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‘The Biggest Priority in Education Is World Class Professional Development Programmes’

The report entitled ‘Twelve Solutions for New Education’, prepared by the Higher School of Economics and the Centre for Strategic Development, was presented at the XIX April International Academic Conference. Professors Martin Carnoy and Tomasso Agasisti, international experts on education and conference guests, have shared their views on the issues and initiatives highlighted in the report.

Мартин КАРНОЙ

Martin Carnoy, Professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, USA, and Academic Supervisor of HSE International Laboratory for Education Policy Analysis

The idea of the report is to improve schooling in Russia. In fact, Russia already has a pretty good educational system. It’s a middle income country but in terms of educational system it’s quite well-developed – it has one of the highest percentages of people going to tertiary education. The main problem in the country is not education, it’s the productivity. Russian kids score on international tests as well or better than kids in the US but the productivity in the US is much higher than in Russia. It is all down to capital – what kind of jobs people have, how well the enterprises are run, how competitive they are on a global scale. The educational system was organized in the Soviet times for a very different type of a production system. It belongs to a completely different era, an industrial era. We are now in post-industrial era, even in Russia, and the labour market is much more flexible, so the whole system needs to change. Vocational skills in this economic world depreciate very quickly. However, there are certain high-growth areas which require people with technical skills and it is necessary to identify those areas. Generally, I believe that it is necessary to give people the highest level of academic education they can have.

The people that should be rewarded the most are the people that take high-cost kids and produce great things with them. You should look at the gains, not the ultimate score on a state exam

I would say that biggest priority in education is to produce world class professional development programmes for existing teachers and the report talks about that. In Russia most of the teachers are pretty good in terms of their content knowledge but they are not very good teachers. Nobody really taught them the new modern methods of engagement and teaching of kids. Such training does not come cheap. It means training teachers twice a week for a year on how to teach their subject so that all the kids in a class learn it. The report stresses the importance of increasing funding for education and I would add that it should mostly be spent on world-class professional development.

Digital content is a complement to good teaching and it can’t be a substitute for bad teaching

The results of our recent study suggest that only few Russian schools are interested in having everyone increase their achievement. There is a lot of inefficiency among low social class students. I think it is necessary to be concerned for those 20 to 30% of low social economic class kids who are quite smart and can go to a good university but do not get this chance. It’s true about other countries as well, but in Russia the big problem is that they are thrown out at the end of ninth grade which is too early to decide a kid’s future. The trouble is that nobody takes into account whether the kids are high-cost kids, or low-cost kids. Low-cost kids are already high-scoring kids, so most schools would like to work with them because they show good results. However, that's not what should be rewarded. The people that should be rewarded the most are the people that take high-cost kids and produce great things with them. You should look at the gains, not the ultimate score on a state exam.

Learning is not a game. The more it is like a game, the less you actually learn. You can teach particular skills very well online in short periods of time, but abstract conceptual thinking, or methodology are very hard to teach online

As for the digitalization, digital content is actually one of the most expensive things that can be done in a school because learning how to really use digital content requires a lot of time and effort. If the goal is to save money by introducing digital content, the results will be poor. It is important to realize that 90% of the cost of digitalization is training the teachers to work in a new way. There is a lot of data that shows that simply replacing teachers with computers does not work. Digital content is a complement to good teaching and it can’t be a substitute for bad teaching. It is claimed that ultimately the IA will be interacting and feeding back. However, even IA requires the kids to sit in front of their computer, which is not easy, even given that the computer will be less judgmental than a teacher. Kids do sit in front of computers and play games for hours, but learning is not a game. The more it is like a game, the less you actually learn. You can teach particular skills very well online in short periods of time, but abstract conceptual thinking, or methodology are very hard to teach online. It's a lot cheaper to teach a teacher to be engaging, than to get kids to like online courses.

The one place where it is absolutely necessary to introduce digital, is the management of education. There is a lot of data available on kids’ performance at school and this data can be analyzed in order to help schools individualize instruction, or even class-wise to help teachers do much better in terms of optimizing every kid's performance. Russia doesn't gather much information about the kids and that is what should be done. There should be designated supervisors who work with the teachers to help them increase their performance and who inform parents of what is going on with their children – what they are learning or not learning.


Tommaso Agasisti, Professor at Politechico di Milano, Italy

In my view, the very first priority is investing in pre-schooling. Education equality is another priority. I think that the gap that exists in Russia between advantaged and disadvantaged families is a big topic. The question is, what can we do to close the gap? Also, the potential for technology to be used in education is another priority – investing in technology is probably the most cost-effective way of improving the quality of education.

The very first priority is investing in pre-schooling. Education equality is another priority. I think that the gap that exists in Russia between advantaged and disadvantaged families is a big topic

With regard to vocational education, investment should be about fostering the entrepreneurship of the individuals and empowering them to stimulate their own economic development and future with the skills they have gained. I don’t see the investment in technology as a means in itself, rather I see it as a way to give people the tools they need, once having left a formal education environment, to continue their own educational paths. The government needs to understand how to train people to use technology as best they can, both in consuming and using the content.

The question of increased spending in education in order to improve education results is a complicated one. On the one hand, I am very aware that there are some students who can advance quickly but the system forces them to slow down. There should be increased spending in order to provide them with the tools they need to move forward. This is because they will be more productive and engaged and thereby create opportunities for the others.

The definition of ‘high achiever’ sometimes doesn’t take into account that most of the high achievers, all over the world, come from advantaged families. This is not because they are smarter or cleverer, but it’s because they had better opportunities. I have a line of research that studies students that we refer to as ‘resilience students’, that is, those from poor backgrounds who are able to make good grades. Investing in these students will most certainly pay off. However, without making this distinction, I see the risk that more resources will be diverted from poorer students to those who are already advantaged. It’s therefore important to define the talented students in order to decide where the resources should go.

Investments in teacher quality tend to have short-term results because teachers are able to better provide content and better interact with the students. Digitalization can also have some immediate results if used in a good way

Looking to other countries in order to establish a benchmark for Russia is not straightforward. I’m sceptical about picking countries and applying their solutions to completely different contexts. I usually look at different groups of countries as having various interesting approaches which others can learn from. It’s important to remember that Russia is so big and diverse internally. I really don’t believe that there is a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

In my opinion, the degree of centralization in education depends on three things.

The first is the extent to which regional governments are able to understand and capture the real needs of the citizens in that particular community. If we assume that there are heterogenous preferences across communities, then it is a good thing to decentralize. The second point, however, concerns the capacity of the local governments. The risk is that you give the regional governments some duties and responsibilities and they don’t possess the good managers to implement them. The third consideration is the extent to which the country wants to create equal opportunities for all. Given that the social characteristics of the territory tend to exert a significant impact on the educational outcomes, if you simply decentralize and don’t equilibrate the opportunities across the areas, then it will just result in growing gaps.

Tangible results of education initiatives are achieved at different rates in different areas. Investments in teacher quality tend to have short-term results because teachers are able to better provide content and better interact with the students. Digitalization can also have some immediate results if used in a good way. If the courses are designed well, this can be very beneficial for the students. The third aspect is the engagement of universities with the local territory. This can create immediate good results in terms of interaction with local governments and firms.

Regarding the involvement of universities, Russia is a huge system where there are hundreds of different tertiary institutions and so the idea of differentiating them is a good one. The Russian government has defined a pool of high class universities and provides them with financial resources to do basic research with a long-term goal of becoming more relevant in the international context. These institutions then provide the others with the tools to be more engaged locally, which is also an important mission for universities. This is clearly a great policy.

 

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