Library of Congress – Federal Research Division
Country Profile: Kazakhstan, December 2006
Ethnic Groups: According to the 1999 census, 53.4 percent of inhabitants were Kazakh, 30 percent Russian, 3.7 percent Ukrainian, 2.5 percent Uzbek, 2.4 percent German, and 1.4 percent Uyghur. In 1991 the Kazakh and Russian populations were approximately equal. Between 1989 and 1999, 1.5 million Russians and 500,000 Germans (more than half the German population) left Kazakhstan, causing concern over the loss of technical expertise provided by those groups. These movements have continued in the early 2000s. The Kazakh population is predominantly rural and concentrated in the southern provinces, while the German and Russian populations are mainly urban and concentrated in the northern provinces.
Languages: Kazakh and Russian are official languages for commercial purposes. Kazakh, spoken by 64.4 percent of the population, is the official “state” language, and Russian, spoken by 95 percent of the population, is designated as the “language of interethnic communication.” In 2006 President Nazarbayev proposed that Kazakhstan switch from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet.
Religion: Some 47 percent of Kazakhs are Muslim, primarily Sunni Muslims; 44 percent are Russian Orthodox, and 2 percent are Protestant. Because the Muslims of Kazakhstan developed their religion in isolation from the rest of the Islamic world, there are significant differences from conventional Sunni and Shia practices. For example, the teachings of the Quran are much less central to the Kazakh version of Islam than in other parts of the Muslim world.
Education and Literacy: Education is mandatory between ages seven and 15. Primary school is a four-year period, followed by five years of mandatory secondary school. Two years of specialized secondary school are optional. Beginning in the early 1990s, the primary language of instruction shifted from Russian to Kazakh, although in 2005 many institutions still were instructing in Russian. The public education system has declined since the Soviet era, in part because of insufficient funding and in part because the emigration of Russian and German scientific experts has depleted the teaching corps in the technical fields. From 1999 through 2005, government spending on education declined as a percentage of gross domestic product; it accounted for 3.5 percent of the budget in 2005. Between 2001 and 2005, enrollment in the primary grades decreased. Programs to restructure the Soviet-era education system have not been completed. Between 1996 and 2004, the number of private education institutions nearly quadrupled; private schools increasingly are preferred by those who can afford them because of deterioration in the public system. In 2005 some 181 institutions of higher learning were in operation, attended by 747,100 students. Enrollment in higher education increased rapidly in the early 2000s; some 440,700 students were enrolled in 2001. According to the 1999 census, Kazakhstan’s literacy rate was 97.5 percent.
Health: In principle, health care is free. However, bribes often are necessary to obtain needed care. The quality of health care, which remained entirely under state control in 2006, has declined in the post-Soviet era because of insufficient funding and the loss of technical experts through emigration. Between 1989 and 2001, the ratio of doctors per 10,000 inhabitants fell by 15 percent, to 34.6, and the ratio of hospital beds per 10,000 inhabitants fell by 46 percent, to 74. By 2005 those indicators had recovered somewhat, to 55 and 77, respectively. Since 1991, health care has consistently lacked adequate government funding; in 2005 only 2.5 percent of gross domestic product went for that purpose. A government health reform program aims to increase