FACE TO FACE

Stable improvement

Isaac Kalina, Minister of the Government of Moscow and head of the Department of education of the city of Moscow, answered our questions in an exclusive interview with Capital ideas.

Mr. Kalina, how would you assess the state of pre-tertiary education in Moscow: improving, reforming, in crisis, stable?

I would say that we are seeing stable improvement. The accomplishments of students and teachers in Moscow speak to the fact that we are seeing an improvement. In terms of stability, the proof lies in two factors. First, the qualitative development of the system is steady as opposed to erratic. Second, all of the reforms are based on years of experience in Moscow schools.

Can you point to three strong aspects of your system of education?

First, versatility. Today’s educational complexes are schools with a lot of opportunities that can offer families a wide spectrum of educational programs, help children develop different types of talents, and teach students the skills they will need in both life and their future professions.

Second, the overall quality of education is better. I’ll give you an example. In 2010, there were just a few dozen schools in Moscow that graduated winners of Olympiads (contests for high school students). A lot of parents tried to enroll their children into these schools. Every year, there would be massive lines and campouts outside of schools before April 1, which is the official date parents can start signing up their children for the first grade. A popular magazine for teachers used to call these schools the “golden nuggets” of Moscow education.

Today, hundreds of Moscow schools provide high quality education. Participating in and winning Olympiads has stopped being something that is only accessible to the elite. Over 90% of schools in Moscow taught the winners of the regional stage of the 2015-2016 National School Olympiad, and one-third of these schools taught the winners of the Olympiad’s final stage.

Third, there is no connection between the volume and quality of programs guaranteed by the state and the social or financial status of the family. This fact has been confirmed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – the organizer of the international PISA study in which Moscow was examined as an independent entity and showed great results.

The mechanisms that serve to develop these strong aspects of the system include:

  • significant volumes of funding from the Moscow city budget (education is one of the most significant items on the city’s list of expenditures)
  • coordination of funding with educational tasks (we only finance things that yield social and educational results
  • accordingly, students are the basis of all calculations that determine school budget amounts, which means we have a fair budgetary financing mechanism
  • exceptional transparency of the Moscow education system, including through the use of new technologies. Every school in Moscow and every parent sees not only the aspects of school life that the school wants to show off, but also the true state of affairs in terms of school management and educational results. The rating system that assesses school contributions to the quality of education of Moscow’s schoolchildren, which has been in effect for 5 years, is an integral instrument for transparency.

Could you please give us an overview of the main trends in the development of the Moscow pre-tertiary education system for the next few years?

First of all, this is about building competencies for the future – the skills necessary for real life:

  • applying knowledge acquired in different classes to real life
  • using advanced technology and modern tools
  • having the ability to navigate large volumes of information and learn independently
  • having the ability to develop realistic and necessary projects for the city, as well as present innovative ideas

Another trend is convergence (intersubject) education.

Convergence education allows students to integrate the skills and knowledge acquired while learning other subjects, attending club activities or doing labwork and apply them to solving problems in real life.

The third trend is education within the scope of the technological realities of the future.

In real life, the modern economy and the social sphere, there are a lot of technologies that a successful person must be familiar with in order to be a competitive professional. In school, it is important to learn how to use the equipment and technological solutions that the student will encounter in adult life.

The fourth trend is education for in-demand professions.

We understand the need to help students determine what they want to do in life. This is why we are creating an environment that will give children the opportunity to try different things. First, these are pre-specialization clubs, then specialized classes that gradually turn into professional prep courses in high school. This will allow students to graduate from school prepared for adulthood, with a clearly-defined set of skills useful for both everyday life and future professions.

I’d like to ask you a question about the Soviet education system. Do you think that it was one of the best in the world? Does our system today incorporate any of these elements?

The Soviet education system was very efficient in terms of addressing the challenges that a Soviet society faced. The education system can be considered a good one when it meets the current and future challenges of the society that created it.

Our society is developing, and the school education system is developing along with it. A lot of the best parts of the Soviet school system became the foundation for the modern education system in Moscow. This includes the focus on the natural sciences. This also includes competitiveness, which is why we have a lot of Olympiads and other intellectual competitions. The achievements of Moscow school students in international Olympiads serve as a testament to this. Another point is the special focus on extracurricular activities and additional education. The foundation for the establishment of large educational complexes was built back in the Soviet era.

Back in the Soviet era, we used to also have vocational training. What about today? We know that experts from Germany are helping to restore such programs in some Russian cities. What about Moscow?

Historically, there has always been a serious and effective vocational training system in Moscow. We are trying to pay special attention to it today as well.

Currently, Moscow colleges are taking an active part in the “Your Professionals” professional skills championship, which is held in accordance with the standards of the WorldSkills international movement and is yielding positive results.

In order to improve to professional competencies of our college students, we are cooperating with Germany – one of the most successful participants of the WorldSkills international championships. We plan to hold joint gatherings of students who participate in these competitions at German colleges equipped by Festo, which is a global partner of WorldSkills.

Are we relying on the experience of any specific country when reforming the pre-tertiary education system in Moscow?

We are not relying on the experience of any one specific country. But we are carefully studying the education systems of major cities and countries in order to analyze the most effective practices, which, combined with our rich experience and Russian school traditions, will give us new results.

In your opinion, which country has the most efficient education system?

I must say again that this question is not a matter of absolutes. Everything depends on the objectives, and every country has its own set of objectives. The only way to assess the efficiency of an education system is to figure out how well it addresses the challenges facing the country.

Are there exchange programs for teachers or students between schools in Moscow and foreign schools? If so, could you give some examples?

Moscow schools have been cooperating with foreign schools for a very long time. We’ve worked will all sorts of countries, from Japan to Portugal. School No.1234, for example, has an agreement with schools in Berlin. A number of schools that teach Spanish (School No. 1252, for example), have been friends with their colleagues in Spain for a long time. The Moscow network of educational establishments includes over 170 foreign educational organizations.

What are public attitudes toward teachers like in your country? Is this a well-respected, prestigious profession?

A profession in itself cannot be prestigious. There are over 120,000 educators working in Moscow’s educational system. The vast majority of them are real professionals (how else would our kids be able to accomplish to much?). Real teachers are well-respected people who do their profession justice, making it well-respected in the eyes of Muscovites. Of course, they share the secrets of their trade with their less-experienced colleagues. So that there is no doubt about the credibility and prestige of Moscow educators.

We heard about the first Olympiad of cig cities that recently took place in Moscow. What were the results? Any plans for the future?

School students from 22 cities and 18 countries took place in the Moscow International Olympiad. These included Moscow, Berlin, Yerevan, Minsk, Almaty, Tel Aviv, Beijing, Dusseldorf, Sofia, Leipzig, Milan, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Astana, Belgrade, Budapest, Riga, Helsinki, Jakarta, Abu Dhabi, Bishkek, New Delhi. The total number of participants and guests amounted to 275 people. Based on the results, the top three cities were Moscow, Belgrade and St. Petersburg.

In terms of plans for the future: we are considering making this an annual Olympiad. We are sure that the number of participants will increase, since this is more than a competition – it’s an opportunity for the best students from the best cities in the world to show off their skills, make friends and perhaps even future professional connections that will help them make future strides in global scholarship.

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