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Kazakhstan’s first school endowment fund to foster physics and mathematics education in the country

Berik Kaniyev, Chairman of the Board of directors of the Non-commercial Joint Stock Company “Republican Physics and Mathematics School”(RPMS), talks about why first-of-its-kind school endowment fund was created in Kazakhstan and how the RPMS brand will go international.

-RPMS’ Board of Trustees has been long and actively supporting the school. Why did you decide to create the Endowment Fund?
– The RPMS’s Board of Trustees was established by the alumni members in 2009 and has indeed been actively supporting the school’s various programs and initiatives. At some point, however, we came to an idea that it is better to raise and multiply funds so that only investment income can be used for the school programs. We took this model from the world’s best educational institutions such as Phillips Academy or Harvard University, for example, whose endowment funds are supported by alumni and are the largest in the world. Likewise, only investment income is used for the institution’s needs while the graduates can see that their contributions are not spent, but rather saved and are working. In our case, the fund’s investment income will help support the Olympiad movement, increase grants for talented students, improve the school’s infrastructure and most importantly, support the best teachers.

– The Endowment fund was registered earlier this year – what are the results so far?
– The decision to launch the fund was made during the Board of Trustees meeting in December 2016, the fund itself was registered in April 2017. I would like to thank those alumni members who have tremendously supported the initiative – within just a few months the fund collected about 600 million tenge.

– The annual investment income must be sufficient to help implement your plans and ideas. Surely the fund has a target value to strive for?
– Yes, we have a strategic plan for the development of the fund and there is a certain benchmark we aim for, that is about $10 million over 5 years. To date, the fund brings an investment income of 137 thousand tenge daily and we’ve already started investing this money in the school. The first of our projects to be completed thanks to the endowment fund is the opening of a newly refurbished and re-equipped math class. We want to demonstrate the effectiveness of the fund through these specific, visible improvements. And in September we’ll start promoting the academic part of the school by introducing new sections on robotics, and supporting the best teachers so they have more time for personal development.

– Who makes decisions about the use of the investment income of the fund?
– At the moment the decisions are made by the management of the fund, but in the short run we plan to set up an investment committee, who will directly decide where the income will go. What I can definitely say is that the fund is a non-profit organization and all investment income is entirely designated for the needs of the school, teachers and students.

– The endowment is essentially a self-running wheel – the more people contribute, the greater the investment income, subsequently the more potential projects and ideas for the parents, teachers and students to implement at school?
– True, and the most important thing here is transparency in the use of funds and reporting. The fund in our case will exist as long as the school does. With over 40 years of history the RPMS, as we see it, will continue to exist for many generations to come. To date, the school is a non-commercial joint-stock company with state participation. However, state educational programs cannot always compete with the private ones. Thanks to the fund we will be able to raise the bar for the state school. This is exactly the tool to help state schools compete with the best private educational institutions.

– Is it possible to extend the success of the RPMS brand throughout Kazakhstan and outside the country?
– Last year we opened the second RPMS school in Astana and we want to keep the two schools in Astana and Almaty as a brand. But we can also act as a patron of a few other schools in the region, whose best students will have an opportunity to continue their studies in Almaty and Astana. It’s something we are discussing at the moment.
Specifically, we joined the international consortium of STEM schools this year. As part of this international training program, we want to create our own specialized program to introduce it in several specialized schools in Kazakhstan. Essentially, these regional schools can learn from the international program. This way, the RPMS experience can extend to different math-oriented schools in the long term. This is a great platform for us to find talented students who can study at the RPMS. The regional schools, on the other hand, will have an opportunity to obtain high quality education similar to that of our schools in Almaty and Astana. This will help level out the quality of education in the regions.
We have also signed memoranda with several international universities so that their teachers and students can teach applied skills to the RPMS students. Earlier this year, for instance, the MIT representatives launched the robotics and programming courses in our school. This summer they came back to organize a summer school. We want the RPMS to become a world-class school and its students to easily enter the world’s leading universities.

– Today, technologies are changing the entire learning process. What is the essence of educational institutions when everything goes online? Trying to preserve the heritage without a technological upgrade is meaningless.
– The education model of the pre-technological revolution era is, of course, becoming obsolete. We understand that schools need more applied subjects. Our goal is to teach children to work with all innovative and technological tools so they know how to use them when they enter adulthood. Mathematics and other subjects should contribute by building strong logical thinking skills among children.

– How do you work with alumni and student parents? How to build relationships with the parents, if they are not particularly eager to delve into the problems of the school?
– The tools are simple. We have a Parent Committee, Board of Trustees, and we have good relations between us. Besides, we have active social media channels and open platforms, like a website, to exchange views. On top of that, we conduct anonymous online surveys to measure the satisfaction level of the parents. Last year it was very high – over 80%. We are also developing an alumni platform, where every graduate – and there are over 10,000 of them – can find their classmates and connect with them. We will tell more about our ideas, plans and new strategic directions of the school during an upcoming event to mark the 45th anniversary of the school. The event will bring together the school’s graduates of many generations from different countries and different spheres of work. All friends, alumni and parents are invited to attend the event, which will take place on 14 October at Halyk Arena in Almaty.

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