Currant challenges of distance education in the Russian Federation and CIS countries.
E.M. Malitikov, Chairman of CIS Interstate Committee on Dissemination of Knowledge and Adult Education, President of International Association “Znanie”, Professor.
V.P. Kolmogorov, Deputy Minister of the Russian Federation for the Commonwealth of Independent States.
M.P. Karpenko, Rector of the Modern Humanities University, Doctor of Technical Sciences, Professor.
The objective needs of modern society development conditioned the creation and development of distance education system in many countries of the world. The relevance of creation and functioning of such form of education for Russia and CIS countries is obvious: distance education is to play a vital role in preserving and developing common educational space of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
A significant contribution to this integration process, in our opinion, can and should be made by the Russian Federation. Our country has substantial grounds for this. Due to geopolitical, geographical, national-ethnic and other factors throughout its history, Russia has performed a civilizational function for many peoples of the Eurasian continent. In this regard, the export of Russian education to the CIS countries is not only a progressive tradition, but also the imperative of the times.
At the same time, it is necessary to take into account that in modern conditions all over the world, the export of educational services carries not only sociocultural but also economic “load”. For example, according to the Institute of International Education, 453,787 international students studied in the United States last year. Ranking 5th among the largest “exporters” of educational products, Americans annually receive $7 billion to the treasury. Most of the foreign students -57% come from Asia, and only 15% come from Europe. Today, higher education in the U.S. is called a “$100 billion business,” accounting for 2.7% of the gross national product.
These figures eloquently testify to the need to increase efforts in the development of domestic education and its export. There is no doubt that a powerful means of achieving this goal is distance learning, which makes it possible to offer educational services to all who need them, regardless of state, national, geographic, temporal and other factors.
Unfortunately, many problems of distance education development and its export to CIS countries are largely caused by crisis phenomena in the economic, political and social spheres of modern Russian society, which have a negative impact on the state of both higher and general secondary education.
At the same time, for the Russian Federation itself, with its vast territories and dispersed population, the distance form of education appears to be one of the main ones in achieving its claims to be a highly intellectual and democratic power. Simple arithmetic calculations show that on average in Russia one school “covers” an area of 254.24 sq. km. While in the Moscow Region the “density” of secondary comprehensive schools is one school per 28.55 square kilometers, in Chuvashia – per 26.37 square kilometers, in Krasnoyarsk Krai one school per 1,467.07 square kilometers.
Out of 67 161 actually functioning schools only 20 623 (30%) are in urban areas and 46 538 (70%) – in rural areas. As a consequence, young residents of 1,868 districts of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation, for objective reasons, do not have the opportunity to receive an education that meets national and world standards.
The uneven development of Russia’s infrastructure has led to significant gaps in the provision of educational services to the population. In many schools, especially in rural areas, there is a strong need to increase the number of teachers. This shortage cannot currently be filled for a variety of socio-economic reasons. Moreover, under the existing technology of general education in rural and village schools with a small number of students it is impossible to have the necessary composition of “subject teachers” – specialists in individual disciplines – for a full educational process.
As a consequence, graduates of secondary schools in the remote regions of the country cannot compete on an equal footing with residents of large – “elite” educational centers when entering institutions of higher education, have a reduced starting potential in inheriting the best samples of national and world culture. With a certain degree of certainty it can be stated that some of the problems outlined are inherent in the educational sphere of the CIS countries.
Continuing the analysis of the existing system of higher education in our country, it should be emphasized that its functioning for a number of well-known objective reasons does not provide the full realization of the constitutional right of Russian citizens to education – does not allow providing educational services to all who need it. More than half of young people who want to get higher education are currently deprived of such an opportunity: the competition for admission to universities in Russia on average is about 2 people per place.
This negative trend takes place in some regions of the CIS countries, where there is no possibility of opening and functioning of universities. Strict and generally fair licensing and accreditation requirements for higher education institutions in the Commonwealth cannot be met for obvious reasons: lack of highly qualified personnel, teaching space, didactic and other facilities.
