“With poor command of the language, kids experience difficulties expressing themselves”

A school teacher about her experience teaching children literacy using the Akelius platform

Margarita Bocharova
Учитель ведет занятие по русскому языку
28 June 2022

One of the capital’s largest schools – school-lyceum #53 named after Bauyrzhan Momyshuly – is located in “South-East” district of the city. The school is noteworthy not only because it functions in a densely populated area of Nur-Sultan, but also for participating in the pilot program, supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This program is aimed at improving the literacy of children in migration processes and children in need of special courses to make up for missed classes. Twice a week, Gulnara Rakhimgazina, a teacher of the Russian language and literature, conducts lessons for her students from China, Azerbaijan, and Uzbekistan utilizing the Akelius platform.

Учитель проводит занятие с учениками.
Teacher Gulnara Rakhimgazina during the Akelius lesson with her students. Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

“I’ve probably been writing [in essays] since the third grade that I would become a teacher. I love children, I want to teach them,” says the 35-year-old teacher. Today Gulnara Myrzagalievna teaches Russian in Kazakh-speaking classes and says that the updated program allocates less hours to the grammar studies.

“But we still focus on making sure that children become literate, broaden their knowledge of the world, and so we encourage them to read more,” the teacher said.

Gulnara Myrzagalievna has the same approach with children, whom she teaches literacy using a specially designed course with the Akelius platform. She has 15 children in her group. Two children from Karaganda study online, the others have been coming to her offline classes on Thursdays and Saturdays for the past year.

“I have children of different ages and levels. There are six boys and nine girls,” says Gulnara Myrzagaliyevna about her unusual group, admitting that she is happy to work with the children on such a “well-composed” course.

Gulnara Rakhimgazina has been selected to participate in the project for a good reason. First, she has worked with school children migrating to the capital from the southern regions of Kazakhstan for over ten years. Secondly, she has experience in teaching Russian for adult immigrants from other countries. “A lot of families moved to the Ayagoz District of East Kazakhstan, and we had to support them, our oralmans from China. They would come [to school] in the evening, I would teach them. Back then I had to start with the alphabet,” recalls the teacher.

Ученик на занятии по программе Akelius
Teymur Ibrakhimov, a student of Akelius program at the lyceum school #53 named after Baurzhan Momyshuly. Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

She thinks about that year with gratitude and is confident that it helped her avoid many mistakes in her current work with children. Gulnara Myrzagaliyevna emphasizes the importance of the individual approach and gives us details about her students: some came to her with zero knowledge of the language, others knew only the alphabet.

“A kid in the senior grade knew nothing but the letters. He could copy a text, but he didn’t know the language. He had no idea what the words meant, what the text was about,” Gulnara describes her 15-year-old student from China.

After months of hard work, the first results were achieved: “I already have them reading, for example, some middle school textbooks. Yes, they already speak fluently. They can speak plain Russian: they can talk to one another, ask for something,” Gulnara says. Gulnara Myrzagalievna is especially pleased to receive feedback from her colleagues.

“For example, Karlygash Bakhytovna says that Shokhsanam has improved her Russian. She can do the assessment of her progress herself. She already understands what she is reading,” Gulnara lists her students from Uzbekistan.

Школьники на занятии по программе Akelius
Shokhsanam Yerzhanova and Bakhtiar Yerzhanov - students of Akelius program at the lyceum school #53 named after Baurzhan Momyshuly. Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Such progress was made possible, in part, by carefully planned out lessons. Her lessons usually begin with articulation and pronunciation exercises, then they review the materials from previous lessons, get to a new topic and consolidate the new material. The final part of a lesson usually contains a dialogue with the teacher and the classmates followed by a test. “We often play with children during breaks, but these are educational games so that kids can remember something, have some new words to learn, to comprehend,” says Gulnara, immediately citing riddle poems about the bath, the bear, and the moon.

A tablet with the Akelius platform installed is a very efficient tool. “On the platform, everything is calculated, split into levels. Each child, when they pass from one level to another, earns points,” Gulnara Myrzagaliyevna explains the principle of the Akelius educational platform. She avoids direct assessment of the students’ progress.

“I treat everyone equally. I try to praise them all at some point. We cultivate freedom in the classroom, but at the same time I see to it that they speak and spell correctly”, notes Gulnara.

Учитель проводит занятие с учениками.
Teacher Gulnara Rakhimgazina during the Akelius lesson with her students. Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

The friendliness and the absence of barriers between children and the teacher creates an easy-going atmosphere: “They immediately say what they don’t understand. We translate the example into Kazakh and try to demonstrate the meaning,” shares Gulnara Myrzagalievna. She also helps her students outside of class. “Madina brings all her textbooks, notebooks, all that she could not do on her own, for example, in the first-grade program, I explain it to her personally,” this is how Gulnara works with a student from Azerbaijan. The ninth-graders from China, for example, received additional training before the exams.

Parents also come to Gulnara Myrzagalievna to say thank you. The mother of one ninth-grader confessed that previously she had difficulties communicating with people of different nationalities, but now her daughter helps her to adapt, often acting as an interpreter. But the primary focus of the program is, of course, the children. “There’s a great emphasis on making kids feel comfortable, so that they can integrate themselves into the society. Gulnara Myrzagalievna admits that the initiative of improving children’s literacy seemed attractive to her from the start.

Gulnara, as well as her colleagues in the project, is offered methodological and organizational support not only from the school, but also from other stakeholders. For example, experts from the International University of Information Technologies provide methodological support in lesson planning, blended learning and assessment. The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights helps to identify students who need to be in such a program. The Education Modernization Center of the Akimat of the Nur-Sultan city also helps the program providing methodological and coordination support.

Ученик занимается по программе Akelius на планшете.
The student is passing the test of Akelius program. Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Gulnara is especially careful to ensure that the children do not have to deal with excessive workload. “You can’t demand too much either, because it’s impossible to learn all the grammar that people study at school for five or six years,” she notes. Even if children mix up generic endings and are not well versed in phraseology, they should not be psychologically hindered by it,” says Gulnara Myrzagalievna. Digital literacy and heightened motivation come as a bonus of such a program.

“When they don’t speak the language, they can’t talk about themselves, they can’t express their feelings, they can’t say what they want, they can’t share their opinion. And that’s what we are here to teach them,” she concludes.