As a multiethnic country, Kazakhstan contains representatives of more than 130 ethnicities, where Kazakhs represent around 63% of the whole population. However, with the dramatic changes in the linguistic landscape, the situation is taking a significant twist. As a newly formed country, Kazakhstan has implemented a trinity of languages program to promote Kazakh, English, and Russian languages equally. Even though people are getting the opportunity to learn three languages, there is always another side of the coin: one language can remain in the shadow of another due to an insufficient information database. Unfortunately, this tendency is vividly observed in the case of the Kazakh language.
According to statistics, during independence, the Kazakh-speaking population has increased from 37% in 1991 to 76.3% in 2015, reaching 82.3% at the end of 2016. Due to the acute scarcity of science content, the Kazakh-speaking population encounters tangible barriers in education. Our team was gravely concerned about this issue. We believe that every person deserves equal rights to education to explore the exciting world of science.
Therefore, our team aspired to maintain equity in promoting these languages and broadening their application in communication. In this regard, we have developed a unique, learner-centered program focusing on general and synthetic biology. Throughout our project, we reached out to 18 villages and more than 8000 students from all over Kazakhstan. Our activities were routed through multiple channels such as social media, local government institutions, charity foundations, and educational platforms.
1. Summer Camp
Understanding the effect of the pandemic on students, we realized the great necessity to create activities that will boost the interest of the young population in science. Hence, we have organized a nationwide Summer Camp to build robust career guidance and knowledge exchange platform. By conducting Summer Camp, we improved the accessibility to a comprehensive education for every child despite their background and social status. We invited the leading experts from industry and academia to share their diverse experiences and explain why education matters the most. Participants of the Summer Camp were provided with all necessary learning resources and had a great chance to access a learner-centered approach in the scientific field. More information about Summer Camp can be found in the Science Communication section.
Regarding the statistics, we received more than 500 applications from all over Kazakhstan, and 46% of them were Kazakh speaking, 44% -Russian speaking, 10% English speaking children. Moreover, more than 170 applications came from socially vulnerable groups. As we mostly prioritized the unique needs of vulnerable populations, most of them had the chance to take part in our Summer Camp.
2. Ed-resources Database
To promote accessibility in the learning environment and make educational amendments, we decided to broaden the "open education" concept and created the Summer Camp educational resources database. Everyone who did not have a chance to participate in Summer Camp can access the educational materials at any time and in three languages (Kazakh, Russian, English). They are provided on online platforms that operate free of charge - Stepik and YouTube, also our team will be publishing a PDF Self-training book based on Summer Camp materials.
DNA Extraction experiment results from our participants
We have provided our participants with a merchandise bundle
Guidebook about organizing a successful online summer camp for children
Upon the completion of Summer Camp, our team designed a unique guidebook to provide instructions for organizing a successful online summer camp for those who are also eager to conduct a similar event. We believe that by encouraging other iGEM teams to organize educational camps and helping them in their endeavors, we will have an excellent opportunity to share the knowledge and make education even more accessible within worldwide scope.
The global pandemic situation demonstrated that conducting the usual offline summer camp is demanding and bears certain risks. Hence our guidebook provides detailed information on how, despite the virtual format, to overcome challenges and organise an online scientific camp that will enable children to explore the scientific world around them.
To respond to the post-pandemic situations and revive students' team spirit in a new learning environment after the pandemic, we wanted to conduct a special competition designed for college students. As a result, we have organized the International Student Biohackathon "Code-On" to maintain interdisciplinary communication of students and generate high-value actionable business ideas and product concepts for natural sciences-related issues. We were thrilled to promote such activities incorporating biology with other scientific fields in our country, as it was the first bio hackathon conducted in Central Asia. Our BioHackathon succeeded at bringing together people with an interdisciplinary set of expertise to "hack" solutions for natural science-related issues. If to provide the statistics on the BioHackathon, more than 200 participants, 55 teams from 15 countries took part in the competition. Besides Kazakhstan, most participants were from various and diverse countries such as India, Russia, Nigeria, Kenya, Uzbekistan, Iran, and many more. During the competition, only 48 hours were given, tasks were divided into four categories, and students gained essential skills in solving existing operational problems and biological studies.
It should be noted that we devoted 2 task categories out of 4 to the promotion of accessibility and creating open-science tools for bioinformaticians. One of them is a task that involves research and design of appropriate web engines that would make web navigation more accessible for individuals with visual or hearing impairments, as well as neurodivergency. The second one required teams to develop a user-friendly and freely accessible tool that would easily analyze DNA sequences and "hide" certain restriction enzymes without altering the amino acid sequence. More about the output of these tasks is accessible on the Contribution page.
