Education and Spirituality in Kazakhstan: "Self-cognition" Metadiscipline Features and Methods of Teaching


In the 21st century, harmonious combination of intellectual and moral development of an individual is important. How this can be integrated into the educational process? A new subject of Self-Cognition has been introduced into Kazakhstani secondary schools. Purpose of the Study: Generalization of teaching experience in the new school subject of Self-Cognition and establishing didactic bases for Self-Cognition teaching strategies being the realization of the new century pedagogics. Research Methods: Observation and generalization of innovative teachers’ experience in Self-Cognition, comparison of combined lesson structures with the lesson of Self-Cognition, systematization and analysis of new learning strategies, student interviews to conclude whether they have developed an understanding of the new bases of pedagogical science, structure of Self-Cognition subject planning, differences when compared to other school disciplines. The content of the subject is based on the Program of spiritual and moral education of Self-Cognition, focusing on holistic approach to the perception of a human and identification of universal values within him/her – Truth, Love, Righteous Conduct, Inner Peace and Non-violence. The main principles of secular teachings on spirituality - Self-Cognition, are humanistic orientation, human values, social interaction, national heritage, and nature-conformity. Significant differences in the strategies of teaching "Self-knowledge" and other school lessons are revealed. The strategies of value-based education, the personal-sense development, storytelling, etc are emphasized. The methodical recommendations for the improvement of education on the subject "Self-knowledge" are suggested that include the active use of cognitive approach and social constructivism, and the extension of art technologies usage.

Keywords: Universal valueshumanistic pedagogypersonal spirituality


New ideas of the 21st century pedagogy and humane pedagogy are being gradually introduced into

mass Kazakhstani school, along with methodology and teaching methods being updated. The

introduction of Self-Cognition subject became an important new milestone in updating secondary education content in Kazakhstan. The subject is unique, since it differs from other subject both in

content and style of conduct. It has been first widely introduced into the national education system in

academic year 2010/2011. Moreover, higher educational institutions started to prepare the future

teachers of Self-Cognition, and for all ‘Education’ group disciplines there was added a mandatory

subject of Self-Cognition.

The initiator of Self-Cognition course introduction was the First Lady of Kazakhstan

S.A. Nazarbayeva. For 25 years of Kazakhstan's independence, currently the second concept of

teaching the subject at school has been realized. In the first stage, the content of Self-Cognition subject

was more focused on ethical and moral standards without emphasizing spirituality. In the second stage

of program development the integrity of the concepts of spirituality and morality have been restored

(Anarbek, 2016). The very history of the subject teaching can be divided into three periods. The first

period covered an experiment conducted in the regions of Kazakhstan with a focus on implementation

of spiritual and moral education program. In the second period, Self-Cognition course became a part of

secondary school curricula as a compulsory subject and respective state standard, textbooks and

teaching materials were developed. In the third period – currently, content and structure analysis of

subject teaching is in place and in line with the new concepts (Arinova, 2016). The purpose of the

subject is child's development and harmonious development of his/her intellectual and moral


Purpose of Research - generalization of teaching experience in the new school subject of Self-

Cognition and establishing didactic bases for Self-Cognition teaching strategies being the realization of

the new century pedagogics.

Research Methods: Observation and generalization of innovative teachers’ experience in Self-

Cognition, comparison of combined lesson structures with the lesson of Self-Cognition,

systematization and analysis of new learning strategies, student interviews to conclude whether they

have developed an understanding of the new bases of pedagogical science, structure of Self-Cognition

subject planning, differences when compared to other school disciplines.

