President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, dear friends,
We are purposefully holding a joint meeting of three presidiums – the State Council, the Presidential Council for Culture and Art, and the Presidential Council for Science, Technology and Education – here, on the premises of the Vdohnovenie [Inspiration] children’s school of the arts.
The goal of today’s meeting is to discuss a variety of issues concerning the role of culture and education in the development of our youth and children’s creative skills. I would like this discussion to be most grounded and specific, rather than overly general, because otherwise, it will have little value.
That is why I suggested that instead of travelling far away for the meeting, we could gather right here in the Moscow Region, in the Istra county, to see these mechanisms operating in a normal setting.
Culture and education are always important, particularly during the current transition of our nation to a new development format and with the economy modernisation process we have launched. While modernising the economy, we are also transforming various social aspects.
Dealing with new ideas, new technologies, and new substances is precisely what will be required of today’s high school and college students within the next several years. Not long ago, I watched a rather interesting documentary filmed somewhere abroad. What stroke me about it was the message that in some five years from now, all or most of present day school graduates who will complete their universities by then, will be engaged in various professional activities which are currently nonexistent. This is a fairly serious prospect impelling assessment of our educational system’s adequacy, anticipation of its future performance and analysis of the steps to be taken.
Today, we will also discuss non-formal education, as such education is by all means an integral part of the overall educational system, and hence is at the same level of development as education in general.
We recently approved the Our New School educational initiative aimed at creating a school that will help develop students’ personal potential, a school which will not merely provide knowledge, although that is the main purpose of an educational institution, but will also help reveal the personality of any child, any person who enters the school.
And not only will the school help reveal each individual’s talents, but it will also teach children living in a highly competitive environment, defending their interests and accomplishing their goals – the qualities our society is lacking, to be frank.
For a long time, it was assumed in our society that an individual may best perform only as part of a collective effort with fellows and colleagues assisting such an individual. This is a reasonable belief, but on the other hand, each individual must follow his or her own career, design plans for his or her own future, and remember about unavoidable competition with other people. Such an approach is a kind of paradigm shift applying to education. I think that to some degree we really must modify our views on the subject, perhaps even our values.
As I mentioned, an individual is shaped not only in schools, but through extracurricular education, additional education as well. By the way, in the USSR all sorts of educational activities were quite well developed and I guess many of us here attended various clubs and hobby classes, which always helped to reveal kids’ abilities and usually such choice of a hobby would not occur because of parental influence – though naturally, parents sometimes help in making up one’s mind – but because of the child’s own interest.
It is most essential that a youngster is thus making his or her own decision guided by a personal incline, and this decision-making is different from the set of classes within the mandatory school curriculum. I would like to discuss this today and analyse the operation of all components of our educational system in present-day conditions.
According to data from the Ministry of Education and Science, of the 18 thousand existing institutions of children’s extracurricular activities, about half, i.e. nine thousand, are educational institutions, some six thousand promote culture, a thousand-something are sports clubs, and the remaining two thousand are run by non-governmental organisations.
What’s most important, and perhaps most pertinent to us, something that in my view must be preserved and maintained, is the fact that over ten million youngsters aged 7 to 18 are involved with these activities. This is certainly valuable. No doubt, we should analyse the ways of employing all sorts of educational activities for shaping personalities of current times, as I said earlier.
This issue involves some other problem, which is access to cultural values. Access to such values should be granted not in the major cities only, but throughout the country, and we all present here today have repeatedly discussed the action plan for that.
This kind of access must be ensured in minor towns, and if possible, even in settlements. There is a whole set of problems here, which are not new; I do not claim they have popped up recently as clearly they have existed and accumulated for many years now. I am referring, to be specific, to the recreation centres and libraries and the problems we all are well aware of that stem from insufficient financing for these kinds of establishments and their subsequent closure.
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Now, we are seeing an information explosion with people obtaining data not just through books, but through electronic means of communication as well. Nevertheless, libraries are exceptionally important, and this is one of the topics of today’s discussion.
Another matter I suggest to be addressed is somewhat associated with non-formal education and is that of supporting gifted youth. There’s no need to explain that we need to apply special criteria and that the government and society must give this matter particular attention – precisely because talented, creative individuals are the very ones who promote progress and modernise the government, society, and the economy. I am not saying no relevant efforts are made; indeed, we have gained some valuable experience and reached some visible results. Our education laws provide to winners of academic competitions special advantages in applying to universities. Incidentally, I recently met with several competition winners – we had a substantial conversation, and they were smart, talented kids. Within the Education National Project, the funds allocated from the federal budget between 2006 and 2010 for prizes to academic competition winners and for some other purposes grew nearly 100-fold. The Gifted Children programme is also underway as part of the Children of Russia programme. All of this is fine, but insufficient. To be quite frank, these are mere fragments of what we really need.
We are missing the most important element – that which has been created in other nations in recent years: namely, a national system for seeking out talented children and youth, and helping them grow and develop. The core idea is creating networks of both natural sciences and humanities centres affiliated with our nation’s leading universities, and distant learning schools for gifted students. This could take a variety of formats and we could use any number of programmes.
