By Aisha Yerkebulan
When the coronavirus pandemic redefined the notion of homeschooling, Daryndy Bala, a chain of kindergartens originating in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, was ready to face the challenge. Just before the announcement of a national lockdown, it had finished developing online courses thanks to an advisory project with the EBRD and financed by the Government of Kazakhstan.
With the introduction of terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’, homeschooling has turned from a personal choice into a necessity all across the world. While parents took on the role of at-home teachers, schools and other learning facilities had to find creative new ways of making distance learning work.
“It all started more than a year ago,” says founder of Daryndy Bala, Ainagul Khamitova. “We did not have enough teachers for all our branches and we could not find anyone new. We decided to record the lessons and broadcast them in case teachers could not attend classes in person.”
As time went on, she adds, it became more difficult to generate profit. As a private company, Daryndy Bala still had to keep the same prices as state-funded kindergartens. Otherwise, it would have been unable to receive any support from the government which, according to Mrs Khamitova, is “crucial to survive on the market”.
“Most importantly, our mission was to bring modern integrated education to every home. We knew that it would have taken us a very long time to fulfil this offline, so we decided to go digital,” Mrs Khamitova recalls.
A mother of seven herself, she knows all about trying to provide quality education for one’s children. In fact, it was the reason she started her business back in 2016. After struggling to find a kindergarten with an up-to-date curriculum for her youngest children, she founded her own. Daryndy Bala, which means “a talented child”, focuses on developing leadership and critical thinking skills.
Newly created online courses – “My Child is a Leader” and “Talent Management” being examples – have the same concept, but they are adapted for parents to follow them at home. Both courses are available in Kazakh and Russian. The curriculum for the latter was developed by a trained psychologist. Mrs Khamitova had previously worked in 2018 with the EBRD advisory team on developing a corporate identity and automating management accounting and business processes. Together with a technical consultant, they helped to digitalise the courses and create a separate website for them.
“We thought we were working on a completely new product. Then the coronavirus struck and our kindergartens had to close. Although we had a different launch date in mind and wanted to perfect our courses, we decided to pursue online learning because all the components were there. We mainly wanted to offer them to our own students, but in the first three days after the announcement we had over 1,500 requests from all over the country!” shares Mrs Khamitova. Going online not only helped Daryndy Bala survive the lockdown months, but also proved that digital education can be effective. The company finally found a way to attract and keep good teachers. Because of the greater capacity online, it could afford to increase their salaries.
Recently kindergartens in Kazakhstan were allowed to reopen. However, this didn’t lower the demand for Mrs Khamitova’s digital courses: “This product is popular among children who will soon be going to elementary school. Moreover, there are children who are not able to attend any learning facilities for various reasons – for example, disabilities. We wanted to make quality education possible for them, too.”