President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, dear friends and colleagues.
This is the first meeting of the Council in the new year. At this meeting of the Council for the Implementation of Priority National Projects, we will be talking about Russia’s younger citizens, namely their health and education.
First of all, I think we need to discuss issues related to the current demographic situation. Let me remind you that almost all of us here started working on demography back in 2006, when priority national projects were launched. In 2007 we approved a concept for demographic policy through to 2025. Over the past four years there have been new and positive demographic trends – that is the main thing.
Let me cite a few figures. Of course you know them but nonetheless it is gratifying to hear them again. Thanks to a programme of birth certificates, more than three million mothers have exercised their right to choose their own medical institution. We have discussed this repeatedly: this is a way of motivating women to pay major attention to their maternity.
Year after year an increasing number of women and children receive high-tech medical care and we have been active in introducing new technology for nursing newborns. As a result, the infant mortality rate has gone down for three consecutive years same as maternal mortality, while birth rate has been growing. In August last year for the first time in the past 20 years the birth rate exceeded the death rate.
As of January 1, 2010 families in which the second and subsequent children are three years old will benefit from maternity capital [a grant given following the birth of second and subsequent children], as we agreed a few years ago. As promised, it has been indexed to the rate of inflation, which has made it go up accordingly in the last while. In 2010, this benefit will amount to 340,000 rubles [11,000 dollars].
Given that we have already begun paying out this maternity capital, we need to analyse just how convenient the mechanism for providing these funds is for the citizens in question. Let me suggest that the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development, the Pension Fund and the regions pay particular attention to this issue.
You will recall that at the end of last year I signed a law on additional measures to support families with children. It expanded the concept of retirement savings which can now include the money received as maternity capital, as well as income gained from its investment.
However, despite the fact that over the past four years there has been a steady upward trend in fertility and, consequently, a reduction in the mortality rate, there are regions where the situation is still precarious. On average in Russia, infant and maternal mortality is still many times higher than it is in the leading countries of the world. Yes, we really have had some good results and our improvement is evident. But if we compare the figures in some regions in particular with the global average, or more precisely with European indicators, then our achievement is not nearly as impressive.
January 1, 2011 will mark the end of the first phase of the implementation of the plan for the demographic policy concept.
We have very little time left to reach our targets, just under a year.
The very first thing that we need to do, the most important thing, is to continue to introduce modern technology for nursing babies in their first year of life. In effect this is the course we decided on together four years ago. But now the further development of a network of perinatal centres is also on our agenda. I would like to hear, by the way, how the construction of new centres and the retrofitting of existing perinatal centres have been going and what problems need to be overcome. Also, as far as problems are concerned, we need to analyse the causes of construction delays in some regions.
Our second concern is the need to put special emphasis on healthy lifestyles for children and adolescents, including the prevention of alcoholism and drug addiction, the development of physical culture, sports, health and proper nutrition. This too must be dealt with separately.
Third: the authorities of the Federation’s regions should actively interact with public and charitable organisations that assist women and children. A good example of such cooperation is the Russian Children in Need Fund which is actively involved in programmes that assist orphans, families with disabled children and disadvantaged families. The regions must be encouraged to involve themselves in this work.
I want to emphasise to the Government Cabinet and the legislature that we need to finalise the legislation that increases the effectiveness of charitable organisations to support families with children. I spoke to this issue in my Address to the Federal Assembly.
Colleagues, in creating conditions for an increase in the birth rate, we should be thinking about improving conditions applicable over the time required for children to develop, the time during which our young citizens develop: I mean the time spent at school.
Today we will examine a draft version of a national educational initiative called Our New School. It has been in preparation for more than a year. I talked about this in detail in my 2009 Address and in more general terms in the 2008 Address. In the next few days I will be signing this initiative.
We will also be discussing a priority action plan for the modernisation of general education in 2010, which has been presented by the Cabinet. Let me recall that for its implementation the federal budget will be allocating more than 15 billion rubles [over 0.5 billion dollars]. All the measures we need to take should be fully implemented on time.
There are some things that I would particularly like to bring to your attention. First, over the next three years in all the regions we will be introducing a new system for teachers’ remuneration. We have been engaged over several years in the introduction of a new wage system, but in its provisional form, the one referred to as a per capita payment system. As I recall, there are 31 regions in which such pilot projects were implemented. The pilot projects have brought very promising results – in some regions, I would describe them as very encouraging, in others, not so good – but nevertheless we will continue with the introduction of a new system of remuneration for teachers on the basis of the experiment which has been conducted in certain regions over the past few years.
