Taking part in the meeting were Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Anton Vaino, First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, presidential aides Maxim Oreshkin and Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Labour and Social Protection Anton Kotyakov, Minister of Education Sergei Kravtsov, Minister of Science and Higher Education Valery Falkov, Kirov Region Governor and head of the working group to prepare a State Council meeting on general education in Russian regions Igor Vasilyev, Moscow Mayor and head of the State Council working group to counter the spread of the new coronavirus infection Sergei Sobyanin, Head of the Federal Service for the Oversight of Consumer Protection and Welfare (Rospotrebnadzor) – Chief State Sanitary Doctor Anna Popova, Acting Head of the Federal Service for Supervision in Education and Science Anzor Muzayev, Moscow State University Rector Viktor Sadovnichy, St Petersburg State University Rector Nikolai Kropachev, Director of the Presidential Physics and Mathematics Lyceum No. 239 (St Petersburg) Maxim Pratusevich, and Head of the Talent and Success Foundation Yelena Shmeleva.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
As planned, today we will discuss the situation in the education system, tasks for the future and current issues of concern for the people, in particular for children and parents.
It is apparent that the end of this academic year is complicated. However, I would like to say first of all that the Russian system of education and our pupils, students and their teachers have passed this test very well.
One of the first measures we immediately took in the battle against the coronavirus epidemic was to transfer our schools, colleges and universities to online classes. It was a difficult option, but I am confident that it was an absolutely correct decision. We did so because we believe, and I said so more than once, that our main goal was to protect lives, in this case the lives of our children, young people and their teachers.
I understand full well that it is difficult to teach and study in such extraordinary conditions. The teachers’ workload increased considerably and it became necessary to quickly master new technologies, to adjust equipment and to prepare for lessons in a different way. Teachers had to communicate with students remotely all the time, and not just during lessons. They had to offer help, advice and assistance and to explain the material. I believe that parents have also reassessed the importance of teachers’ work in the past few weeks. They were able to observe the entire academic process because their children stayed home. Parents and grandparents could see how much the teachers were investing in their students.
School pupils also saw this as a serious test that assessed their sense of responsibility and independence when one’s desire to study is the main motivation. I am convinced that this experience will certainly prove valuable in the future, all the more so since it is now necessary to continue acquiring new knowledge during one’s entire life.
I would like to thank all students, teachers and parents for their patience and mutual support. I would like to address the warmest words to high school and university students who, apart from their studies, were actively involved in volunteer projects and helped their neighbours and senior citizens.
Of course, there were problems in the organisation of nationwide online studies. That is only natural because Russia and the whole world had no practical experience in this area. It is necessary to objectively assess the results and to test the knowledge obtained during this period. If necessary, extra time will have to be allotted for revision in order to master the material in full. And it will be necessary to correct any arising problems.
At the same time, I will say this again: all of us have acquired unique experience which should help boost quality, make education more accessible and develop advanced online education technologies. This will enable students, no matter where they live, to listen to lectures and lessons by leading teachers. Besides, teachers will be able to work individually with the students who need additional support. In this connection, it is necessary to expedite our work to develop the modern IT infrastructure in the field of education, including the installation of broadband Internet at schools.
Digitalisation and telecommunications are a source of incredible opportunities, you know that very well. But, of course, they will not replace face-to-face communication between a teacher and a student, or the creative teamwork and camaraderie at school, college or university. I consider any rumours and false claims that online education will completely replace and supersede in-person classes and that conventional schools and universities will be closed as blatant provocation. Especially because the purpose of the education system is not only to teach but to instil moral values and, to a large extent, shape a student’s personality, and pass on the fundamental values and traditions of our society. I said this in the Address to the Federal Assembly this year and it was then that we decided to pay extra 5,000 rubles per month to classroom teachers who are particularly responsible for the upbringing and work with children. This measure will take effect at the start of next academic year.
Also, I submitted amendments to the Law On Education to the State Duma. The point of these amendments is to strengthen and focus on the mentoring aspect of the national education system.
I propose that these and many other system-wide issues be discussed in detail at the upcoming State Council meeting this autumn, which will focus on education as we agreed.
Almost 692,000 schoolchildren in our country are to graduate this year. I would like to particularly address the issue of concern for the graduating students and their parents, which is what is going to happen with the National Final School Exam (EGE).
Frankly, there have been numerous proposals regarding EGE, including cancelling it altogether this year considering the difficult situation.
What should be stressed is that, despite the many problems that there have been and which we know about, in more than a decade, the National Final School Exam has become an efficient assessment mechanism. The rules of this examination are clear, fair and, in my opinion, convenient.
Considering the steady slowdown of the coronavirus epidemic, I think it is necessary to hold the National Final School Exam all over the country. It will be held on June 29. Schools can help students prepare for the exam remotely.
Let me emphasise that the National Final School Exam will be taken only by those school leavers who are going to enrol at universities this year. As for school-leaving certificates, they will be issued to all school graduates without exams. This temporary decision is an exception.
It is possible to apply to several universities simultaneously based on the National Final School Exam results and without personal attendance. What is particularly important now is that the applicants will be enrolled in August. Moreover, the students who will not be able to take exams in the National Final School Exam format in June will have an opportunity to do so in August and take up the remaining places at universities. This will allow them to start studying in autumn, without losing a whole year.