I should mention that I checked and found out that the legislation of many nations, including the United States of America, has special laws concerning education – just like here in Russia. But their laws include subsections on promoting education for gifted and talented children, and offer special programmes. In the UK such a programme was launched in 1997, and is called exactly like that: the national programme for gifted and talented children.
We do not need unification in school learning, on the contrary, we must stimulate talent in various ways especially when children realise their professional interests.
We should facilitate an environment comforting and developing talented children. Let me repeat that we must design a fully operational system, so that we do not end up in a situation wherein a significant number of these young people are flagged by various international foundations offering attractive conditions for education, such that many of our students ultimately leave to study overseas and subsequently stay there.
I by no means favour restrictions on such education opportunities, quite the opposite. But what we need is being able to compete with these kinds of offers so that our talented young people, our gifted children feel that they have a choice of different opportunities. If someone wants to [be educated] abroad, there should be no problem with that, but similar conditions [for studying] should be offered in our own nation – then, these young people will have a choice, and that is what’s most important.
We certainly must specifically support, both financially and morally, the teachers who educate talented youth; their experience should be distributed, their opinions should be examined by all sorts of public forums, and their achievements should be rewarded, as I have just mentioned.
Overall, this is a multidimensional topic, and I propose that we begin by hearing out our colleagues from the State Council who have practically addressed the subject.
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When preparing for this meeting, to be honest, I had the sense that many issues that we discussed today had already been brought up multiple times, and that it would be unlikely that someone would say something radically new.
You know, I was wrong, because in many of today’s speeches, we heard ideas that have not been previously discussed, even if they seem fairly obvious.
I’m going to skip platitudes of mentioning I will sign instructions following our meeting to accommodate the points made by our colleagues in their speeches, but I would nevertheless like to make a few comments.
First of all, a comment on support measures for gifted children, which is not an idle inquiry, as the aim of establishing the system of such measures may not be accomplished by signing a Presidential executive order only. I could easily sign a document like that and the problem of financing is not that essential, but there is a question pending, who will engage with the work and how? After all, this is all field work; it cannot be done from an office by directing to seek out a gifted student. What is required is finding talented children, caring about them, and promoting right conditions to ensure these talented individuals stay in their homeland, rather than abandon it for a life abroad.
This means that the system must be comprehensive and include, first and foremost, regional and municipal offices, and the governors present here should remember that these talented individuals live everywhere. There is no need to look for them within the Kremlin walls or at most prestigious educational and research institutions, as the people who may be found there are talented individuals who have already been discovered, and they do not need any further attention.
We need to identify those who could arrange this kind of work on a systemic level, and to do this, I am ready to draft legislation, either as a special law, or as an amendment to the law on education, which will specify who will deal with these matters on a national scale, and how this work will be financed.
This cannot be achieved through bureaucratic methods, or through shear enthusiasm. Whoever does this work must be highly engaged, and needs to apply government resources, as well as the capacities and intentions of those who have relevant experience and whose profession or job title are irrelevant here, be it a local mayor, or a theatre director, or a chief editor at some media outlet, or a university rector. Let’s think how this may be put together. I will set some deadline for suggestions to be drafted, as this is truly important.
In other nations, respective laws are fully effective, but [in this country] I am always wary of such laws, because they lack specifics and merely list some ideas and declarations of the kind “should be found”, “should be done”, and henceforth. But in case we design an all-enhancing system perfectly operating at each of its multiple levels, I am in favour of such a law then.
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The time school children spend studying is a topic of a never-ending discussion, the scope of school classes and homework is everyone’s concern. I have my own point of view on this matter too, and my position is not that of the President but, if you will, of a parent.
I hereby state it again, I do not think our children are excessively overburdened at school. If we [as a nation] want to be competitive, they have to study harder than we did. I recall my own elementary and high school days. I would leave school at one or two in the afternoon. And then, I would go home, spend about twenty minutes doing homework, and go play sports (granted, this was good for my health). But that is not sufficient in the 21st century as it is impossible to gain that much knowledge in that little time.
Our children, without any doubt, deserve humanly treatment, but nevertheless, we need to be conscious of the world we are living in, and we must make sure our children inherit an advanced country from ourselves, and therefore they, too, must be advanced.
Hence, I believe we must offer normal conditions for learning and recreation while at the same time ensuring our children master the entire range of knowledge they will require, otherwise we have no future.
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Colleagues, the topic we have addressed today is indeed perpetual, and we will continue coming back to it.
What’s clear is that if we can identify effective mechanisms for that, we must indeed engineer a system for finding talented, gifted young people and undertake to have it properly regulated which is probably difficult, but attainable.
At the same time, it is absolutely clear that we must keep within our financial capabilities. With this, I primarily address the governors, and reiterate that they must engage with these endeavours as well.
I also promise to consider prospects for presidential magnet schools.