President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
This is the first meeting of the Council for Science, Technology and Education in its new membership. Also present here today are invited colleagues: teachers, experts, representatives of the regional authorities and members of public school councils. We are meeting in this format because systemic change in schools is the issue on the agenda today, and this is something that concerns practically everyone in our country and is one of the key elements of our national development.
I think that our meeting needs not only to produce theoretical justifications but also practical results that are directly tied to the needs of those for the sake of whom we have come together today.
There are several questions we need to answer. First is that we need to decide what is genuinely relevant for ensuring a high quality and new content of education in our schools. This is something we come back to regularly, and this is perfectly natural, because changes of a systemic nature take place in education practically every 10–15 years, and you know this as well as I do.
The second question, which follows on from the first, is what kind of schools do we need in the future, and what demands should we make of these schools? Finally, if we have settled on the kind of schools we need, what steps do we need to take to implement this model in practice?
Public opinion surveys show that around 70 percent of Russian citizens say that changes are necessary in our schools. More than half think the quality of education is declining, and the same number say that inequality in the education system is increasing. These are worrying figures. I do not want to agree with them immediately, because impressions are always subjective, but the fact that these figures are rising is a worrying sign.
We currently have 13.7 million people studying in general education establishments throughout the country. This is a huge figure – a tenth of our population. Of the almost 60,000 schools in our country two thirds are in rural areas. I will not give further figures now. All of you here know the situation rural schools face, the problems with central water supply, sewerage and so on. They face serious problems. Around 18,000 schools are in need of complete overhaul, and around 1,000 schools are in a seriously dilapidated state and require urgent measures. This is something we will come back to.
You all know that our education system has been going through constant change over the last two decades. This is partly due to the fact that previously there was not so much reform (during the Soviet years). The urge to reform emerged after the formation of a new state. I do not think this is something bad in itself, but the results vary greatly.
Schools went through several waves of reform until finally, at the start of the decade, in 2001, a long-term education modernisation strategy was adopted for the period through to 2010, and in 2004 development priorities for the country’s education system were drawn up. This created a foundation for work for the future.
I think the Education National Project has been a good idea (this is something I worked on personally and I head the Council for National Projects now). In any event, it has enabled us to give impetus to work in a number of different areas, and this is already a good thing. As I have said before, yes, these are only fragments of the whole, but they are very important fragments. Programmes such as the Class Director, Best Teacher, Innovative Schools, Talented Youth, Internet, Teaching Equipment, School Canteen, and Village School Bus programmes have all produced results without a doubt. These are all needed programmes because previously the situation had reached critical point. It is important too that along with these programme’s implementation a new system for controlling expenditure was put in place. Of course, all sorts of problems came up during the implementation of these programmes, but the mechanism we created enabled us to make rapid decisions to resolve them. I think this is all valuable experience we can build on. I call on all of you in this respect. In itself, I think this experience has been quite good.
One of the basic issues to address is that of providing a healthy and comfortable environment for school pupils. This covers a wide range of areas including design and construction standards for school buildings, modern equipment, good quality food for students, and finally, creating a modern, open and creative learning environment.
Much has been said already now about schoolchildren’s health as one of the biggest problems we need to address. We heard some sad figures yesterday at the meeting of the Council for Sport and the State Council Presidium. Unfortunately, this is a problem we still need to address today.
The results of routine health checkups at national level show that the 10–17 age group is in a critical situation as far as their health is concerned. Clearly we need to develop the medical assistance system and create normal conditions for physical education and sport, because the situation in this area worsened greatly in the 1990s. Of course, we also need to reflect on how best to distribute the learning load in school.
Colleagues, you all know that probably teachers’ main task is to teach children how to learn, how to obtain knowledge. This is an age of ongoing and independent education. It is equally important to develop robust creative thinking and give students a sense of self-confidence and confidence in their abilities. These are also issues we can discuss today.
We need to provide incentives for the work of teachers (this is a subject we will also discuss separately) and also attract into schools specialists from other fields, who have higher education and an aptitude for teaching work. I am sure that graduates of our various universities, including research universities, have much to offer schools, but for this we need to make the prospect of working in schools attractive and not off-putting.
This is not easy. Different solutions can be envisaged. I think the situation is most complicated in the cities. In the rural areas it is perhaps easier to resolve this problem because the rural schools offer a basic package of benefits that could attract young graduates.
What conclusions can we draw? First, we really do need to help schools with their human resources, and aside from the human resources issue we also need to support schools in developing areas such as remote technology for distance learning. We also need to create the possibilities for independent and modern education. I think that we need to work on developing various tracks in school programs, but we must not forget about fields such as maths and science, fields in which we have long excelled, and which create opportunities and lay the foundations for our country’s development. We should not forget President Kennedy’s often quoted words about how the USA lost the space race to Russia in the classroom.
We will discuss all of the different points I have raised. I think this meeting will help us to define our priorities. I hope that some of them, the priorities in the key areas, will be set out too in the Annual Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly, which will take place soon.