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‘The Digital Revolution is the Key Trend in Education’

‘The Digital Revolution is the Key Trend in Education’

As part of the Gaidar Forum organized by RANEPA, an open discussion took place on the key trends in education. HSE Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov spoke about what Russian education will look like in 5-7 years, how artificial intelligence will change the school, and what reforms are necessary right now.

Russia’s standing on the global education map

According to Kuzminov, Russia has considerably improved its standing in global education rankings over the past several years. A group of approximately 30 leading Russian universities is progressing in international rankings, and this growth is rather fast even compared with China, which followed the same path ten years ago. In some cases, it wasn’t easy to do it, since some of the rankings, such a PISA, are based on the realities of the Anglo-Saxon school. But remarkably, even the President of Singapore – the country that tops the PISA ranking – acknowledges that the ranking takes into account the competencies of the 20th century, which are becoming less and less relevant each year and need to be rethought.

At the same time, Russian education faces some specific challenges, some of which are due to insufficient funding. For example, vocational education is at risk. Despite the fact that they combine comprehensive and vocational training, colleges are funded at or below the level of secondary schools in Russian regions; in this area, Russia falls far behind the global leaders, especially France and Germany. Underfunding is also an issue for remote or distance learning, which is provided for 50% of Russian students today and receives ten times less funding than on-site programmes.

The area that is falling behind most is continuing education. 15% of the adult population are studying in Russia, while in Sweden, this figure is 62% and in Germany it is 42%; the average in leading countries is about 40-50%.

As compared with other education systems around the world that are resistant to implementing new technologies (for example, the introduction of online courses in U.S. universities sometimes meets resistance from professors), Russia isn’t falling behind as much and holds about 5-7% of the global market.

Future trends

According to Kuzminov, the digital revolution is the key trend in education. On the one hand, this is happening on the job market and requires new competencies from professors; on the other hand, it is bringing about a restructuring of the entire education system.

Experts say that in a few years, artificial intelligence (AI) in education will become a reality, that it will fully push out paper textbooks, and ‘break’ the whole methodology of comprehensive schools that involves compulsory learning of material. In 5-7 years, teachers won’t know whether a student has completed an assignment or whether it was done by a smartphone that will be capable of solving a problem with a proof or writing an essay. That’s why the routine tools on which 75% of methods at contemporary schools are based will disappear. Instead, artificial intelligence will be able to build an individual study track for each student.

Another trend in educational development is online courses, which, unlike AI, are already being used successfully on the market. They are inexpensive, widely available, and help universities save resources by replacing staff who are not creative.

The third area of technological change is simulators and virtual reality. Simulators have always been costly, and over the last 20 years, they have been mostly used for training pilots. But today, it is possible to create simulators for literally any profession, from lathe operators to hotel clerks.

The main outcome of such technology development is a major change in the qualification and status of teachers. Teachers now don’t have to spend time restating material and checking assignments, but they do have to be widely educated, have project-oriented thinking, be able to organize discussions and act as ‘personal coaches’. ‘Schools won’t vanish, no society would give up schools’, Kuzminov believes, ‘but schools will have to adjust themselves to two types of classes – project activities and games’.

Educational market

Structural reforms of educational markets, which will have to change thanks to technology trends, remain an open question. Kuzminov outlined several possible areas of development that will most likely be relevant in the coming years. The first is online learning, which is expanding the market drastically and driving it out from traditional forms of state regulation. Second, study trajectories are being formed by each student individually. Third, there is a growing demand for continuing education, which will continue. The fourth is growing incomes of families and educational technologies that are becoming cheaper. All of this is working to increase the market-based elements of education, which are becoming more independent of the state educational system than is currently conceivable.

These trends will bring new players to the educational market, such as consulting companies, education coaches, etc. Russian education is facing the challenge of entering this global market in time, since in ten years, an AI-based translator will likely be available, which will solve the problem of educational materials in other languages.

Necessary reforms

Kuzminov believes that three problems need to be solved today. One of them is the ‘problem of the unsuccessful’, which has been actively discussed in recent years. 25% of able-bodied Russians either don’t work or contribute less than society spends on them. For the economic growth of Russia, a country where human capital, rather than oil, is becoming the main driver, the loss of such a share is unacceptable. Psychologists believe that it’s necessary to work with children from an early age to solve this problem. That is why many countries have psychological care for all children under three, and then they select 20-30% of children who have difficulties and continue supporting them up to school age.

Special education also has to be reformed, Kuzminov believes. Information technology can help build a system that will allow anyone with special needs to obtain a full education that is no worse than the one received by their counterparts with ordinary needs.

According to Kuzminov, public-private partnerships are an important and almost the sole resource for reforming the educational system in Russia. Receiving about 3.5% of the federal budget, this concerns not only private companies, but also parents. Surveys show that 40% of the population are ready to invest 5-15% of their income in their children’s education, which they see as an investment in the future. It is also necessary to create various funds and popularize investment in education.

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