It is objectively impossible to limit oneself to half-measures in this situation – resolute and active actions are needed to reform the domestic school, creating a new image and infrastructure of the educational sphere in Russia and the CIS. A critical rethinking of some of the foundations of pedagogical science is required, as well as their reorientation toward modern information technologies and teaching aids. Many educational systems all over the world follow the same development logic, which is one of the reasons for criticism of past and present educational models and promotion of their high-tech alternatives in most developed countries.
The strategic goal of distance education, in this regard, is extremely relevant – to ensure that citizens have the right to receive any level of education at their place of residence or professional activity. This goal is achieved in line with the global trend of mobile dissemination of knowledge through the exchange of educational resources. It is logical that the means of achieving this goal should be high-tech and scientifically sound organizational forms, which have a remote character.
This is especially relevant and significant when we consider that, from the late Middle Ages to the turn of the XX-XXI centuries, the main – “official” technology of education remained unchanged – the classroom-lesson. The role of the teacher was that of a “keeper” and “retransmitter” of ready-made knowledge. During the last 10-15 years in the development of human civilization have been qualitative changes, comparable with the beginning of the industrial revolution about two centuries ago – to replace the industrial society came information society. As a result, we are witnessing a process of informatization of all spheres of human activity, including education.
It should be noted that the development of distance education has been discussed by the pedagogical community for a number of years already. There are good reasons for this: the development of distance learning in our country is not just a matter of talk and theoretical search. Back in the mid-1990s, the Concept of Distance Education in the Russian Federation was developed and began to be implemented within the system of the State Committee for Higher Education. During the same period, educational networks represented by FREENet and RUNNET began to be formed. The Ministry of Education organized a distance education experiment in 1997, in which six Russian higher education institutions took part. The first results of the experiment have already been summed up, and the first results have been analyzed. Let us take the liberty of citing an extract from Order No. 41 of the Russian Federation Minister of Education of June 22, 1999:
“The universities participating in the experiment created original methods of distance education based on the latest information technologies and means of telecommunication, proposed two methods of the educational process, which open up new opportunities for the development of distance education: a network electronic Internet library and a multi-pedagogical satellite TV.
The prerequisites for the provision of the educational process for certain specialties using distance learning technology were created; specialized training manuals for the main academic disciplines were developed. The specifics of teachers’ work in the use of distance education technologies were determined, the methodological basis for their activities was developed, and their training was organized.
In the course of the experiment, a wide network of branches and regional training centers covering most of the regions of Russia was created. The experiment approached the stage of legal elaboration of the use of distance technologies in the educational process.
The same order reflects the decision of the Ministry of Education to extend the experiment. As part of its implementation, the Council of the interuniversity scientific and technical program “Scientific and methodological support of distance learning” was created. In addition, the educational department has supported a number of projects for the development of distance education in the Russian regions. Effective practical steps in the development of distance education have been taken by MESI. The experience of MSTU, MPEI, MIEM, MADI and a number of other higher educational institutions in this sphere deserves to be disseminated. Among the non-state educational institutions, distance education approaches are implemented by SSU. Many reputable educational institutions of the country take the first steps towards the introduction of distance learning technologies.
Active and almost total implementation of distance innovation in pedagogical practice by the majority of domestic and foreign educational institutions allows discussing some problems of distance education in the Russian Federation. Their relevance is due to the fact that distance education is becoming a means of interpenetration of not only knowledge, learning technologies, approaches and methods, but also, as already noted, capital – an instrument of struggle for the market of production and consumption of educational services. This is a normal phenomenon for a democratic state, and it would be fair if this competition were open – “transparent” – and the “strongest” would win – the one who offers a higher quality of education, more advanced educational information technologies and the best didactic product meeting the highest domestic and international standards.
For centuries, education has been the most conservative area of human activity, least susceptible to change: the volume of knowledge has been growing for centuries, while the technology of information transfer has remained unchanged. Today the situation has changed. The objective conditions of modern society development dictate new requirements to the content and forms of knowledge transfer. As a consequence, new innovative educational technologies based on distance learning have appeared.
