Education is universal and mandatory through to the secondary level and the literacy rate is 99.5%. Education consists of three main educational phases: primary education (forms 1–4), basic general education (forms 5–9) and senior level education (forms 10–11 or 12) divided into continued general education and professional education. (Primary education is preceded by one year of pre-school education.) These three levels of education can be followed in one institution or in different ones (e.g. primary school, then secondary school). Recently, several secondary schools, specialized schools, magnet schools, gymnasiums, lyceums, linguistic and technical gymnasiums, have been founded. Secondary professional education is offered in special professional or technical schools, lyceums or colleges and vocational schools.
At present, there are universities, academies, and institutes, conservatories, higher schools and higher colleges. There are three main levels: basic higher education that provides the fundamentals of the chosen field of study and leads to the award of the Bachelor's degree; specialized higher education after which students are awarded the Specialist's Diploma; and scientific-pedagogical higher education which leads to the Master's Degree. Postgraduate education leads to the Kandidat nauk (Candidate of Sciences) and the Doctor of Sciences or Ph.D. With the adoption of the Laws on Education and on Higher Education, a private sector has been established and several private institutions have been licensed.
The Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan runs a highly successful Bolashak scholarship, which is annually awarded to approximately three thousand applicants. The scholarship funds their education in institutions abroad, including the prestigious University College London, Oxford and Ivy League universities. The terms of the program include mandatory return to Kazakhstan for at least five years of employment.
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