teachers will be able to use tablets, headphones, and charging stations to learn foreign languages and improve their digital skills. The conditions for the above are constantly improving in the schools.

Botagoz’s mobile connection at home is slow, and she can’t always get online. The school is equipped with a broad-bandwidth Wi-Fi, so learning happens there without interruptions. Moreover, even if the connection is interrupted, the apps have an offline mode and can still be used to make progress.

Learning modern technologies will help in the further development of the skills and abilities of the younger generation who find themselves in difficult circumstances. According to Botagoz, information technology and knowledge of how to use it bring a lot of benefits to everyone.

“I really like the curriculum and tablet classes because it’s very exciting! We learn, but it feels like we’re just playing. Even my younger brother and sister watch me with great interest when I’m studying,” shares Botagoz.

Botagoz’s classmate Zhansaule Kalkaeva attends an Akelius lesson at Kopbayev Secondary School
Botagoz’s classmate Zhansaule Kalkaeva during Akelius lesson at Kopbayev Secondary School No. 186 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Knowing more than one language generally helps with social adaptation, professional, economic, and communication opportunities, as well as breaking down psychological barriers. Botagoz studies along with five other students in the Akelius group: three boys and two girls. They support each other in overcoming studying difficulties. Botagoz’s mother, Gaukhar, has already noticed some changes in her daughter’s life.

“Since Botagoz started in the program she’s become more outgoing and diligent. She probably just needed some encouragement and clear instructions. If she feels support, she tries even harder,” noted Gaukhar.

Botagoz believes that the program has helped her learn new skills and will open many opportunities in the future. Thanks to the additional training, the tailored approach, and the right motivation, the learning process and communication with teachers and classmates have become much easier for the girl.

Botagoz helps her classmate at 186 Kopbayev Secondary School in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Botagoz helps her classmate at 186 Kopbayev Secondary School in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

“I believe that if you take easily what life brings your way, then everything will be easy and simple. It’s all about your attitude to the world,” says Botagoz.