The quality of school education in the capital is improving year by year. The best students at Moscow schools take part in and win numerous competitions at various levels, both national and international. City schools use the most advanced technologies and are becoming genuinely “smart” and open. Media coverage reports that education in Moscow is now world-class, a fact that is confirmed by high ratings in authoritative studies.
It was not always so. School. Moscow interviewed the Mayor of Moscow, Sergey Sobyanin, to discuss how Moscow has become an education leader, how the Moscow city government designs development strategies for education and the tasks that lie ahead.
Sergey Semyonovich, standards in schools are much discussed in Russia today and Moscow is flag-bearer and benchmark. How do you rate education in the capital today? What is the main and key achievement of Moscow education, in your view?
School education in Moscow is now of high quality and is available to all Muscovites. This is the main achievement. Certainly, Moscow schools had a good reputation in the past. However, if you think back l0 years, Moscow had first-rate schools, but it also had schools that could not provide a proper standard of education. I believe that Moscow’s children must have equal opportunities to obtain high quality education, regardless of the city district and the school where they study. That ensures a level playing field for entry to college or university. It ensures equal starting conditions in life.
There was a nightmare period a few years ago when people would do anything to get their children into decent schools…
Absolutely! In 2010, there were only 15-20 high-quality schools in the city. Our task was to provide equal access to high-quality education for all Moscow children. We have done a lot to achieve that. Firstly, we dramatically changed the funding model for the education system. Previously there were differences of three to four times between funding for different schools, and we made it equal for all. We levelled financial support and established a just system of standard funding for everybody. Teachers are now paid depending on the number of their pupils and the quality of their knowledge. These changes encouraged schools to pay attention to their students and the quality of education they provide, which radically changed the situation.
High-quality education has become widespread, and many schools in the city now provide their students with excellent, in-depth knowledge.
Moscow education is now an established brand. Moscow has shown itself to be a “smart” city, a city of education. What do you view as the main evidence for this?
It is confirmed by how well our students do in the national exam for school-leavers and their excellent performance in various Olympiads.
The Olympiad movement now has a place in almost every school. In 2018, our students took over half of the gold medals in the All-Russian Olympiad for School Students. Compare that with 2010, when only a quarter of gold medal winners were from Moscow. We are setting new records each year. The figures speak for themselves: almost every third school in the city has prizewinners of the All Russian Olympiad. That surely proves the very high level of Moscow education.
We have always supported our talented children and we will continue to do so. This year it was decided to double the grants to children who win prizes and commendations: winners will get RUR 300,000 each, and those with commendations will get RUR 150,000.
The educational level of Moscow students puts them in a strong position when applying to universities. How do we rate at international level?
Very well, according to independent surveys. Moscow education is an object of study for international experts as well as for our own experts. Everything is assessed — results, technology, processes…
The results are impressive, as confirmed by such authoritative international studies as PISA and PIRLS. In 2016, Moscow schools were among the top-10 education systems in the world in terms of reading and mathematical literacy (we ranked sixth), and Moscow fourth-graders took first place in the prestigious PIRLS international rating for reading comprehension. It was the first time the capital had participated in this study, and it was carried out separately for Moscow. The results were fantastic: our young readers performed better than their peers in Singapore, Madrid, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Quebec.
Just recently, we received the results of another major study: analysts of an international consulting group, Bain & Company, assessed the development of Moscow education from 2010 to 2017 in comparison with 20 other world megalopolises. Again, we are among the leaders: Moscow ranked fifth in the world by the average education level of its school students.
Global research shows that Moscow is now one of the best education centres in the world — a truly smart city.
That’s an assessment on a global scale, correct? So our children scale the heights at international level?
Moscow school students excel at international Olympiads as part of the Russian national team. Last year alone, our children won 19 medals in eight subject fields, representing half of all of the team’s awards: Moscow students took seven gold medals, eight silver and four bronze for Russia. All credit to the students for their effort and talent in making first-rate academic progress and representing our city and country internationally. Now they have even more reason to be the best of the best: the Moscow Government has established special grants for students who succeed in international competitions. Each student will receive RUR 1 million for a first prize, RUR 500,000 for second prize, and third-prize winners will get RUR 250,000 each.
Our children also compete on home ground. Moscow has hosted the Megalopolises Olympiad for the third consecutive year. This is an international team tournament for school students from megalopolises and world capitals. The number of participants is growing consistently: in 2016 students from 22 world cities came to Moscow to test their abilities and knowledge, and in 2017 we attracted competitors from 36 cities in 26 countries. I am confident that the numbers will increase even further at the third Olympiad, which takes place in Moscow from September 2 to September 7.
The competition has two main stages, in which children solve mathematical and IT problems, and also complete theoretical and experimental assignments in physics and chemistry. The level of difficulty of these tests is equal to that at major international Olympiads. Here also our team shows outstanding results: Moscow students took first place two years in a row. I wish the best of luck to all participants of the Third International Megalopolises Olympiad this year.
