President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon, colleagues,
Let us begin our meeting, which is going to focus on modern information technologies, as well as their application in education, healthcare and culture. We have held many discussions about the benefits of information technologies and about building an information society, but I think it is still a long way from conversations to practical efforts. In fact, that is the aim of the Forum currently hosted in Tver and the exhibition organised here.
It is clear that the steps we are going to take will help us reach at least three separate objectives. First, it will make it possible to overcome long distances, which has a particular relevance for our country, whose large territory is not only a major competitive advantage but also one of our biggest problems; a particular challenge is to guarantee equal access to services for all people living in our country. What we need to focus on is creating a barrier-free virtual environment, not broken up into parts but existing as an integral whole within the borders of the Russian Federation.
Second, the use of these technologies should significantly improve the quality of the services themselves. Nobody will argue that the computer diagnosis of health is more accurate, teaching with the use of multimedia systems is more effective and more interesting than the graphs and tables, and the opportunity to order any book you want online is simply much more convenient than other ways.
Finally, this work will make it easier to plan budget expenditure on social services. Today state and municipal agencies are moving away from using estimates to planning based on the actual volume of services provided, and information systems should play a key role in addressing this task.
I am sure you will tell us a lot of interesting things about the Forum. The Governor and other colleagues have already said a few words about it.
Now a few remarks about what has been achieved so far. Let us begin with education. In line with the priority national project, schools, specialised children’s institutions, boarding schools and orphanages are being equipped with up-to-date computer technology and access to the internet. Russia has nearly closed the gap with the leading countries in this respect. Although differences between regions remain, they are no longer critical, as was the case just a short time ago, a few years ago, and they are disappearing fast. We have started to supply schools with Linux software. I would like to know about the progress made in this area because I have heard various reports. Some say the work is being carried out, but I have heard from other sources that it has been shelved, and that many government bodies are continuing to purchase separate software programmes and applications, paying big money for them, and this leads to major losses for the budget. Please brief me on what has been done.
Computer literacy among teachers has improved radically. It was a huge problem, practically a psychological barrier, just a few years ago, when we began connecting schools to the internet. Now, the teachers at any school I visit tell me proudly: “We’ve become advanced users, we aren’t afraid of computers and we’re not even afraid of the children that much.” So the results are obvious.
Nevertheless, the introduction of electronic educational resources in the teaching process is still proceeding at a slow pace, and we need to put in place a regional system of providing methodological and technological support for teachers. We have a national initiative called Our New School. It envisages a transition to the most effective educational technologies. At present such innovations as, for example, electronic school reports that parents can access online and in some cases special SMS-alerts are only used by schools in big cities. In fact, it is a very good system. I have told you about my own experiences with it: it is always good to look up your child’s achievements or bad marks. So I think we should definitely continue with this initiative.
The software for the National Final School Exam (EGE) also needs to be improved. Its aim is to rule out any attempts at cheating during the exam. I certainly don’t overrate the role of computerised tools as such, but I don’t think we should underestimate their impact either.
We still haven’t established a distance learning system for those children and teenagers who cannot attend school because of health problems. This is an urgent priority because for those children such a system of learning is the only way to get an education, and it is an effective way. The regions have received allocations for this purpose but most of them have not completed the work, and they will now need to address it urgently. With ordinary schools and ordinary children the process can be drawn out somewhat, but we cannot waste any time when it comes to the children who have health problems and are forced to stay at home.
If we look at universities, here computer technology can be used not only to improve the quality of education and research, but it can also be used to promote ideas and discoveries in the market. Universities today can set up innovative companies, including in innovation technology. The Government had decided to grant special tax incentives to such organisations, and they will need to learn to use them. It has been proposed to create a unified interaction environment for research universities, and to make it possible for them to exchange information on specific research projects.
E-government is not limited to downloading an application form from the internet. It is an opportunity to make use of a state service in an electronic form without leaving home.
Special attention, and I talked about that three years ago, when I was still working in the Government, should be given to establishing a consolidated digital database of research theses, as well to ensuring the transparency of defending a thesis. All dissertations and their abstracts should really be digitised so that it will be immediately clear who is doing real research and whose work is nothing short of embarrassing. There should be open access to them online because nobody has the time to go to the library and read a huge volume, financed by certain sponsors, and written to get a higher status.
Next comes the subject of healthcare. As part of the relevant national project hospitals and clinics have been equipped with up-to-date equipment, which allows doctors to use new diagnostic and treatment methods. This is certainly a positive development. However, there are a few remaining problems, and there are promising projects which involve the use of electronic medical records and computerised patient registration and admission. In some regions it is possible to make an appointment with a doctor online, but at this point all of these innovations are fragmented and unsystematic, despite the obvious advantages.
I would like to reiterate: e-government and e-management are not limited to the option of downloading an application form from the internet, printing it out, filling it in on paper and taking it to wherever it needs to go, be it a hospital, a clinic, a tax office, or somewhere else. The point is that it is an opportunity to make use of a state service in an electronic form without leaving home.
There is another important issue related to healthcare, one we began to tackle several years ago and on the whole there has been some good progress made: I am referring to telemedicine. This has special importance for remote areas. We need to continue developing the system for a continuous education of doctors, and to make sure they have the most important reference and classification materials.
Another task that needs attention is equipping emergency departments with modern computer systems for processing incoming calls and dispatch control, including with the use of GLONASS. I would like to remind you that almost exactly two years ago there was a meeting of the State Council Presidium; it took place in Petrozavodsk in July 2008. I issued instructions at the time to draft and adopt a set of measures for the computerisation of healthcare. The Government reported to me first on the development of a strategy for creating a consolidated state information system, then about drafting a programme for the computerisation of healthcare, but to this day the relevant documents have not been adopted and the project’s implementation is delayed. I would like to hear your explanation of why that has happened.
Another sphere where IT can be applied is culture. Our meeting today is taking place in a library. The biggest regional libraries are being financed by the budgets of constituent entities and on the whole they have a relatively high level of technology for today. They use special automated library systems. District and city libraries are also being equipped with computers. But if we look at a lower level, at municipal libraries, the situation here is very poor: they have either no computers at all, or their computers are so old that today they can hardly be called by that name. It is obvious that all libraries must have access to the internet and be equipped with automated systems for working with books.
The process of creating a national electronic library is progressing slowly. We are proud of our roots, of our rich multi-layered historical and cultural heritage, but we don’t do everything we can to preserve it for future generations. Digitisation of museum collections and providing access to them through websites so far has been proceeding very unevenly; moreover, the digitisation programmes that are used in different regions are not coordinated among themselves. What happens as a result? As a result they are not user-friendly, something doesn’t connect, something else doesn’t open. There must be a consolidated technological basis. Incidentally, the free technology we talked about should be used to address this task. Colleagues, I hope your reports will cover all of these subjects.