Main concepts of Self-Cognition subject

The main principle of humanization of education is to return to the origins of a holistic perception

of an individual. At the present stage of development of Philosophy, Psychology and Pedagogy,

perceptional unity of a person as a trinity of body-soul-spirit is being restored. Same works for the

Program of moral and spiritual education - Self-Cognition, ‘spirit’ and ‘spirituality’ are considered as

objective reality, those not deriving from human activity, it being single, inner essence of the whole

universe and of the man. In the context of the universe, the Spiritual Reality is manifested as life,

movement, development, and sequence. In human consciousness, the Spiritual Reality is manifested as

universal values, higher ideals: conscience, love, truth. The uniqueness of human existence lies in the

fact that only a human being employing his higher reason is able to become aware of his spiritual

nature and inner relationship to the whole universe (Mukazhanova & Omarova, 2014).

Five levels can be classified in the structure of personality: physical, emotional, mental, distinction

level (mind), and spiritual level. In the hierarchical structure of a human personality, mind must control senses, and the higher reason (distinction level) must guide the mind. The rational mind is nourished by

the intuitive mind, emotions - by the rational mind, and body – by emotions. The intuitive mind, in

turn, is nourished by spiritual level. The genius Albert Einstein said about mind and its role in a very

precise manner: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have

created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift” (Mukazhanova & Omarova, 2014,

Mukazhanova, 2015).

The principle of universal value identification , according to which Self-Cognition subject content

shall be based on the eternal universal values, understood as a manifestation of the higher spiritual

nature of a human being. It should be emphasized that moral and spiritual education, carried out within

the Self-Cognition subject teaching is not religious but secular education, treating physical, mental,

spiritual and moral nature of a man in the unity thereof. Absolute universal values that are inherent in a

man since birth are Truth, Love, Righteous Behavior (Duty), Inner Peace (Peace), Non-violence.

Truth is what remains unchanged, the fundamental principle of life: spirituality pervading the whole

of creation, the coessence inherent in the entire creation. There is only one absolute Truth, which is the

source of all the others. When one finds it, his/her actions are co-tuned with it. It is not subject to

changes in time - past, present and future

Righteous Behavior is behavior in line with duty and obligations, when acts are according to the

inner voice of conscience.

Love - pure, unselfish and unconditional love, being the energy creating and powering the life. Love

is understood as positive energy of a human , which can be shared with others. For example, a mother

embracing a child gives him the energy of love.

Inner Peace - perfect peace of mind, the underlying nature of a man.

Non-violence – causing no harm to anyone, neither by thought, nor by word or action.

Teaching methods - design of Self-Cognition lessons at school

It is indeed a creative process when a teacher gets prepared for Self-Cognition lessons, the process

of understanding the spiritual values backed up by professional and life experience. It is a constant

creative search for a lesson plan, its storyline. Lesson themes are aimed at uncovering the values. For

example, Dream and Reality, Joy of Life, Love and Human Destiny, etc.

Positive thinking is shaped by using the elements of relaxation techniques such as Light, Imaginary

Walk in the Forest, Imaginary Undersea Adventure and others (Mukazhanova, 2013). Most teachers

perform this practice to a relaxing meditation music. It lasts for 3-4 minutes. In the course of positive

thinking students, so to speak, harmonize the relationships with their Self, concentrate attention,

“expand their consciousness”, imagine themselves being a part of the universe, being the light, relax,

shape the mindset of positive development, and positive perception of the world. It is consistent with

the value of Peace. Here, a teacher must have relevant psychological background, must learn how to

use, so to say, the coaching Wizard’s tone (Atkinson & Chois, 2015). Since music and context are

positive, this practice actually strengthens the students’ health, reduces stress, and helps to develop

intuition. Positive thinking practice, apart from pursuing current academic challenges, will help the

students in learning how to self-control, control their attitude, mood, overcome stresses in the future.

After that, students share their positive impressions related to the positive thinking practice.

According to the subject of a lesson, the teacher selects a positive quotation – great people sayings.