I would like to express my respect for these achievements to the children themselves and their parents. But we should not forget the efforts made by Moscow teachers. They are the ones who show the children the way from the first grade onwards, introduce them to the world, offer them knowledge, help them to find and develop their talents. We are very grateful to our teachers for this. I believe our teachers are the best, and I want to thank them for their work.
The changes have been large-scale and very positive. What other steps is the city government taking in this direction?
Moscow doesn’t rest on its laurels: there is always room for improvement. The role of education in our life can’t be overestimated, now that the world is so dynamic and technologies are developing so rapidly. We always have be a step ahead, to be prepared today for the changes of tomorrow, to be competitive.
We are looking ahead, and the city education system is developing as the city itself develops, it is a policy priority for us. The key principles for development of Moscow schools today are resource integration, building skills for life in the modem hi-tech world, and education for the future.
That is why we have launched and are actively working on such major city megaprojects as the Moscow Electronic School (MESH) and pre-professional training.
MESH is a unique project that started in 2016 and has already become a “calling card” of the city education system. In the project, we provide schools with cutting-edge hi-tech equipment, including interactive panels, tablets, laptops and high-speed Wi-Fi connection. What is most important, I believe, is that MESH brings together traditional education and digital technology. It is a system for teaching and learning in a new way. It has special value as a “people’s project” — devised by Moscow teachers. MESH is more than just hardware, it is a platform that allows every teacher to share experience and knowledge, helping them to create unique scenarios for every single subject and lesson.
Today, the Moscow Electronic School library contains over 22,000 electronic lesson plans, designed by city teachers, 480 public training manuals, 250 electronic course books for each subject of the school curriculum and over 8,000 educational applications. So every family can use free, accessible, high-quality learning materials and every teacher contributes to the evolution of Moscow’s “smart school” system by producing and applying the unique content of MESH. This city has shown its appreciation of the project: we now have a Moscow city government grant for contributions to the development of MESH, awarded to the authors of materials that attract highest demand in the system. The grant has already been awarded to 274 teachers at 148 Moscow schools. And our teachers receive a monthly bonus of RUR 10,000 for active participation in the project.
It is also very important to us that Moscow schoolchildren are able to find their career paths and acquire the skills they need for their future professions and for life in the hi-tech urban environment.
We have therefore arranged pre-professional classes in engineering and medicine, as well as through the Kurchatov project. Most recently, we added academic and science & technology pre-professional classes. They are now available in 10 Moscow schools. This gives city school students more opportunity to decide where they want to continue their education, to work out their own individual development strategy and acquire basic professional skills. Moscow is committed to further development of pre-professional education. It is a vital and promising project.
Why the priority given to engineering and medical classes?
The capital needs engineering specialists. Engineering specialists are now in demand everywhere — even in medicine — due to rapid advances in technology. That is why we pay so much attention to these classes.
It is pleasing to see that Moscow students excel particularly in science: they have shown excellent results in top competitions, in both physics and chemistry.
I would like to ask about vocational colleges, which have travelled a long way from the technical training schools, which they used to be, to modern hi-tech centers, training genuine professionals. How are young graduates from these colleges faring?
The city’s professional colleges enables students to fulfill their potential in nearly any field. The colleges have changed a lot: they have hi-tech training equipment, great facilities and logistics, and they are staffed with excellent vocational training specialists. They also operate differently nowadays: they don’t wait for students to come to them; instead, they go to find young people when they are still at school.
For example, the Professional Training without Borders project encourages students to attend classes at school and college concurrently, so they obtain a school certificate and a professional qualification at the same time. There are complementary education curricula with technical specializations for school students, also operated by Moscow vocational colleges. There is also a new approach to technology as a subject, allowing secondary school students to study it at professional colleges, using the latest training equipment. There are well-established open-door events at the city’s vocational educational organizations, called “A hundred roads — and one is yours”, which we hold twice a year: anyone can come and see with their own eyes how the college operates, what curricula are implemented, what its industrial laboratories can offer, take part in workshops and talk to prospective employers.
Moscow colleges have strong relationships with specialized city enterprises. Their graduates get interesting and prestigious jobs — they are in demand on the Moscow labour market.
Certainly, vocational colleges nowadays are terrific training grounds for future champions. Moscow students are outstandingly well trained, they take top positions in the Young Professionals national championship and at international level.
The Moscow team has taken first place in the Young Professionals championship for the last two years. In 2016, our young people won gold medals in 14 categories, silver medals in 11 categories and bronze medals in 8 categories. In 20I7, they broke their own record, winning gold medals in 22 specializations, silver medals in 6 and bronze medals in 4.
Our team ranked best in the final of the WorldSkills professional skills championship, which was held in Abu Dhabi last year. Students from Moscow colleges took two gold and two silver medals — over a third of the 11 medals won by the Russian team — and our students also collected five of the medallions, which are awarded to participants who show the highest level of professional training.
The number of students who take part in various professional skills competitions has increased greatly. City colleges have produced 51 winners and 47 commendations at the WorldSkills Russia national competition.
We understand that vocational education shapes the future of industry and services in the capital.
Moscow is going to develop these skills further.
interviewer E. Rips photos: Press Service Of The Moscow City Mayor And The Moscow Government