President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon colleagues.
I am very pleased to speak in this hall and be with you in St Petersburg at the first Pedagogical Assembly, where this year we are launching all activities associated with the Year of the Teacher.
And of course this event is not just a tribute to the teaching profession, although it is that too. I expect that the coming year will mark a major upgrade of the national education system and be a year of positive changes as well. This does not mean that up until now we have not done anything at all – you know that I myself was involved in these processes while working in the Government. But now it’s time to generalize from the experiments that were conducted over several years, including within the Education National Project.
We are also beginning to implement the educational initiative Our New School. Its purpose is to establish modern schools, able to develop the identity of the children that attend them, and instill in them an interest in education and learning. It must create a modern, adequate education system. I hope that the provisions of this initiative are well-known to you. We spoke with the Minister of Education about this issue several times and he assured me that the discussion of the presidential initiative has been very wide-ranging, which gives me reason to inform you that today I have approved this educational initiative.
Of course, the key role in implementing this initiative will belong to you, that is Russia’s teachers. And I believe that no initiative can be accomplished without the normal, creative reworking of its principles. It is well-known that Russian pedagogy has accumulated unique experience. I’m not going to try and convince you of how unique it is and how good our teaching is – you know its advantages and problems. But in any case the foundation that we have laid is really one of the best in the world; it has helped us to provide education at a very high level. Today our main goal is not lose this foundation.
Today thanks to a cohort of bright and progressive educators we are setting up modern traditions as well: those of training and education. The task for the government consists in this: to raise the prestige of teachers’ work. This is a difficult task but we are working on it and will continue to do so.
The Year of the Teacher will see a variety of activities aimed at strengthening the teachers’ authority and social status (what is no less important). But of course we need to conduct such work for more than one year. We all know that no campaigning or annual event will produce a result if, subsequently, this kind of work does not continue. Therefore the Year of the Teacher represents a convenient excuse to start such work.
Respect and recognition of teachers’ work should provide a powerful stimulus for the development of the teaching corps. Incidentally, this represents a key aspect of the modernisation of education and we have already proposed specific measures that will contribute to keeping the best teachers and specialists — those who have a different education — in the schools. Because the main thing is that those who work in schools have good-quality and up-to-date knowledge, and of course that they want to work with children – this is the most significant thing.
There is another problem that we often talk about, that of attracting young teachers. It is especially acute and visible when you are inside educational institutions and pedagogical universities. You know these statistics but today in schools only about 7 to 12 percent of teachers are young. And of course, attracting young teachers to schools should be our top priority. Schools should be filled with the energy of the young. The reasons why young teachers do not go to schools even after they finish degrees at pedagogical universities are well-known. First of all, it has to do with the social status of teachers and low salaries. The latter do not reflect the intensity of the teachers’ labour and the high degree of responsibility incumbent on them. Although I must note that recently we made some steps towards improving this. Now the situation we have is somewhat better than what it was, say, 5–7 years ago. You also remember that time well.
But the most important thing is not to stop. You remember that in 2007 we began a transition to a pilot project for a per capita payment system. Wages will be linked to teachers’ performances. I think we have achieved something in this regard. In any case, in 30 or even 31 pilot regions where this system was introduced it produced benefits and salaries increased. The results are different but that is connected to the fact that regions vary. Let’s just say that teachers’ wages in one region may be quite acceptable, but in another region they are less than the average salary. In any case, at the last meeting of the council on national projects [Council for Implementation of Priority National Projects and Demographic Policy] several days ago in Moscow, I gave instructions to complete the transition to a new system of remuneration in the light of the experience we have accumulated in the 31 pilot regions within three years. That is enough time and the Ministry [of Education and Science] should do it.
We must also change training programs and adapt them to teachers’ actual needs. These changes have already been provided for in this year’s priority action plan. I hope your forum also will provide us with some answers to these questions.
Another task before us is improving the evaluation of teaching and administrative staff. Qualifications are being fundamentally upgraded. Professional teaching competences are central to these requirements. But I would like to draw your attention to the following: there should be no bureaucratic impediments to those teachers — including young ones — who wish to refresh their skills in advance.
The very system of teacher education must be modernised. I would not want to impose any formula in this regard, you have to decide in what manner to develop it. If you noticed, I spoke about this in my 2009 Address to the Federal Assembly. In any case, large, successful pedagogical universities should eventually become basic training centres for teachers; this is obvious and we must not lose this potential.
We must also make a scientific prognosis of demand for teachers – this is also one of the tasks which the Ministry and educational community must fulfill.
In 2010 we will introduce new requirements concerning the quality of education. Obviously, we need to independently assess schoolchildren’s knowledge. This is done during the transition from primary to secondary school and at later dates. But the methods for an independent evaluation could be offered by trade unions and associations. Incidentally, Russia will continue to participate in international comparative studies of the quality of education and to develop its own pedagogical methods.
Another important topic which I have repeatedly talked about with teachers and that you have discussed endlessly is the National Final School Exam (EGE). This national examination is a new phenomenon which, in essence, provides us with a first opportunity for certification of knowledge at the national level and the independent certification of students’ knowledge. Following my instruction and after consultation with educators, the public, political organisations and parties, we created a commission to improve the holding of a National Final School Exam.
The commission has done quite a lot of work and reported on its results. One was setting the deadline for amending documents that govern the conduct of the examination. As far as I remember, this year this must be done no later than March, but even this is too late; next academic year all this must be completed no later than September. And these were the fundamental questions teachers asked me during our meetings.
In addition, graduates from previous years will be entitled to enter full-time higher education institutions based on their entrance examinations without taking the EGE. I would also note the idea whereby we could expand the possibility for writing the EGE to graduates among our compatriots abroad.
But what I just mentioned does not cover all the recommendations, there are still many other small yet important things. Work to improve the regulatory framework for conducting a national exam will continue. Of course I think that first and foremost we must rely on the opinions of teachers and of the pupils themselves. If we do so, then a national exam will perform the function it is designed to. And what is that function? A national exam should be the main but not the only way to test the quality of education. I would emphasise again that I consider this definition to be absolutely correct. It is the main, but not the only way. And I propose to start from here.
And another topic is education in its broader sense. It is necessary to revive the full system of extracurricular activities and involve students, alumni, and naturally parents in this system. This is a separate, large avenue for work. Some time ago it was not very popular or fashionable to talk about this, because it seemed excessively ideological. But that is not the case and we are well aware of the value of such work: we must do it and in such a way that students are not bored but rather enjoy it. I think that everything I said and very much of what I did not say could be discussed during the Pedagogical Assembly. I wish everyone here excellent work on this fine frosty day and a good beginning to the Year of the Teacher.
I congratulate you.