At the same time, for the modern world community the idea of distance learning is not original. Since 1938, there is the International Council for Distance Education, one of the oldest international educational organizations, which since 1982 is known as the International Council for Distance Education (ICDE). There is a new term “global education”, which implies a holistic system of international higher education, including the traditional common components, but on a new technological basis.
During the period of its development, distance learning technology has passed through several stages of formation. The content and means of each of them in general are successfully implemented in various forms of modern distance education, and their approaches and components not only do not exclude, but also mutually complement each other.
The first stage is a form of distance education in which training is organized according to the scheme “a teacher – one or more students”. Types of means of communication between the teacher and the student here are few: the usual mail, telephone, computers. The number of specialists providing this form of distance education is limited, and most of the components are autonomous and independent of each other. At this stage, there was no consistency and comprehensiveness in the use of distance learning tools.
The second stage in the development of distance education can be conventionally labeled: “teacher – many students”. It was formed due to the organization of one-way communication in the process of distance learning, that is, without the “reverse” component. At this stage, the types of communication began to increase, including video and audio cassettes, computer programs, video lectures, etc.
The third stage of distance learning development is characterized by the emergence since the early 80’s and the further growth in popularity of the Internet. Its influence became so enormous that the connection of “many to many” and knowledge-sharing systems became common. The number of “providers” of information increased despite time and geographical limitations. Since the early 1990s, the number of Internet users has grown rapidly: it is expected that by the end of the 20th century it will reach 100 million users.
Today we can speak about the fourth – integrative – stage of distance education development, which is based on the complex – virtual training technology of learning with the use of all the known forms of distance education. Its basis is constituted by the developing means of information delivery thanks to the real complex introduction of modern communication systems (integration of radio, telephone, computer networks, satellite and cable video communications), which make it possible to transmit any form of information to any part of the globe as quickly as possible.
At this stage among the modern concepts of distance education organization on the basis of new information means undoubtedly deserve attention the ideas of creating world and regional network technologies as well as “unified virtual campus”. Today the process of inclusion of publicly available databases and knowledge into the integrated communication systems is taking place. For example, it has already become possible to access dozens of university communication lines, such as the Open (Virtual) University, which includes the World Network of Academies, the UK Open University, etc. New information technologies are being introduced in regional associations: the Asian Association of Open Universities, the Latin American Cooperative Network for Distance Education, and the European Association of Open Universities. In Russia, the Modern Humanities University has deployed a network of satellite educational television, covering dozens of regions of the Russian Federation. On the basis of an agreement between SGU and Cambridge University, professors from Britain’s most prestigious institution of higher learning give television lectures in our country’s regions. For the first time Russian students have an opportunity to become specialists in European and English law without having to leave their place of residence and employment.
The form of distance learning applied at SGU and the organization of the educational process has aroused interest in many CIS countries. To date, SGU is the founder of the Russian-Kazakh Modern Humanitarian University, the Yerevan branch of SGU, a branch of SGU in Moldova, the Kharkov Center for Humanitarian and Technical Education, the Russian-Tajik Modern Humanitarian University, and the Minsk branch of SGU. More than 8100 people study at these educational institutions, which have received the relevant licenses in their countries.
On the basis of intensive introduction of innovative means of distance learning, a competitive market of educational services is being created. This is very important, because one of the tasks of distance learning is to provide education of the highest quality to consumers in peripheral regions, giving their population the right to choose the highest quality didactic product.
We can cite with satisfaction a number of examples of Russian students receiving a full-fledged education in foreign institutions of higher education through the system of distance learning. This is a gratifying fact, because there is no need to convince once again of the effectiveness and high level of international education, its independence from politics, economics and ease of communication – “transparency”.