4. Educational Posters
Our project's most crucial education contribution was creating and distributing posters related to fascinating and unique topics of general biology and synthetic biology. The posters were about mitosis/meiosis, bioremediation, synthetic biology, CRISPR, genetic engineering and were written in 3 languages: Kazakh, Russian, and English. The topics chosen were not only aimed to provide the critical aspects of synthetic biology, but they also belong to the list of topics covered in the qualifying examinations Unified National Testing in Kazakhstan. We aimed to empower secondary and high school students to confront the challenges that persisted throughout exam preparation with these posters. To make the learning even more interactive, we also developed biological games.
Besides creating posters and distributing, we worked on the adaptation of posters for people with visual impairments:
1) By collaborating with the iGEM Crete 2021 team, we brought our own contribution to creating the Braille database in different languages for people with visual impairment.
2) To make the poster's content accessible to children with vision impairment, we have included the audio recording for each poster in 3 languages (KAZ, ENG, RUS). More information can be found on our inclusivity page
We reached out to 6 regions, 18 villages, and 20 schools within this project. It should be mentioned that Schools located in rural areas received the printed posters, foremost having the opportunity for expanding the learning process to more stimulated and game-based learning. Besides delivering posters to schools, we also granted them to the orphanage to positively impact the lives of children and support them by making education way more accessible to them.
(Each School and orphanage received posters in all three languages, including all game posters).
Number of posters delivered to different cities and villages in Kazakhstan
Number of posters delivered to 20 different schools in Kazakhstan
5. Comprehensive Educational Program
Since we have already created the database of Summer Camp educational resources and designed 8 posters including informative and game-based ones in all 3 languages (KAZ, RUS, ENG), it can be used as a comprehensive new educational program that enhances educational offerings to students in an online environment and lets us respond to changes that pandemic brought. By using these global online learning courses, lectures, and posters databases, we offer anyone, anywhere access to massive open online lectures of synthetic biology and science communication in three languages (Kazakh, Russian, English)
Also, to build two-way dialogue with new communities by discussing public values and the science behind synthetic biology, we have published our articles on bioremediation and synthetic biology in Kazakh and Russian languages on popular scientific magazines, journals, and scientific platforms such as:
"Alemnin Jarygy" (republican monthly popular science magazine for schoolchildren and teachers)
"Exponenta" (Kazakhstani popular science portal presented in the form of a magazine and a website)
"Caravan of Knowledge" (an educational platform that aims to develop STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) in Kazakhstan).
7. Poster Collaboration
1) translation of the iGEM CCU_Taiwan team’s parent-child picture book
2) translation of IntestiNO Rules and Card Descriptions
Additionally, we realized that it is vital to look at international experience for diversifying science communication. In this regard, we collaborated with numerous iGEM teams to make their expertise available for the local population. We translated the iGEM CCU_Taiwan team’s parent-child picture book called “The War on Germs” to Kazakh. In addition, we cooperated with many iGEM groups to promote synthetic biology among children and even designed a special informative podcast. We assisted in translating the Chinese version of the card pictures IntestiNO Rules and Card Descriptions in the Kazakh language to increase the number of interactive scientific games in the Kazakh language. By this collaboration, we made our posters project available to the audience and provided the availability and accessibility of international scientific content of other iGEM teams in the Kazakh language.
8. Raising Awareness
Apart from sharing knowledge, we strived to raise awareness and motivate the young population. In this regard, we visited one of the state schools in Nur-Sultan city. We conducted an "iGEM: Opportunities in biology" workshop, explaining all crucial aspects of the project development and advancements in synthetic biology. By explaining our project, we tried to demonstrate how science can help in addressing pertinent worldwide issues. Receiving positive feedback and seeing the passion in children's eyes provided much food for thought for our team. After the workshop, we were inspired to share our experience with more students.
Hence, to raise awareness further and share the iGEM experience among students, we translated the Wikipedia page about the iGEM Competition to Kazakh and Russian languages. Since Wikipedia is a widely used, most popular, and freely available website, we decided this is one of the most optimal ways to increase awareness.
Realising the power of social media in communicating information, we organised the online event with the Leadership.kz platform for schoolchildren, students, and young professionals. Its audience reaches around 9000 on the Youtube channel. Since Leadership.kz is quite popular in uniting passionate people interested in developing education and society, our team intended to bring a wide range of opportunities. Our team members provided valuable and informative speeches about iGEM and our current project. Meanwhile, iGEM Alumni studying in various international universities shared their rich experiences and valuable insights. All participants obtained detailed answers to their questions from both other speakers and us, learning more about opportunities in synthetic biology. As speakers of this event, we were able to drive Kazakhstan's further development in synthetic biology and spread knowledge about iGEM.
Ranking.kz. (2017, April 25). About 20% of the population in the Republic of Kazakhstan speaks Kazakh, Russian and English. https://ranking.kz/ru/a/reviews/poryadka-20-naseleniya-v-rk-vladeyut-kazahskim-russkim-i-anglijskim-yazykami
iGEM_NU_Kazakhstan. (2021). Code-On. MAIN PAGE. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from http://code-on.info/
Ethnic Groups. (2018). Embassy of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://kazakhembus.com/about-kazakhstan/culture/ethnic-groups