I hope that, taking into account the epidemiological situation, all first-year students will start studying without losing too much time. We have already agreed with the Defence Ministry to delay conscription for school leavers this year.
And one more point. I think it is necessary to envisage additional periods for taking the National Final School Exam or exams in this format not only in summer, in June and August, but also during the next academic year.
Of course, it is important for us to ensure access to free higher education and to support young people. I suggested in the Address to the Federal Assembly increasing every year the number of state-financed openings at universities in priority socioeconomic areas, starting in 2021. These openings must be primarily given to regional universities. I think that we should take this step already this year and create additional state-financed openings so that at least 60 percent of school-leavers could qualify for free university education.
Today, I would like to ask you to report in detail on how the National Final School Exam will be conducted. This primarily concerns the students’ security and strict observance of all sanitary requirements, which fully applies to their summer holidays.
This issue is very important for millions of Russian families. Why is it particularly important today? Because companies and organisations will fully resume their business activity in the next few months and not all parents will be able to take holidays and spend enough time with their children. This is why all aspects of summer holidays must be thought through in detail.
I suggest discussing separately additional measures to support universities and other federal institutions and also issues of student job placement. This is a big package of issues that we will have to address together.
Let’s go over to the discussion of all these topics.
Vladimir Putin: Let’s sum up some of the results of our conversation, and pinpoint the areas that I would like you to pay special attention to.
First, we have already mentioned this many times, but I want to emphasise it once again, the life and health of our children and young people, and all our people in general, as well as the safety of all educational institutions are of paramount importance and constitute top priority for us. In this regard, it is vital to toughen sanitary standards and enforce strict compliance at the standardised exam places and children's holiday spots. In addition to this, I want the Government to come up with more stringent sanitary standards for organising in-person classes at all educational institutions. Such standards should be in place by the time schoolchildren and students – we covered this today – return to their classes and lecture halls.
Second, based on the situation and the sanitary services’ opinion, the regions should determine tentative dates for opening children's recreation centres and facilities. It is likewise important to make provisions for children's recreation, leisure and creative activities in urban and rural areas. To this end, all education institutions should be put to good use. Urban summer day care camps should be set up not only at schools, but also at extracurricular institutions, such as Quantoriums and Youth Innovation Creativity Centres and the like, which our colleagues just mentioned. Decisions must be made quickly, but every minute detail must be accounted for. There are no unimportant things here, everything is essential. It is necessary to set up health monitoring for children and staff. Filing applications and necessary papers should be hassle-free for the parents as well.
Third, it was decided, and Ms Golikova just mentioned this, to send 41.4, even a little more, I think, almost 42 billion rubles to support federal education, research and cultural institutions. These funds will mostly be used to pay salaries, including to the university professors. Such measure of support will help offset the declining extrabudgetary proceeds of such organisations.
I want the universities and all higher educational institutions to realise that today's difficulties cannot be used to revise, let alone sharply raise, tuition fees. This is not an option. On the contrary, I want you to carefully consider each case where a student is struggling to pay for tuition and to come up with effective mechanisms for supporting them, including assistance in concluding employer-sponsored education contracts with companies in the real sector. This will help improve the situation with tuition payments.
The fourth point. As I have already mentioned, we will be making free higher education more accessible, first of all, in the regions that are short of highly skilled specialists.
But young people must also have other opportunities to receive education, including by paying for it with an educational loan on the easiest possible terms. In this context, I would like to ask the Government to study, in cooperation with the Bank of Russia, ways of reducing the interest rate on educational loans from the current rate of over 8 percent to 3 percent, to extend the term for repaying such loans and to increase tax deductions during their repayment. Importantly, deductions must be made from both a loan and the interest on it.
The fifth point. It is necessary to substantially expand opportunities for university and college students to get work experience, and, which is no less important, earn some extra money. We have agreed with the participants in the movement of the Russian student teams to give intramural students an opportunity to acquire a trade without having to pay for it. I am reminding you of this because it is necessary to introduce relevant amendments to the law without delay.
I would also like to address the major agroholdings. Yes, student teams will work everywhere. We have just spoken about this at the meeting. But I suggest that our colleagues from the agroholdings and student teams organise additional summer work in agriculture. I am sure that you will acquire reliable, good assistants while young people will not only make some money but will also have a chance to take a break outdoors.
Furthermore, a law must be adopted in June, which will allow upper-year students of pedagogical and other universities to work in educational institutions both on a temporary and permanent basis. As a first step, they could take part in organising holidays for children this summer. By and large, this is already being carried out. This must simply be done on a larger scale.
One more field where students may be of use to this country and our people. I am referring to the tasks of the digital economy. It is necessary to propose convenient, well-paid jobs for students of IT- and engineering specialties.
Today, we discussed issues that concern millions of Russian families. All measures that we have formulated must be carried out in full. The matter deals with our children, young people and, without any exaggeration, the future of this country. We must monitor all these issues, and I am going to do this personally.
I would like to encourage you to engage in joint positive work that is gaining ever more speed with the passage of the coronavirus infection in this country. I would like to wish you all every success and thank you for your collective work at today’s meeting.
Thank you very much.