Chairman of the Interstate Committee for the dissemination of knowledge and adult education,
President of the International Association “Znanie”
Full member of the International Academy of Astronautics,
Academician of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after K.E. Tsiolkovsky. Academician of Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after K.E. Tsiolkovsky
President of the International Association “Znanie”
“TO OVERCOME THE EGOISM OF KNOWLEDGE POPULARIZERS”
(Interview of Efim Malitikov to Voice of Russia radio station July 12, 2009)
Recently, Barack Obama visited Russia for the first time. During his first visit to Russia he met with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. To all appearances, there has been a brightening of our bilateral relations, which under the previous U.S. administration had, in the words of Medvedev, “almost slipped back to the level of the Cold War. Victor Samarin and I, along with my colleague political scientist Alexander Chernitsky, talk about this in the Voice of Russia studio with our guest, academician Yefim Malitikov, chair of the CIS Interstate Committee for Adult Education.
– Yefim Mikhailovich, you have been a frequent visitor to the United States for more than two decades, meeting with its leading politicians and businessmen. What impression do you have of Barack Obama, with whom virtually the entire civilized world pin its hopes for solving major global problems, beginning with overcoming the economic recession?
– So far, Obama exhibits the best features of Republican Ronald Reagan and Democrat Bill Clinton, both of whom I have known personally. I think the man combines Reagan’s charisma and oratory with Clinton’s education and aristocracy. The final vector is the incredible charm and intellectual power that could make Obama one of the greatest presidents in the history of the New World, on a par with Republican Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt.
– How do you assess the outcome of Obama’s first visit to Russia?
– They are certainly encouraging. Whenever another confrontation subsides, when people, figuratively speaking, put aside their machine guns, a kind of field emerges, freed from hostility. But nature abhors a void, and cooperation takes the place of enmity. Now there are brilliant prospects for both countries in peaceful areas. But also cooperation between the U.S. and Russia promises to be very fruitful in the military sphere, like missile defense. We have, as Barack Obama himself put it, “never fought each other. And it is true that Russians and Americans have no historical or genetic memory of mutual sacrifice. On the contrary, we were on the same side of the barricades in World War II, and we still fight terrorism together.
– And what do you see as the main areas of cooperation in civilian spheres?
– Oh, there are quite a few. I will focus on the areas that are close to me in my daily work. First of all, this is adult continuing education, the relevance of which only emphasized the economic crisis. Millions of people remain unemployed at the same time, as millions of jobs are opening. However, the unemployed are not able to occupy them due to lack of appropriate knowledge. By boasting about how our best people have worked in one factory and one workplace for many years, we demonstrate and preach ignorance, primitivism, and backwardness.
– Is the positive meaning of the concept “plant veteran” a thing of the past?
– Certainly! Look, some professions disappear for lack of use, and others arise; obsolete productions are torn down, and completely new ones open up. It is hardly possible to accurately predict the vagaries of the labor market, which is why neither one, nor two, nor even three higher educations, as a rule, will satisfy the annually changing demand for specialists. Only lifelong education with the formula “education never ends” or, if you like, “education through life” can do this. However, such education can be provided on a mass scale only by means of distance learning.
– But why? There are retraining courses, professional development, right?
– A two-week refresher course is not adult education. It is a bureaucratic eyewash. First, adults don’t have time to sit at desks, they have to work to support themselves and their families. Second, there are not enough desks and classrooms for billions of adults. Third, there is nowhere to find the necessary army of educators to teach the traditional classroom-lesson system, because there aren’t even enough teachers for children. For example, there are cases when Russian elementary schools were taught by unemployed milkmaids. And the global shortage of teachers is 15 million: among the 60 million vacancies employed only 45 million.
– But then how exactly can U.S.-Russian cooperation help in this area?
– Distance learning allows for something that even the most excellent school or the most “advanced” university cannot do. Only by distance learning can all students, without exception, receive their knowledge from video lectures by the best professors on the planet, who are outstanding popularizers of scientific disciplines. Imagine that a resident of Texas learns physics from lectures by a Nobel laureate from St. Petersburg, while a resident of Yakutia learns economics from lectures by a Nobel laureate from Chicago!
– Perhaps the video signal is subtitled in the language of the students?
– Not only that – in addition to subtitles, there is also simultaneous translation. Seminars, pre-exam consultations, and examinations are also conducted remotely. All of the technologies for this are mature: video can be transmitted via satellite to ordinary TV sets and via the Internet to computers. These technologies are implemented in the Modern Humanitarian Academy, the basic educational structure of the International Association “Knowledge”. However, the obstacle is not in the technical means, but … in the information law. Educators-educators protect their courses with copyrights: “my knowledge,” “my lecture,” “my content.
– Science popularizers insist on paying for every “performance on the air,” much like musicians do?
– Yes, imagine that! If a fee were paid for each use of a video lecture, learning would become unaffordable for many. But most importantly, all of these “my courses” are usually compilations. How can one today trade in, say, a retelling of the fundamentals of quantum mechanics that were established at the beginning of the last century? However, some educators are unwilling to accept that their lectures are based on the discoveries of scientists from different countries and different eras. Sometimes even states take the side of such educators, hiding behind considerations of secrecy.
– Are you saying that if the level of mutual distrust between Russia and the United States were to drop, there would be fewer secrets?
– Of course, all secrets have long been buried in technology and remain secrets only for underdeveloped countries. It is not without reason that we and the Americans found a common language in space, the development of which was once considered a top secret. But something else is even more important. Our two powers, as the most authoritative players on the world stage, should propose a formula whereby lecture courses would be made available to all mankind not for a fee at each “demonstration,” but for a one-time fee. Well, plus for some kind of moral reward, say, putting the name of the course’s author in the Book of Honorary Popularizers to be created at the UN. In general, to overcome the mental ego of educators-educators, in the near future we will have to change the international legislation on copyright and related rights.
– Well, let’s hope it happens soon enough. Thank you for an interesting conversation. We remind you that our guest at the “Voice of Russia” studio was Yefim Malitikov, president of the International Association “Znanie” and chair of the CIS Interstate Committee for Knowledge Dissemination and Adult Education. He was interviewed by me, political correspondent Viktor Samarin, and my colleague, political scientist Alexander Chernitsky. Efim Mikhailovich, thank you for an interesting conversation, which we will continue in a week.