I was excited to go to Russia recently and learn more about the education system. There are plenty of places around the world where technology accessibility or access to education and reform are meeting in the middle…places where students and teachers are starting to get more and more access to technology…and it’s becoming much more common to support education on the periphery, and the school system is also starting to recognize the need for broader reform. And I think those two trends are converging to create lots of potential and opportunity in Russia.
Russia has a long way to go with regards to reforming the education system around some of the core themes that we see around the world…use of data more aggressively, connection to employability and workforce readiness skills, use of electronic content and curriculum. Certainly there’s lots of opportunity there. Here’s a recent interview with the president of Microsoft Russia for a view on how we see the potential for IT in the country.
Ironically, Russia in the early ’60s was one of the first countries to really integrate technology into the curriculum, particularly in the science and mathematics area. A number of early Russian professors were some of the first to experiment with providing students access to computing power as one example. But the reality is that there has been a lull over the last several years, and due to the economic struggles with Russia in the early ’90s there has been an opportunity now to revamp and refresh the school system. Every school in Russia has some level of Internet access, but the problem is that most teachers haven’t been trained in ICT, so there’s some skepticism about the effectiveness of ICT in education. There’s a spirit of urgency I sensed from the educators and leaders I talked with…they recognize there is lots of work to do, but really a hope for the potential.
I think Russia is a place where culture and history provide some very obvious clues to what’s going on and we see that in the education system. You can actually see it in the traffic. Moscow is a city with significant traffic problems, and part of the problem is due to a growing population and an infrastructure that needs modernization. But part of the reality stems from a cultural preference that individuals have to own their own car and drive their car. And it was not long ago where the privilege of owning a car was not something that everyone had a right to. So, there’s a cultural significance rooted in why there is so much traffic in Moscow, and I think that’s also connected to some of the history with regards to the education system. But that is changing, and we have some aggressive educators who are thinking about differently, and making tremendous things possible.
I saw a good indication of this optimism during my trip to a high school in the outskirts of Moscow. Yefim Ratchevski is the director of education at school #548 which won the best school in Russia two years ago. Yefim is a true innovator in technology and he is open to modern techniques and technologies to improve student learning outcomes and innovative teaching practices. He’s thinking differently about how the school can use data to enhance the learning environment. He’s also really starting to recognize the need for blended learning environments in Russia, so creating much more interactive classrooms, thinking about ways in which you can use online courses to provide more choice and flexibility for students, and the reality that the school day is changing.
The more and more I travel around the world and see institutions trying to address challenges…whether it’s lack of teachers or courseware or flexibility with regards to physical space, or embracing opportunities to provide a more rich and active curriculum…I think the limits we see in education that will most change over the next five years is this dependency on time and place, where education is rooted in sequential offerings in a specific time that happens in a specific location.
I think in the future blended learning models, much more dynamic curriculum engagement, students who are driving their own learning, will become more commonplace, and schools will optimize around that environment, and certainly Yefim is working to do that in school #548 in Russia. They have dynamic curriculum environments and they are usually Microsoft MultiPoint Server to create not only more access to technology within computer labs, but they’re also creating collaborative workspaces for students to engage socially.
With leaders like Yefim, I think Russia is on a good trajectory. They will be able to take a lot of the lessons learned around the world and apply them in a fresh way into the Russian environment, and they have obviously willingness and optimism around the potential for technology to change.