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Russian and Chinese Education Systems Changing through the Influence of Digital Technology

The Second Russia-China Education Research Conference – Digital Transformation of Education and Artificial Intelligence – was held last week at HSE University. Researchers from the two countries discussed changes taking place in the national education systems thanks to the digital revolution, as well as what can be borrowed from mutual experiences.

HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov opened the conference by noting that economics is taking on new forms thanks to the digital revolution, with new sectors and new professions emerging, while the education system is gaining new opportunities. Universities already make active use of online products and publicly accessible digital libraries today, although secondary education has so far experienced a weaker impact from digitalization. The logic and methods used in the teaching and learning process still follow a classroom- and lesson-based system and have not changed considerably since the 17th century.

Yaroslav Kuzminov believes that digitalization of secondary schools can help overcome the centuries-old problem of teaching underachieving students. Such students are unable to master the minimal curriculum due to their individual learning styles, which means that they are falling behind the general pace of class work. These students would be able to learn under individualized curricula and receive appropriate feedback. Developed countries overcome this problem by allocating significantly more funding for education and hiring more teachers, but for Russia and China, big countries that are a making a number of investments to develop different fields, this may become reality only in 15-25 years. Meanwhile, schools in these countries can rely on digital transformation and artificial intelligence (AI).

Cui Baoshi, President of the National Institute of Education Sciences (NIES), emphasized that cloud technology, big data, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and other innovations are already being applied in Chinese education, which is leading to visible changes. The speaker remembered what Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, and Russian President Vladimir Putin said about the importance of artificial intelligence. He then quoted Chinese philosopher Confucius and Russian educator Konstantin Ushinsky about the role of education for personal development. The Chinese scholar suggested recalling the two thinkers’ ideas during the digital transformation, especially as it relates to studying in line with one’s abilities.

Аntoniy Shvindt, Acting Director of the IT Department at the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, emphasized that new technologies are creating new opportunities and that their impact on the education system has yet to be studied. He promised to incorporate conclusions from the conference while developing the big federal project in AI. In turn, Cao Shihai, Minister-Counsellor at the Embassy of China in Russia, said that the conference is taking place during an anniversary year: the People's Republic of China was founded 70 year ago, and diplomatic relations with Russia were established the same year. Over the past 70 years, relations ‘have survived many challenges while demonstrating their vitality and prospects for development’; the conference at HSE University represents the next milestone in Russian-Chinese cooperation.

Igor Remorenko, Rector of the Moscow City Pedagogical University, spoke about the Russian education system’s growing interest in China. At his university, Chinese has become more popular than French and Italian, which required them to expand the department. He also said that teachers at Moscow schools have more opportunities thanks to digitalization. They are able to publish their lesson plans in the digital environment, so that other colleagues can use them. Such an approach alters the principles of teaching at pedagogical universities in that future teachers are not taught ‘correct’ methods but rather the ability to analyse different methods, compare them and choose those that are applicable in a specific class.

Prior to the conference, the Russian and Chinese experts prepared a joint report entitled ‘Problems and prospects of digital transformation of education in Russia and China’. The first part, which is dedicated to Russia, examines contemporary projects for digital transformation of education in Russia and their background. The authors of the second part are Chinese peers who describe similar processes taking place in China. Isak Froumin, Head of the HSE Institute of Education, gave a review of the first part of the report at the conference. He said that in the early 2000s, Russia saw rapid growth in infrastructural support provided by digital technology and that according to OECD, the country now ranks third globally in the pace at which the education system is being equipped and supported by various digital devices.  However, research today shows that another factor has played a more important role in education digitalization, namely the availability of these devices for families and children.

The effectiveness of applying technology in the teaching and learning process is growing due largely to households

The second part of the report was presented by Wang Su, Director of NIES Centre of International Comparative Studies. It turns out that the two countries’ processes for digitalizing education have much in common. In both cases, its importance is acknowledged at the state level, where it is considered important for the growing accessibility and quality of education.

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