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From Mexico to Kazakhstan: One teacher’s pursuit of a PhD in Education

Marcelo J. Lopez on the far right, has a world of experience in business and teaching, now he pursues his PhD in Education in Kazakhstan. Source: Marcelo Jorge Lopez

Marcelo J. Lopez is no newbie to the world of higher education with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, a Master’s in Marketing and Innovation and now pursuing a PhD in Education at Nazarbayev University (NU) in Kazakhstan. At the age of 46, he’s the director of Ganuc — a service offering cross-cultural and language training programmes.

As a teacher with many years of experience, he’s aware of the current challenges rural schools there face. To understand these challenges better, he decided to conduct his PhD research on the topic of teaching in ungraded schools.   

“Some lecturers have been incredibly supportive by recommending research paths and literature for myself as well as by discussing specific topics, but also about education in general,” Lopez Lara says, reminiscing on his fond memories of teachers at NU. Below we dive into why he chose to pursue a PhD in Education and settle down in Kazakhstan:

Why did you choose to pursue your PhD in Education in Kazakhstan?

I decided to pursue this programme at NU because it is delivered in English. This university also has the support of other universities. In addition, it provides access to local expertise and material, something which was of great importance to me learning about education in Kazakhstan

Do you think it would have made a difference if you pursued a PhD in Education in Mexico? If so, why?

Yes, the problem I wanted answers to was about Kazakhstan in particular. It would have definitely made a huge difference. In Mexico, I would not have had access to the literature relevant to address the problem, or even the local expertise and knowledge. 

What has been your most memorable class so far — and why?

I would have to say, so far, that has been Philosophy in Education because this class allowed me to reflect on the purpose of education in different countries and throughout different periods in history. 

Lopez already has a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and a Master’s in Marketing and Innovation, and is now currently getting his PhD in Education. Source: Marcelo Jorge Lopez

What are the practical learning elements in your course? Do you get to apply the theories you gained in lecture halls and classrooms to the real world — if yes, how so?

I find writing to be a real-world challenge, so the practical learning elements in the course that I have been able to apply beyond the classroom is the actual writing of my dissertation.

What are your academic goals in this course and what skills have you gained thus far? 

My academic goal is to properly understand the research problem around challenges faced by rural schools in Kazakhstan at a deeper level and hopefully be able to make some recommendations to overcome part of it. As for the skills, I have vastly improved my reading and writing skills in Kazakh significantly. 

Do you plan to progress into further study on your course? What do you plan to do with this degree after graduating?

I have no plans to go further in my studies related to my PhD in Education, and also have no specific plans related to my degree after graduating. For me, achieving the degree was not the goal, it was to understand a specific problem. From participating in this course, I do find myself to have a deeper understanding of it. 

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