It involves not only an increase in wages but a whole package of incentives for those who achieve good results. This should be an up-to-date, effective, sensible system that will encourage teachers to go about their work effectively and motivate them to work harder. This is all the more important because 2010 is the Year of the Teacher, and we must do everything possible to create this sort of positive environment and to enhance the prestige of the teaching profession and the work that teachers do.
Second: in some regions they have already started implementing the directives I gave in my Presidential Address that involve improving the quality of teacher education. It is necessary to actively introduce a new system for training teachers. Let me remind you that in our country there is very significant number of teachers, 1,350,000 of them. If you think about this for a minute, it is a very impressive figure indeed.
Last year, 130,000 teachers took courses to improve their skills. New models of professional development have also been applied in 31 regions. We must continue this work.
In various budgetary-funded projects and more generally in the regions’ budgets there are funds designated for this. This year, the new system should be in place in 45 different regions.
Third: by this summer we need to come up with detailed recommendations for integrating extra-curricular achievements in the new educational standards. I hope that from the next academic year this new set of criteria will be applied.
Fourth: as we agreed, I have approved a plan to improve the National Final School Exam (EGE). I held a special meeting on this at the end of last year. We need to ensure the implementation of this plan and eliminate the deficiencies that the commission I set up last year has identified. Incidentally, these changes came about at the request of the leaders of the major political parties and the teaching community. I met with teachers and they identified what they saw as the value of the exam and how it might be improved.
Fifth: creating systems to identify and support young people who excel at the sort of modern, innovative thinking that in the future will ensure the development of a smart economy, an economy based on knowledge. We need to support such young people from the time that they receive their first results at school, as well as in university and when they have finished their university education. In this regard, we need to expand the network of boarding schools affiliated with federal universities, supplement the system of correspondence and distance education at national research universities, and make use of whatever other opportunities that present themselves.
And, finally, I am instructing the Cabinet to submit an annual summary report on the results of the Our New School initiative. This will need to be done on a regular basis because it is the main conceptual document for the development of school education in the short-term future.
Colleagues, there were particular reasons for my choosing to hold this meeting today. First, it marks the beginning of our meetings for the new year and, secondly, I wanted us to talk in the presence of the media, and this for a specific reason: not to wax eloquent or produce a few sound bites but to inform everyone that advancing national projects remains a national development priority.
I have formulated a goal for our economic development in the coming years. It is to modernise the economy, establish an up-to-date, innovative, strong and efficient economy, one that we are not ashamed of, that makes us more than a mere producer of raw materials. But work with national projects will continue because you yourselves, the governors, and the other distinguished people who are present here have repeatedly said to me that these have been the most successful social programmes of the past 20 years. Let me say in all frankness that these are the only programmes that are sufficiently large-scale and universally applicable. I am not pointing this out because I supervised national projects while in the Government, but simply because that is the truth of the matter, as you well know.
So we have to rid ourselves of any sort of crisis mentality: “We can’t do this, we’ll only consider that depending on what happens next year, until then we can’t do anything.” Now is the time for everyone to get to work, including dealing with national projects. Of course we’re not going to come up with a whole new budget but we will look at how the year unfolds. We certainly did not let the national projects lapse last year, but in fact worked on them quite intensively, albeit within the limitations imposed by our constrained financial circumstances.
This year we need to think differently. I hope we will make progress on the work that we began in 2006. We have attended relevant meetings of the Government Presidium and met here in the Presidential Executive Office. Our progress will require that everyone work together: the Government, the regions that are represented here and those that are absent (but I hope will read the transcripts of today’s proceedings), the State Duma and the Federal Assembly as a whole, and the representatives of various political parties. This is a challenge for all of us. We are talking about what kind of society our country is to have. The most important things – education, health, agriculture – all these must be addressed. And we haven’t yet created any other mechanism to do so. Perhaps this one is imperfect but we don’t have any others. So we need to get to work. I hope that every government agency affected by these issues will proceed to deal with these tasks without delay.
As usual, after today’s discussions I will be preparing a list of directives for immediate implementation. Thank you and see you soon.