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Language of Generations Project Wins 2016 KIvO Award

On September 12, the winner of the 2016 Innovation in Education (KIvO) award was announced at the EdCrunch International Conference on New Educational Technologies. Taking home the prize this year was The Language of Generations, a social project that pairs up senior citizens from Russia with foreign students who are learning Russian.

The project’s team consists of three individuals, two of whom are currently getting their master’s at HSE – Svetlana Pavshintseva is in the Public Administration programme, while Andrei Lisitsa is in the Computer Systems and Networks programme and also responsible for the project’s tech side. The third member of the team, Kirill Golubev, just graduated from the Information Technology and Intellectual Property Law programme. This summer, The Language of Generations, also known as LinguaLink of Generations, won a grant for more than 300,000 rubles from the Vladimir Potanin Foundation.

The purpose of the project is to help Russian pensioners develop an active social life and to show younger people the value that the older generation’s experience and knowledge can offer. This can be done using foreign student’s interest in Russian language, history, and culture. Through the project, students are given online language practice with native speakers, while older Russians are able to communicate more.

The project made it through to the semi-finals of the KIvO competition, and according to the project’s creators, they were able to rethink a few things during the KIvO summer school. The project was initially envisioned as a social project, but through the help of KIvO experts, it was decided that the project’s educational component would be emphasised, and the team began looking at its commercial prospects. It would be free for students and seniors to communicate with one another, but distance-learning foreign language courses can also be organized if the senior citizen is a professional teacher, and in this case the course would cost money. ‘We are talking about social entrepreneurship,’ Svetlana Pavshintseva comments. ‘If students are going to pay for a class, this money should go towards the project’s future development, which includes its non-commercial components as well.’

The main prize that the winning team of the KIvO competition gets from the HSE Institute of Education is a grant to intern in any country around the world. The 2014 winner was Diana Kolesnikova for her project My Story, and Diana has already completed her internship in California. Airat Bagautdinov won in 2015 for his project Moscow Through the Eyes of an Engineer, and he has not yet used his grant. This year’s winners are planning to travel to São Paulo to learn more about the CNA Speaking Exchange, which is a project that allows schoolchildren to communicate online with American senior citizens at nursing homes in Chicago.

The Language of Generations project is now undergoing testing (the creators’ parents have even tried it out), and the full project is expected to launch in October of this year. The project will see the participation of students from different countries and senior citizens from various regions around Russia. This mostly includes Moscow and the Republic of Bashkortostan, the latter because of a partnership with the republic’s regional senior citizen resource centre called My Years, My Wealth, the head of which is HSE Associate Professor Gulnara Minnigaleeva.

It is no surprise that the jury selected the Language of Generations project, notes Alexander Sidorkin, who is the director of the Institute of Education’s Department of Educational Programmes. He adds that the project is unique in that it helps solve a very serious social problem, loneliness among the elderly, using contemporary technologies. There are not always enough foreign language tutors who are prepared to work with students one on one, and it is an excellent idea to use urban pensioners here as a resource, especially since many of them are very well educated and capable of teaching. Professor Sidorkin believes that the Language of Generations project might be able to partner with another project from the KIvO final – the Bilim project (bilimis the Kyrgyz word for ‘knowledge’), which is a series of programmes that help immigrant children learn Russian and adapt to their new environment. This project also received recognition at the KIvO competition and won the people’s choice award.

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