Students pronounce and discuss it. They may agree or disagree with it, adjust it for themselves, argue

their opinion, offer another great person’s quote, including alternative one, or extend the idea by adding

another great statement. The students grow to comprehend meanings; it is communication of ideas, and

even of generations. Since students are very spontaneous and represent a new generation, sometimes

they tend to “overthrow the authorities”, therefore it is important that one is able to support innovative

approaches, to argue his/her point of view. The teacher listens carefully, bearing in mind stimulating

questions, and should be able to moderate the discussion, summarize, and, where appropriate, to correct

the answers, and improvise.

UNESCO recommended storytelling as a modern teaching strategy for the 21st century (UNESCO,

2010). A teacher either tells or shows a video about stories related to the idea of the lesson or value. A

discussion of meanings should continue according to the storyline - what the main idea of the story is,

how students understand it, lessons learnt, matters of understanding and reflection, amazing ideas, and

things that the story urges to do. A story, a parable or a short novel, selected by the teacher, should

unfold the theme of the lesson and be aimed at identifying universal values. Very often when selecting

the stories teachers are following ethnopedagogical ideas, wisdom, traditional education, stories about

historical figures of Kazakhstan.

Then students perform a creative assignment, often being divided into teams. Problematic, creative

methods, such as brainstorming, role-playing games, staging, art technologies, cognitive technologies,

etc, are applied. The performance of this assignment provides for the concept of social constructivism,

teaches the strategies for teamwork, and ideally, brings to the level of metacognitive strategies for

shaping collective decisions, to the selection of interpersonal communication methods and is focused

on the development of intuitive thinking. Competent arrangement and interesting assignment awaken

the Heart, creating not only “the synthesis of intelligence, passion and action” (Slastenin & etc., 2002)

in the team, but also the development of intuition and inspiration. Then teams of students or pupils

make presentations on their decisions.

At the final stage, on a high note, students sing a song linked to the subject or universal values by

meaning. This method is consistent with bringing the students onto the level of Mind, powering their

positive thinking. At the same time, a union of students is observed. Teacher can choose a song in any

language - Kazakh, English, or Russian. Songs can be old well-known or modern ones. Students are

allowed to stand when performing creative assignments and songs. They can even dance when singing

a song. The whole environment, the classroom vibe, its designation and development change. We have

often wondered what potential lies down there in a song. It is worthwhile noting that in churches the

performance of songs by a choir fulfills a spiritual union function. How about holidays, when everyone

is in the mood for singing? It has spiritual, relaxing, and emotional effect.

To conclude, a home assignment is given followed by a moment of peacefulness.

Let’s compare structures of combined traditional school lesson and that of Self-Cognition (See


Figure 1: Table 1. Comparison of combined lesson and Self-Cognition lesson structures
Table 1. Comparison of combined lesson and Self-Cognition lesson structures
See Full Size >

Analysis of Self-Cognition teaching experience indicates the priority of value-semantic content of

education, focus on modern pedagogical and psychological theories and technologies. In this particular

case, it is important to have faith in man, in his/her humanistic potential and positive essence. A variety

of approaches is applied: activity, environment-based, existential, multicultural, dialogical, and others.

B. Brdička systematized leading ideas for didactical upgrade from “behaviorism → cognitivism →

constructivism → to connectionism” (Brdička, 2012). G. Siemens (Siemens, 2006) put the idea of

connectionism forward. When designing lessons there lies great potential of teaching not only social

construction of their relationships and space by students, but also the potential of applying connectivity

approach. For example, formulation of assignments according to “Blended Learning” technology,

search for interesting stories and videos by students themselves in the Internet, etc. At the same time,

there are high risks in teaching the subject, such as “dependence” on teacher’s personality, subjectivity

of pedagogical activity, his/her knowledge, competences, creativity. This vision requires improving the

system of professional competence development.

Assessment of Self-Cognition teaching experience during school practice by university students - future teachers

Undergraduates majoring in Social Pedagogy and Self-Cognition passed teaching practice at school

during one semester, actively giving Self-Cognition lessons under the supervision of experienced

schoolteachers. As a feedback, a student survey was conducted at the end of the practice in the form of

a questionnaire. Assessment of Self-Cognition by undergraduates turned out to be quite interesting.

