Consultancies by McIlwraith Education

In Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan

Much of our work in Central Asia and Afghanistan has been led by Claire and Alistair. Claire has been particularly involved in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan while Alistair has led a major research study into Higher Education in Afghanistan.

The continued expansion of NATO membership and the active role that NATO has played since the 1990s in crisis management operations, including peacekeeping missions, has resulted in English emerging as the lingua franca of the armed forces.  NATO-Uzbekistan relations began in 1992, when Uzbekistan joined the North Atlantic Co-operation Council. Relations further developed in 1994, when Uzbekistan signed up to the Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme and in 2002 when it joined the Planning and Review Process (PARP). In recognition of the importance of English to military, police and border security personnel the Peacekeeping English Project (PEP) was established in 1996 and managed by the British Council.  At its height the project operated in 28 countries and Claire joined it in Uzbekistan, (the same project also covered Tajikistan), in 2002 as a teacher trainer. In this role she provided training and support for the 40 English teachers who were based in military institutes across the two countries. Apart from the regular in-service training programme that she designed and delivered, she also established a materials development group, and set-up a self-access centre at the Military Academy in Tashkent.

After a break from the region in 2008 Claire returned, this time to Kazakhstan as the project manager on the military English project, which also covered Kyrgyzstan. The project was in its end stages at this time, so Claire was responsible for preparing for the handover of the management and running of the English language programmes to the respective Ministries of Defence and Armed Forces.

Claire’s involvement with military English projects in Kazakhstan continued once more in 2014.  Further funding had been given for a three year (2012-2015) Peacekeeping English Project that spanned Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Claire was invited to determine the extent to which the project objectives had been met and to review the English training needs of military institutes in Kazakhstan. This led to recommendations in five areas where PEP should focus its efforts namely; policy work, testing, teacher training, observations and resources.


A Presidential Decree was passed in 2007 that paved the way for Kazakhstan’s trilingual policy. The main policy goal is for the population to master three languages; Kazakh (the national language of state), Russian (for everyday communication), and English (for international communication, business and science). The medium-term aim is for 15 per cent of the population of nearly 17 million to achieve this by 2020.  This has resulted in the need for educational reform through the improvement of the teaching of the three languages. In the drive towards meeting the country’s trilingual policy goals, civil servants are expected to lead the way. In line with this in 2014 Claire carried out a scoping study to evaluate the English language requirements of Kazakh civil servants. Whilst in country she held meetings with a number of senior personnel in the Academy for Public Administration and Agency for Civil Service Affairs, ran focus groups with teachers and students, and conducted an online needs analysis with over 300 civil servants. The outcome was a report that detailed a number of recommendations on how to proceed in a systematic way to deliver an effective and efficient English language programme to support the trilingual requirement.

In addition to project management and research studies, Claire has been involved in a number of teacher and trainer training events in Kazakhstan. She was the Course Director on a Hornby School for 30 regional trainers on the Teaching Knowledge Test (TKT), which is an internationally recognised Cambridge English teacher training qualification. She also worked on a vocational teaching project in Western Kazakhstan, where she team taught with local teachers in a lyceum in Actau.

The most recent visit to Kazakhstan in 2015 saw both Claire and Alistair delivering training to English language specialists on the structure and content of the new English language curriculum, which will be introduced in the state schools from September 2016. A cascade training model was employed in which the language specialists will in turn be expected to deliver the training to the state school teachers. With this model in mind there was an additional focus on developing the English specialists training skills.

In 2013, Alistair visited Afghanistan, which was prompted by a 2012 decree issued by President Karzai to change the medium of instruction in Afghanistan from Dari and Pashtu to English. The advantages of English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) are manifest. English is the lingua franca of the academic, scientific, and business worlds. You need English to access information and research both formal and informal. The transition period for Kabul Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) was decreed to be three years and five years for provincial universities. However, the Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) decided to limit the scope of EMI to faculties of Agriculture, Engineering and Medicine and focus on the four public universities in Kabul: Kabul University (KU); Kabul Medical University (KMU); Kabul Polytechnic University (KPU); Kabul Education University (KEU)

It is, of course, impossible to introduce EMI without preparing the way by raising the language levels of future and current students to the appropriate level. Currently, English language is not seen as a priority for school students with regard to their ambitions for getting high marks in the national entrance exam for further education; the exam, the Kankor, focuses principally on other subjects such as maths and science, with only a very small percentage of items for English. In addition, ELT in state schools needs more resources, more hours of instruction, improved quality and status of teachers and an amended curriculum with clear objectives for each grade. On the basis of this, Alistair made recommendations regarding the transition to EMI up to 2025. This included the development and introduction of a Kankor English Supplementary Test for those school-leavers aspiring to attend the selected HEIs with the hope that the ‘washback’ effect of the introduction of the new Kankor supplementary test would also improve the quality of teaching and learning of English in schools.