‘We Need a System for Monitoring and Supporting Everyone’s Talent’
Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of the Higher School of Economics, explained to Ogoniok magazine the ‘concept of a national system to detect and develop young talent’, a concept he helped originate.
— Is it possible to say that talented children are a specific group?
—Yes, undoubtedly. It is believed that about 5% of children have unique abilities, although they do not always reveal themselves. And up to another 20% percent have clear abilities, but less than half realize them.
— Many psychologists believe that all children are talented, and oppose labeling the gifted.
—Colleagues who say that every person is gifted are right. I’ll be the first to agree with that. And if we talk about the disagreements seriously, there are three main approaches that can be taken towards the nature and mechanisms of developing talent. These approaches are not professional but mainly social. The first approach is that everyone is equal; no one need create any preferences toward anyone, otherwise the children of those who are rich or have an affiliation will benefit.
The second approach is to separate the talented children as a specific group and create a special educational trajectory for them. This view is especially popular among elite schools, as well as traditionally in the arts and sports.
But, a third position also exists which says that a system is needed that will monitor and support everyone’s talent, starting from childhood and continuing to about 25 years of age, the period during which a person’s character and intelligence are forming. Isak Frumin and Vladimir Shadrikov, researchers from the HSE Institute for Educational Studies, support this position, and it also lies at the foundation of the ‘concept of a national system to detect and develop young talent’. This is the most sensible position, but also the most expensive one. Obviously, it is cheaper to support several schools than to create a working system to support talented children.
— Is the concept to support talented children reflected in the Law on Education?
—Unfortunately, we couldn’t provide for a system of support for talented children in the Law on Education. It’s been suggested to us that this be done as part of some subordinate regulatory acts. A governmental council headed by Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets has been formed, and the Ministry of Education and Science has launched a working group which is developing regulations for secondary school student competitions. And, it is already clear that some changes aimed at improving the organization of the competitions have met with obstacles in the Law on Education. For example, the Law doesn’t provide for the provision of benefits to winners of student competitions for admission to graduate school. The HSE also suggested amending the law to include more detailed specifications regarding education funding, particularly for gymnasiums and lyceums.
We need to look at the experience of other countries that have already faced unequal access to elite educational institutions and have learned how to limit it. For example, a quarter or a third of the places are allocated for representatives of ethnic minorities or low-income families. Let’s do this in Russia as well because–after the market–education is the second largest system of social interaction.
— Generally, what position should specialized schools occupy in the education system?
—Undoubtedly, we should preserve and develop the best schools. We need to increase financial support for them to allow them to attract the best teachers, but this should come together with the total transparency of these schools. Their graduates are our prospective students, and it is odd to suspect the HSE of wanting to destroy them.
Moreover, we believe that today the country’s leading universities should take advantage of the opportunity offered by the new version of the Law on Education: to open schools for the 10th to 11th grades or the 8th to the 11th grades as part of the structure of their institutions.
— Won’t these schools become pre-university courses in college?
—It would be a mistake in such a school to purposely focus eighth- and ninth-grade students on a specific university, not to mention a specific faculty. Even highly motivated students don’t always understand what profession they want to choose for their future. A lyceum is primarily distinguished by the attitude toward the students, the maximum personalization of the curriculum. And the educational standard is compulsory for everyone, and that’s why the knowledge received at a lyceum will also be sufficient for enrolment in other universities.
By harnessing the potential of universities, we’ll be able to expand the field of advanced education roughly three-fold, and to create classes in philosophy, sociology, medicine, engineering, and design—areas which are totally absent in the today’s schools. This would also be relatively free for public, since universities themselves are interested in motivated students.
The second area of activity is working with talented children outside specialized schools. The system of school competitions needs to be expanded, since they give incentives to go beyond the school curriculum.
—What prevents talented children from becoming really gifted and successful?
—A standard school that is organized routinely and doesn’t encourage talent. A child being ‘processed’ by such a school has a negative attitude to education in general. This problem can be dealt with. And one of the main tasks is increasing material support for teachers. This will make it possible to attract strong, ambitious people to schools, and will let male teachers come back to schools. A child should have the opportunity to find teachers in school who want to nurture his/her talent.
I attach great importance to students in the upper-level grades having the ability to choose the concentration that most interests them. This motivates students to make choices within school, which is important because the modern world is based on choice!Interview by Galina Dudina