Weather-related school closures are common in Kazakhstan, where winter temperatures often drop below -30°C (-22°F). Well before pandemic restrictions came into place, the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools, a prestigious K-12 school network for gifted children, had to find a way to teach students remotely. Now students and teachers from 20 facilities across the country are using Microsoft 365 for Education. All lessons, conversations, content, and apps are accessible through Microsoft Teams, delivering a continued educational experience to 15,000 students, even in sub-zero conditions.
The Kazakhstani Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) has long cooperated with Microsoft to build a safe learning environment resilient to disruptions. “We first started to use Microsoft digital tools to reduce paper consumption,” starts Daniyar Ualiyev, Principal of the Nazarbayev Intellectual School of Chemistry and Biology in Petropavlovsk, which was one of the first NIS facility to implement Microsoft 365.
An internal Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert then provided peer coaching and assistance help staff make the most of the platform. “Efficient information-sharing and continuity are key to provide the best learning experience for each student. So, when a new teacher joins a school, it is crucial to make the transition fast and seamless,” shares Ualiyev. Through easy and instant access to documents using tools like OneNote and SharePoint, the school facilitated the teacher onboarding process, improved collaboration, and streamlined back-office tasks. “We especially love OneNote, as its intuitive design makes it very easy to browse through and find the right information,” he says.
Learning amidst unforeseen circumstances
“Microsoft Teams has become our main platform for distance learning across our 20 schools”, confirms Kulyash Shamshidinova, Chairperson of the Executive Board of NIS. More than 3,000 staff and nearly 15,000 students are now active Microsoft Teams users. “We wanted to organize remote classes for harsh winter days, during which school facilities would be closed due to weather conditions,” says Ualiyev. This also enabled NIS to provide students with access to educational resources and assignments outside of the classroom, and proved vital during the global pandemic. “With the platform’s security features, especially around user access management, we also can ensure that no outsiders join online classes,” adds Ualiyev.
NIS students use Microsoft Teams to communicate with teachers, participate in classes, and collaborate with their peers with ease, all in one place. “If you didn’t understand something during the lesson, you can re-watch a video to clarify it or find information very easily,” says Kylyshbay, an 11th-grade student from the NIS school in Kyzylorda. “Teachers provide feedback through private chats and ad-hoc meetings. We can also share specific learning materials and easily schedule appointments,” echoes another student, Zarina.
Recognized as a successful educational institution that keeps exploring new technologies to improve the learning process through modern technologies, NIS was awarded the Microsoft Showcase School status. “We are currently considering introducing Minecraft Education Edition in our lower grades and Flipgrid —a video-based social learning platform—in higher grades,” Ualiyev says. “The possibilities are endless.”