Kazakhstan has 11-year free and compulsory school from the children are 7 years old. The primary school is 4 years old and the secondary school 7 years old (5 + 2). In 2000, 89% of children attended primary school. After primary school, students can continue in high school. Emphasis has been placed on developing higher education. In 2002/03, the country had 177 higher education institutions. A large proportion of youth with a Russian background choose to take their higher education in Russia. Illiteracy is estimated at approx. 1.5% (1999).
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In the first years of the 20th century, a small nationalist movement emerged in Kazakhstan, and after the Russian revolution in 1905, the Kazakhs were directly represented in the 1st and 2nd Duma. When the Czar regime in 1916 ordered all men between 19 and 43 mobilized, the Kazakhs revolted under the leadership of Abdulghaffar and Amangeldy Imanov. Rebellions were bloodied, but after the Russian Revolution in November 1917 in Petrograd, the nationalist-oriented Kazakhs demanded complete autonomy for their country.
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The struggle between the Red and White Army extended until 1920. In 1936, Kazakhstan was made one of the 15 republics of the Soviet Union, and in 1937 the local Communist Party was established. In the first decades of the century, Kazakhstan received significant flows of Ukrainian, Belarusian, German, Bulgarian Polish, Jewish and Tartar emigrants. Many of these had been deported under Josef Stalin’s regime.
In addition to developing industry, Soviet central power also focused on the development of the area’s agriculture. Previously, Kazakhstan had been considered an area that was not very fertile. But from 4.2 million hectares of cultivated land, the area increased to 35.3 million – 15% of the USSR’s total agricultural area – with an important production of wheat, tobacco, mustard and fruits, along with extensive expansion of cattle farming. This sharp expansion of the agricultural area in Kazakhstan was linked to the chairman of the Republic Communist Party, Leonid Brezhnev.
Until 1985, Kazakhstan’s “strong man” was Dinmujamed Kunáev, a member of the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party and President of the Communist Party of the Republic. When Kunáev was forced to resign in 1989, in the capital, Alma Ata, student riots were violently suppressed by the military. In the summer of that year, the lack of water in the oil city of Novy-Ouzen by the Caspian Sea caused the inhabitants to attack the city’s water supply company. The official version was blamed on rebel groups, but other sources confirmed that the events were more serious and had religious and nationalist overtones.
Following the changes Mikhail Gorbachov had initiated in the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan declared itself independent. During the same period, the social organizations Birlik and Zheltoksán and the anti-nuclear movement Semipalatinsk-Nevada emerged. The most important area for Soviet nuclear explosions (in Semipalatinsk) and the Baikonur space base lies precisely in Kazakhstan.
In September 1991, the government presented a seven-point plan adopted by Gorbachov and 10 of the republics for the purpose of making a new union treaty. On December 1, Nazarbayev was elected the first President of the Republic, and the Communist Party transformed into a Socialist Party. On December 21, 11 republics signed a protocol in Alma Ata that effectively disbanded the Soviet Union and formed the Association of Independent States (CIS) whose members were individually admitted to the UN. President Nazarbayev’s foreign policy emphasized both a close relationship with Russia and the region’s Muslim republics, and partly an opening to the West.
In 1992, Nazarbayev let Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin understand that he would no longer allow Kazakhstan’s nuclear missiles – which had been deployed while the Republic was part of the Soviet Union – to remain under Moscow’s exclusive control. In 1993, Alma Ata agreed to scrap the missiles against US financial aid.
In the same year, several new political parties such as the Socialist Party, the Congress People’s Party and the Government Party, the Union for National Unity were formed. At the same time, Nazarbayev agreed to initiate a rapid privatization process and to stimulate foreign investment.