Such statement of the issue brings the problem of exporting its product to the countries – traditional consumers of Russian educational services – up-to-date for the domestic system of distance education. It should be noted in this connection that the most important distinctive feature of the Russian nation was and remains Eurasianism, which still attracts the peoples of our continent to various forms of educational cooperation. Not to lose this function in our development is today a truly historic, difficult task, nevertheless relevant and requiring enormous efforts from our state in modern conditions.
All this entails the need to continuously expand and improve the quality of distance education. Its forms and content should meet the main requirements: accessibility and democracy of education, elimination of various forms of discrimination in the educational sphere. Distance education should be accessible to the population. At the same time, another very important requirement of modern society should be respected: the continuity of education of citizens, i.e. “education for life”.
In order to conduct large-scale experiments and widely spread the system of distance education in modern conditions, it is necessary to solve a set of problems reflecting worldview, theoretical and methodological, technological, legal, social and other aspects of this new form of education.
The social aspect of distance education development reflects the needs of modern civilization in the mass form of learning. The question “to be or not to be” distance education is no longer relevant. All over the world, distance learning is firmly “on its feet” – it has taken its significant social “niche” in the educational sphere, involving in its system certain and, as a rule, broad strata of the population.
Moreover, modern society requires further increase of mass education and improvement of its qualitative level in view of significant increase in the share of intellectual labor and increased requirements to the consumer and producer of material and spiritual goods. Nevertheless, in the Russian Federation students make up about 2% of the population of the country, against 3-3.5% in most civilized countries of the world and 5.5% in the USA.
Social forecasts about the positive results of the introduction of distance education technology for the Russian Federation and CIS countries are obvious. First of all, it is a positive impact on the solution of a set of socio-economic problems of different regions (stabilization and growth of the population, eradication of unemployment, crime, drug addiction, etc.) by means of distance virtual education. Secondly, on-site training of the population and professional activities naturally leads to the elimination of the lag between peripheral areas and their metropolitan centers in terms of free access to education, information and cultural achievements of human civilization. As we can see, the considered aspect of the problem of distance education development gives this form of education a social significance and a good prospect.
The worldview aspect of distance learning development is related to the need to change stereotypes on education as a well-established and eternally unchanging system. In modern science we increasingly hear calls to revise the past paradigms and establish a new – post-nonclassical – model of science. A paradigm shift in the view of education and its forms, as well as science in general, is a very painful process. Nevertheless, the affirmation of a humanistic worldview should manifest itself objectively in all spheres of human life, including humanistically oriented approaches and means of education, which should become predominant and widespread at the end of the second and beginning of the third millennium.
The role of the teaching community is evident here. We are witnessing a process of spreading the ideas of democracy, pluralism, autonomy, and academic freedom in modern schools. These principles for Russian education are no longer a figment of the popular imagination, because they are enshrined in the “Law on Education. These worldview ideas clearly and unambiguously reflect the objective needs in the application of diverse forms of learning. We can state with satisfaction that in general the development of distance education takes place in the framework of these principles.
The theoretical and methodological aspect of introducing and approving distance education is conditioned by the need for conceptual justification of this still new form of learning, Here, the scientific – theoretical and methodological validity of the tools used is particularly important. It is not so much about the technological side of the issue, as about the systemic justification of psychological, pedagogical and sociological foundations for the implementation of various methods and programs of distance learning. Scientific support has been and remains the main criterion and requirement in the development and implementation of new distance learning technologies in the educational process.
The legal aspect of distance learning reflects the need for adequate legal support of this form of education in Russia and CIS countries. The fact is that, as already emphasized, modern Russian educational legislation is rather strictly focused on the classroom-lesson system, which practically does not take into account advanced information technologies. For example, we can refer to the conditions of licensing and accreditation of Russian educational institutions, standards of classrooms, requirements to the composition of teaching staff and provision with didactic means. Domestic legislation practically prohibits innovations in technology and methods of educational processes, and state standards – in the content of educational programs offered by schools and universities. Therefore, the immediate task is to lift these bans, legalize and support innovation. It is very important that distance learning should not be seen as a semi-legal and constantly justified “add-on” to the existing educational system, but should have a legal status corresponding to its role and position in society. The question here should not be about the alternatives to the existing schemes of education. Distance education organically fits into the educational sphere and its infrastructure, acting as an integral component of the system of education and upbringing of the younger generation and citizens of the country. Such an approach should be legally justified.
