Workforce - 'I was arrested and deported under armed guard'

28th June 2013 at 01:00
Kazakhstan experience was 'horrendous', teachers say

For an educator seeking an exciting new challenge, it sounded great: become a teacher trainer in Kazakhstan and play a key role in reforming the central Asian country's school system.

The perks were generous: a tax-free salary equating to $100 (#163;64) per hour, with accommodation, living costs and flights all paid for. Not surprisingly, scores of candidates from countries including the UK, Sweden, New Zealand and Malaysia applied.

But for many of the 70 or so who were signed up, the adventure quickly turned into a disaster. Several of the recruits have contacted TES saying that they found themselves working for months longer than expected, did not receive valid contracts and were put up in "cramped, freezing rooms in crummy hotels" without running water.

In one case, a teacher was arrested and deported after receiving incorrect official paperwork.

The jobs were supposed to be four-month placements, organised through Capita Education Resourcing, a UK-based firm contracted by the Kazakh government.

The department of the Kazakh Ministry of Education that was in charge of the project - the catchily titled Republican Institute for Development of Leading and Research-Pedagogical Staff of Education System of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RIPKSO) - and Capita have come in for stinging criticism.

The British teachers involved who spoke to TES did not want to be named, for fear of being viewed as troublemakers.

"I had the very frightening experience of being arrested, put in a cell and then deported under armed guard 10 minutes after arrival in Almaty because the organisers had not completed the correct paperwork for my visa," one of the participants said.

"That was an experience and a half, and is (symptomatic of) the lack of management or control from the organisers, and lack of support from the recruiters. We were totally misinformed and misled.

"Myriad stories could be told about cramped, freezing rooms in crummy hotels, working in institutions where the toilets beggared belief."

But in spite of this, the participant agreed to a second stint in Kazakhstan with RIPKSO, having been assured that things would be different this time. However, this time his contract was cancelled two days before he was due to fly out.

"Why were we willing to go back? Because the teachers we were training were lovely, lovely people and they really needed us there," he said.

Another British teacher who worked on the project said that he had been "seduced by the promises of lucrative, long-term contracts".

After arriving in Almaty in November 2012, two months after his placement had initially been due to start, he was told that he would actually be working in Petropavlovsk, almost 1,000 miles north.

He said that his contract had not been signed by any officials and did not include start or end dates, and that the promised week-long induction never took place.

The final cohort of teachers working on the project returned home from Kazakhstan last month.

A third employee told TES that several of the recruits were only paid shortly before they left their training institutes.

"The day before we left, we were literally queuing up in the corridor to receive bags full of tenge (the local currency)," she said. "Once we were out there, Capita washed their hands of us.

"It was a horrendous experience: the hotel was freezing cold, filthy and horrible. It's such a shame, as the teachers out there were desperate to learn."

A spokeswoman for Capita said that the firm "follows robust policies and procedures to safeguard the welfare of those individuals it recruits".

"Capita Education Resourcing was contracted by RIPKSO solely to recruit teacher trainers for the Kazakhstan school reform project," she added. "It was not contracted to manage logistics, including flights, accommodation and visas, nor the design and delivery of the project overall."

"Throughout the recruitment process, Capita sought to keep recruits informed of any changes it became aware of and reported concerns raised by recruits to the client for it to investigate."

Capita is not currently under contract with RIPKSO, which was unavailable for comment.

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