What are the peculiarities in teaching Self-Cognition? Students outline, firstly, social and motivational

attitude of students, and secondly - new methods of teaching, as well as requirements to teachers.

Student A.S. listed the following features: “A) it is just Self-Cognition lessons that develop students'

motivation to self-cognition, understanding the purpose of life and their calling; B) Self-Cognition

lessons due to such methods as creative activity, group singing, conversation (telling parables, stories)

develop the ability of team work and networking; C) they develop such qualities as self-confidence,

responsibility for their thoughts, words and deeds, nurture selfless love and kindness to others,

sensitivity, compassion, concern, understanding of the unity of creation.”

E.D. “A) a teacher should possess high moral qualities; B) and he/she should be strongly motivated

to train and educate children; C) teacher’s creativity really matters”.

D.S. “ A) Lack of student assessment. Accordingly, students get more opportunities to open up,

without worrying about being assessed; B) exchange of practical experience with students; C) the need

to know particular features of each student’s personality; D) respectful attitude to all the words and

thoughts of students, ability to tactfully adjust whatever is deviant or destructive”.

One of the students responded as follows when asked about the need to teach such a subject at

school: “Self-Cognition is a special subject, having priceless spiritual value that makes every student

spiritual and moral, happy and joyful, kind and wise when such value is shared. At Self-Cognition

lessons the development of moral and spiritual qualities in children is provided given their individual

characteristics” (B.M.).

The questionnaire covered students’ proposals to improve the teaching of the subject. The proposals

mainly related to the forms and methods of teaching. They can be summarized as follows: (A.S.) “In my opinion, it is necessary to prepare several options of lesson structure. Since there are different

topics, content of lessons, likewise, shall be special for each specific need. Sometimes one needs to tell

more stories, but sometimes - more creative assignments (not only in groups) ...” D.S.: “It should be

recommended to hold some Self-Cognition lessons at the schoolyard, in parks, in an informal setting”.


Introduction of Self-Cognition subject corresponds to the pedagogy of the 21st century, and allows

providing for the development of intelligence and spirituality concepts. This is important under forward

looking education focusing on the progress of science, the creation of new breakthrough technologies,

and space exploration. Lesson designing applies modern storytelling strategy, value-based education,

coaching, and relaxation. Actual use of psychological relaxation techniques, reference and orientation

to Jung's theory, humanistic psychology of A. Maslow and K. Rogers, neuro-linguistic programming

theory, M. Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory and others.

It is recommended to include few cognitive concepts (perhaps just foundations of social, emotional

intellect) into senior grades curriculum, to take advantage of the cognitive approach and social

constructivism, expand the use of art technologies, to teach resilience and coping behavior. Thus, it is

possible to expand the content and expected results from learning the lesson by real-life behavioral



Teachers certified by Bobek National Scientific, Practical, and Wellness Center are allowed to teach

Self-Cognition. Of course, to conduct a lesson, apart from Self-Cognition program a teacher should

possess good axiological culture, a rich inner world, constantly pursue inner spiritual work; be able to

attract different students to dialogue, to argue. The educator must be a role model of a person living in

the unity of thought, word and deed. It is important for the teacher to master the art of combing lesson

blocks by theme as a storyline based on the principle of identifying the universal values, and to be able

to make transitions with a focus on the subject and value. In fact, it is more like a role of writer and

director rather than teacher.


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Cite this article as:

Mynbayeva, A., Anarbek, N., & Yesseyeva, M. (2016). Education and Spirituality in Kazakhstan: "Self-cognition" Metadiscipline Features and Methods of Teaching. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), Cognitive - Social, and Behavioural Sciences - icCSBs 2016, May, vol 8. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 154-161). Future Academy.