The financial and economic aspect of the development of distance education is one of the most relevant in the current socio-economic situation. Particularly important in this aspect is the issue of financing innovative technologies. It is not about additional budgetary funds, but about available loans, guarantees, etc. As practical experience has shown, new information technologies of distance learning are quite capable of self-financing at the expense of paid educational services. Only experiments and initial capital investments need encouragement and support. In this regard, the state is obliged to provide real support in the form of preferential taxation and grants to those educational institutions that invest financial resources in the development of advanced distance learning technologies.
The didactic aspect of the development of distance education reflects the pedagogical foundations of this form of learning. Especially important here are the issues of training teaching staff, which are able to productively and with high quality to implement the concept of distance learning in the regions – away from the basic educational center. The basis of the didactic process in a distance learning environment can be a set of components. The existing didactic forms of distance learning are very diverse: from “case” technology (MESI) to Satellite Educational TV (SGU). Further development and improvement of pedagogical forms of learning using the latest achievements of information technology have been and remain the most important tasks of distance education.
The technological aspect of the development of distance education is due to a breakthrough in communication tools, allowing the implementation of advanced teaching methods on an individual-variant basis. Modern means of computer science and telecommunications already today allow students to choose the degree of complexity of each of the subjects studied, as well as their totality in accordance with their life interests, plans and professional perspectives.
There is no doubt that these aspects should be taken into account in the development and implementation of educational policy of the CIS countries, the introduction of advanced distance learning technologies. In this regard, the main areas of activity for the development of distance learning in the CIS countries can include:
– coordination of efforts on mutual recognition of higher and secondary education diplomas by the states of the near abroad;
– coordinating the activities of the CIS countries’ state education authorities with regard to licensing and accrediting educational institutions;
– creation of legal framework for the opening of joint educational structures of the CIS countries;
– coordination of standards for didactic and material and technical support of the process of introducing distance learning technologies in the CIS countries;
– joint introduction of innovative didactic forms and advanced educational distance technologies by higher educational institutions of CIS countries;
– solving the problem of teaching languages on the territory of CIS countries;
– coordination of normative documents, curricula and thematic plans in the areas of education taking into account national and state specifics of the CIS countries.
The issues outlined in the article allow us to conclude that distance learning technology should provide people of any age with an opportunity to receive continuous and high-quality education at the place of their residence and future professional activity, including regional and peripheral centers of Russia and CIS countries. But the development of distance learning should be considered not as an end in itself, not as an “anomaly” or an accident in the system of modern education, but as a powerful and productive means of solving urgent civilizational problems of Russia and the Commonwealth countries. Such technology, in our opinion, is the future of our common educational space.
The question is not whether or not modern educational technologies will be introduced in Russia and the CIS: the positive answer is unambiguous. If we do not develop them ourselves and occupy a leading position, they will come to Russia and the CIS from without, just as modern computers, TV sets and cars, high-quality consumer goods, etc., came from abroad.
In the described context Russia gets a historical chance to realize its richest intellectual potential by means of high-tech means of distance education. Not to use it would be a global mistake with far-reaching consequences. Any references to the economic and technological poverty of modern Russian schools will not be forgiven by the coming generation. The education system should be highly effective and accessible to everyone in Russia and the CIS countries, without any discriminatory specifications and restrictions. This should be a continuous process of training and education with the widest coverage of the entire population of the country, not only with the import but also with the export of education, its high mobility and variability, with the use of remote, including virtual, computer, information and other modern communication technologies. We are talking about the formation of a system of domestic distance education, which claims to play a leading role in the world. It should be based on scientifically grounded teaching aids, quality didactic products and the latest information technology achievements. In this case, distance education will fulfill its progressive role not only in Russia, but also in our neighboring countries.
Modern Humanities Academy.