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University Rectors and Government Officials Answer Children's Questions

Why go to school when there is the internet? Is it not time to throw out traditional textbooks? Can teachers become YouTube stars? At the latest EdCrunch conference, elementary school children posed these questions to experts from the field of education. Among those ‘called to the board’ was HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov. The HSE News Service recorded the most interesting questions and answers below.

Questions were asked by:

Alexander Kravchenko


Second-grader. Participated in the projects ‘Best of the Best’ (Luchshe vseh) and ‘Gold of the Nation’ (Zoloto Natsii), and also the winner of Olympiads in mathematics and robotics. Enjoys chemistry and currently carrying out research on the topic ‘Can elementary school children study chemistry?’

Fyodor Paramonov


Third-grader. Member of the Bolshoi Theatre Children’s Choir and the official voice of the O! educational channel. Won several international vocal competitions.
Anastasia Ososova


Fifth-grader. Member of the Bolshoi Theatre Children’s Choir and the winner of several Russian and international vocal competitions.

Aside from Yaroslav Kuzminov, questions were also answered by:

Marina Borovskaya, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Education and Science

Irina Potekhina, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Education

Alevtina Chernikova, Rector at the MISiS National University of Science and Technology

Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera

Why go to school when there is the internet?

Yaroslav Kuzminov: The internet is full of ready-made knowledge and ready-made answers, and a large majority of them are wrong. The right answer is found in a dispute with the help of evidence, and for this you need a group of people, a school class. There has to be a community of people and not each individual by themselves with some sort of gadget.

My classmates oftentimes intentionally don’t raise their hand or answer questions because they are afraid of getting a bad grade. Why do schools and universities need grades anyway?

Marina Borovskaya: Grades are needed to understand what you were like yesterday and what you’ve become today. Comparing yourself today to who you were yesterday is the best way. Don’t be afraid of raising your hand when you have the chance and opportunity to prove yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in any classroom. The ability to ask a question is an important quality.

Jeff Maggioncalda: Most of what you learn in life is learned outside of school. This is okay. Getting grades in school is how you prove that you’ve learned something. But in life you will mostly learn things for which there are no grades.

Do you think it’s better to learn via textbooks or to carry out experiments?

Yaroslav Kuzminov: Carrying out experiments is better, but not every experiment can be carried out. We probably don’t want to organise an earthquake or bring back a slave society. We don’t want to make someone a slave just to see how things work out during the process. So let’s try not to forget about our textbooks.

When will robots be teaching us instead of teachers?

Alevtina Chernikova: Could a robot really replace a mother or a friend? Robots will help us carry out the really difficult tasks and automate work, but robots will never be able to replace teachers because a teacher represents experience, a mission, and concern for students. Anyone you would respect and listen to can be a teacher.

I’m a singer, but there’s also programming. What do you think is better, programming or singing?

Jeff Maggioncalda: I think it’s necessary to sing for the soul, but program for the mind.

After graduating, is it better to go to the university or start working?

Yaroslav Kuzminov: The best thing is to do both. At our university two-thirds of students work starting their second or third year. If the person is smart and a strong student, he or she can find a job working three or four hours a day in their field of study. If the student is energetic, but perhaps hasn’t yet found a good employer in their future profession, they can go make some money to support their family. This is okay too.  

Why are bloggers more interesting to listen to than teachers?

Irina Potekhina: I’ll probably surprise you, but there are absolutely wonderful teachers who are much better at speaking than bloggers. This year the Ministry of Education initiated an unusual project – a talent competition for teachers. We select pedagogues who are able to hold a lesson not just for their class of 30 individuals, but for the entire country as well. We’ve already received 2,500 applications and our jury has chosen 150 so far. We’ll release the results of the competition at the Projector Forum in Yaroslavl and you’ll soon see teachers who can captivate a million-person audience.

Yaroslav Kuzminov: The world has tens of millions of teachers, and I think several hundred million bloggers. I’m certain that the vast majority of bloggers are less interesting than your average teacher. Very soon, possibly in the next year or two, modern technologies will allow us to select the best teachers of physics or literature, and I’m sure they will be more interesting and popular than ordinary bloggers.

Why do we need sites with video lessons when YouTube exists?

Jeff Maggioncalda: I think learning largely involves interacting with other people. Studying on your own is sometimes nice, but learning alongside other people is almost always enjoyable. That’s why an important characteristic of educational platforms is that a community forms on them. This is an important component of successful learning.