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By Peter Cunningham

Teachers’ life histories make a significant contribution to educational development in a Central Asian centre of key economic growth.  Nazarbayev University Graduate School of Education has recently published a project from within their Professional Development Programme.
Stepping Stones: Recording the Voice of the Past, is the product of 65 teachers from across Kazakhstan collecting oral testimonies as an integral component of their action research. The resulting data is published at 

The teachers’ accounts in Kazakh or in Russian languages are archived as edited video extracts conveniently subtitled in English, and edited transcriptions are available for download in the language of interview and in English.  The benefits of video for the oral historian are evident.  We see and hear the interviewees, their facial expressions, body language and gestures. Their transcribed memories are then also accessible for detailed analysis.

Teachers’ accounts provide immensely rich stories of learning and growing into their professional role.  Their own educational experiences in family, community and school evolve into reasons for career choice, patterns of initial training and career development.  Personal ideals, political and ideological contexts, economic conditions and geographical contexts all come into play in understanding the evolution of teachers’ identities.

Hugely encouraging is the view of this project’s integration into the overall programme of educational development in the republic.  Alongside the ‘drivers’ of ‘internationalization’ and ‘modernisation’, space is made for ‘preserving cultural values, contextual ambience, historical mores and grassroots perspectives’, as the project explains in its goals.  Cultural and historical content are seen as making a significant contribution to educational development, and authentic oral history research is identified as a key methodology.
The wide range of perspectives opened up by the project is reflected in captions chosen to title these oral accounts: ‘From a dream to reality’; ‘For the love of children’; ‘For the love of teaching’; ‘The language of my ancestors’; ‘Passion for music’; ‘”Think from your heart”’; ‘Teachers that inspired us’; ‘Through thorns to stars’; ‘A brilliant life of hands-on innovation and research’; ‘Looking back, moving forward’; ‘The best of the Soviet education system’; ‘Democracy and authoritarianism in the school’.