Vladimir Putin: The development of education is not just about the prestige of our country, important as it is. The development of education is a nationwide task. We have always kept the bar high, but the height is not an end in itself, it is a guarantee of the successful development of the state and society. But it can only be so if education meets the general standards of today, if it is accessible and if its quality is high.
We see that putting the issue on the agenda of the State Council has ushered in a new stage in the broad public discussion, an acute and frank discussion. The activities of the working group have shown that it is a theme that engages the minds of practically everyone in the country, which is why our future work should be as open and transparent as possible.
I would like to stress that what is clear and obvious to the many professionals present here who have dealt with the problem for many years, is by no means clear to every citizen. Yet it should be clear to all.
Before we open the discussion I would like to make some preliminary remarks.
Admittedly, our education system is superior in many ways to those of foreign counterparts. This is borne out by the steady demand abroad for graduates of our higher education institutions. But one can hardly deny that we have not yet learned to derive the maximum benefit from these advantages.
Meanwhile education occupies one of the leading places in the world economy, it has long become an expensive and most valuable commodity, and sustained development of countries has long depended not so much on their resources as on the level of education. And indeed, what is the use of oil, gas, metals and other minerals if there is no one to extract and process them and even sell them well. What use is all that?
Second. Economic modernization demands structural change in the system of vocational education, which should be professional in the broadest sense of the word.
Today this system takes little notice of the labour market. As a result, we have a lot of people with a higher education, but we are desperately short of truly modern specialists, as you know. Big companies already today pay huge amounts of money employing tens and hundreds of foreign specialists.
I think the experiences of some domestic corporations which have launched their own large-scale information and education projects merit attention. I believe that businessmen and their organizations could take a more active part in the reform of vocational education.
A third important problem is making education accessible.
People should have a clear idea where they can count on government support and the government must know to what extent and how it must interfere in the sphere of education and where citizens can and must rely on their own efforts and potential.
I would like to stress however that free education is the cornerstone of our government policy. But we should not turn a blind eye to another thing. Fee-paying education is also developing and it must at long last have an adequate legal and organizational form. If it is paid for, then it should be absolutely transparent and understandable. Everybody must know what he or she pays for, how much they pay and what they will gain as a result; no underground schemes should exist.
The important thing is that both forms – paid and free – provide quality education. I expect the Government and the working group to present their views on these key issues today.
Another problem directly linked with guaranteed education is national education standards. The need to introduce them has been mooted for many years. I am referring to a new system of requirements to teachers and school leaders.
The completion of that task has been unpardonably delayed. The lack of such standards means that the government has still not made up its mind about its obligations in this sphere. We still don’t know exactly the type, quality and volume of educational services that the country and its economy really need. So far such standards are non-existent and many discussions of education reform simply make no sense, including the discussion of the 12-year secondary school that has been taking place among teachers and parents for several years now.
I am convinced that it is high time to establish a reasonable balance between universal and fundamental knowledge and the pragmatic kind of education geared to the real needs of the national economy.
Working out national education standards is not something that can be done by just one agency. Teachers and scientists and possibly the National Education Council, which has recently been much debated, and whose relevance and possible functions and areas of activity have been questioned – all should work actively together.
Often the shortage of budget financing is named as the key and the only problem of education. Granted, that is always important. Financing problems have always existed and will exist.
But there is another side to the matter. The resources the central and local governments, individuals and enterprises put in the education system are still not being used effectively. One possible answer is to abandon financing the cost estimates of educational establishments in favour of financing quotas per student. In this approach, money follows the student and is not “diluted” in the total estimate of the cost of running a school.
A good educational institution is in demand in the market, it attracts people, and government resources are allocated based on the number of students. If students do not come, funding is diminished. Obviously, in some spheres of activity the government will continue to provide the bulk of financial support for this or that institution or this or that type of activity. It is still a debatable issue that calls for serious thought, as the discussion within the working group has demonstrated. There have been a lot of arguments.
I would like to mention the problem of the responsibility of all the levels of government for the education process. It is a joint responsibility of the Federation and the regions. We have talked a lot recently about the need to delimit the spheres and levels of responsibility. The fewer the areas of shared responsibility the better. Yet we recognise that such areas cannot be completely eliminated. I think education could provide an optimum model of delimitation of terms of reference with maximum effectiveness and benefit for all the levels of government.
Finally, I think it is necessary to mention one other topic. And that is the introduction of modern information technologies in education. You know that this is a critical issue.
Thirty years ago a nationwide drive was proclaimed with the aim of “computerizing the whole country”. The gap between this grandiose plan and its results is known. We have no right to repeat the same negative experience.
Many new challenges face the education sphere. No wonder the preparation of the working group’s report to the State Council has not been simple, I am told. Different points of view, often mutually exclusive points of view, were voiced during the discussion. I think work on new agreed approaches should continue, but not endlessly.
I am convinced that education cannot be seen only as accumulation of knowledge. In modern conditions it is above all the development of analytical skills and critical thinking, instilling the ability to learn and acquire knowledge and keep abreast of changes.
These abilities can be instilled only by a new kind of teacher. All education reforms would be doomed if the teacher does not change and the conditions of his work and life do not change. The teacher’s prestige depends not least on his or her salary and material wellbeing, but not only on that. Respect is generated by professional competence. Only then will we get a teaching profession that will enjoy a high social status. It has always been that way in Russia. Only then can we be absolutely sure of the success of this important area of public life.
In my opening remarks I have touched only upon some aspects I think are the most important. I hope that our conversation will have a wider range.
In conclusion I would like to stress that the government’s education policy must be understandable to every Russian citizen and feasible in practice. Ultimately, it should be effective, feasible and accessible.