Author: Interview by Elizabeth Yurieva
Margarita Rusetskaia: ‘The key to the success and development of Russian education is a balanced approach.’
In the last one hundred years Russian language has not lost anything: it has not become impoverished and it has even become enriched. Margarita Rusetskaia, the Provost of the State Institute of Russian Language, A. S. Pushkin, is convinced of this. She gives her point of view in an exclusive interview for our magazine.
— Margarita Nikolaevna, are there new directions in the teaching of Russian language and literature in the new academic year?
— Of course. In spring, of this year, Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev issued a new plan for the teaching of Russian language and literature. This document defines a whole compliment of measures which are directed at raising the quality of teaching of writing and literature in school. That is why positive changes are already occurring. In particular, thanks to the increase of association amongst professionals, dictionaries have re-entered the reference lists of methodologies for the teaching of Russian language. The idea is that, amongst other things, it is necessary for children to gain dictionary competence. That is to say, they should have the ability to work with dictionaries, with reference books: to be able to find information, to analyse it and then use it for their studies. For many years schools did not have the right to spend funds from their budget on the purchase of dictionaries.
Besides this, trial educational programmes have been worked out, and they take into account several innovations. In terms of Russian language, what are these innovations? The basic task consists of balancing theoretical knowledge of Russian with a practical functional proficiency. Today, school teachers: teachers at university with graduate students: and employers have noticed a problem. In the work market today, quality of communication in Russian language has become prioritised, and it is a requirement of-applicants who are seeking a work placement. And attention is given not only to correct spelling, and the ability to write without mistakes, but also to more subtle aspects: the linguistic awareness of the candidate and his stylistic competence.
Of course, a lot was done last year. The Ministry for Education realised a large project which was directed towards raising the quality of teaching of Russian language in those regions where for many families Russian is not the first language: the language of their mothers. This means that, in the class, the teacher is in a special linguistic situation which requires further methodological guidance. Great hopes are linked to our project for the creation of textbooks of a new kind. We understand that for the regions these teacher-training manuals should be linked to an ability to work in the classroom where Russian language is taught as a second language. For the fifty years of the Institute’s existence we have gathered a colossal amount of experience on the teaching of Russian language as a foreign language, and are glad that it will be in demand.
Speaking of Russian language as a school subject, it can not be separated from literature because, on the whole, it is a question of the quality of words-and the art of language. And the art of language encompasses the totality of the communications and the totality of the texts which are used in everyday life, personal development and professional communication. Now there is work being done on the creation of modern electronic educational resources and new text books which will maintain the traditionally high reading culture of Russian society. It is important, that writing in school again became mandatory. This helps form practical competence in the sphere of Russian language acquisition. And all of this, of course, facilitates the raising of the quality of language-usage in our society.
— And what do you think of the Unified State Exam (EGE) in Russian language and literature?
— We all understand that EGEs are a tool for the evaluation of the quality of education, of its results. Of course, like any instrument, it can not encompass everything or be universal. At the present, the work to be set for the EGE has been decided, but life dictates new conditions, that is why, of course, these processes will continue to develop. This is a completely normal process. Beside this, the EGE guarantees an equal opportunity for everyone to receive higher education: it raises the standard of education, and this is very important.
— How do you evaluate Russian education in general?
— Statistics say that there is a growth in interest in Russian education, for example: in entering institutes of higher education. And it is not only those who wish to study in Russian universities and receive grants who are interested in the state programme: there are a great number of young people who come to study in our universities that are privately funded, and they absolutely link their future professional career to the level of education that they can receive in Russian universities. And this, in my opinion, is a completely wonderful tendency and is evidence that Russian higher education is definitely in demand.
The achievement of our students in international Olympiads also suggests that the Russian system of education is extremely competitive. I can say that the system of further education, which is developing in our country, is unique. There is not an analogue of it in any other national system of universal education. It is precisely in the individualising of these programmes of higher education that each child can find subjects in the spheres of art, science and sport which definitely ensure his harmonious development.
Our foreign colleagues have a keen interest in the technologies which are being developed in our work with children with disabilities.
— The Pushkin Institute is preparing specialists for teaching Russian language as a foreign language. Will students be taught according to a unified state education programme for all the countries and nationalities which make-up the Russian Federation? Or will there be differences?
— We are realising our educational programme for all Russian and foreign participants. Teachers will always teach students of particular countries any necessary additional work. — Let’s take phonetics. — Somewhere in certain languages there is no [l]that sounds like the Russian one. Somewhere else there is no [r]. And that means the ability to enunciate them has to be taught. And for another language group, there is, let’s say, a difficulty in the acquisition of cases or categories of gender. That is why, yes, textbooks are based on general approaches, but, at the same time, we always try to take into consideration which country the participants have come from, and in which language-group there mother-tongue belongs.
— For learning Russian language, there are a lot of schools and courses in Europe which have been set up by emigrants. Parents do not want their children to forget their Russian and, also, to know about Russian writers. There are theatres, museums, and clubs: lectures are given; Russian language magazines and newspapers are published. Are there any programmes to support the Russian language schools abroad?
— Yes, of course. But, for us, this is a separate problem, interest and mission. Without question, those compatriots of ours, who are doing everything so that they keep their Russian language and culture for their children, are like-minded colleagues. And we understand that this is a very difficult and important business. At the Pushkin Institute a huge number of partners are from the Russian schools abroad. What does this partnership consist of? In the realisation of a system of raising the standard of qualifications of teachers. In our portal, there is an electronic platform for the study of Russian language ‘Education in Russian’,
The Pushkin Institute’s large innovation project, ‘Russian Language for Our Children’, which supports bilingual children, is realised and introduced in our portal. It is constructed in order to study and test the state of the linguistic training of these youngsters, and of their motivation for studying Russian language. In this regard, never adopt the same system of evaluation which is, let’s say, for children who live in Russia, and who find themselves amongst Russian speakers, as a system for the evaluation of Russian language as a foreign one. That is why in recent years our researchers’ laboratory (for the foundation of fundamental principals of linguistic didacts) has worked out a special test for bilingual children. It is an excellent tool: on the one hand, for parents it enables them to see the extent to which the children’s speech accords with age-specific requirements and, on the other, it is an indicator for Russian teachers and schools that allows them to evaluate qualitatively the Russian lessons which are going on. For children it is a special celebration when teachers from the Pushkin Institute, the leading institute of Russian language in the world, come and, in entertaining, free, very comfortable conditions, they give exams in Russian, and give out certificates which define the children’s level of achievement in Russian language. This is clearly a celebration of Russian language.
This project, undoubtedly, deserves methodological support. All the preparation-materials for the tests are on the portal. Materials for Russian language and literature: electronic resources for geography and history, and also materials on the art and culture of Russia. Every day twenty thousand users visit this site. And today on the portal, ‘Education in Russian’, there are a total of a million visitors. And, almost five hundred thousand people from one hundred and ninety countries of the world study Russian language. Pedagogues of Russian language enhance their qualifications and become acquainted with various educational programmes in Russian language. This is a large project of the Pushkin Institute. It was commissioned by The Council on Russian language of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Education and Sciences. We are very proud that the portal became not only a platform for the study of Russian language, but also a new format for the association of professionals from around the world. We have constructed a new professional association of more than thirty thousand teachers worldwide, who learn, who discuss, who enhance their qualifications, and who become promoters of modern methods of language study in an online format. We are very glad that, by virtue of an electronic platform, our experience, which has been gathered over fifty years, has become accessible to any person, at any spot in the world where there is the possibility of accessing the Internet.
— Modern youth read little and what they do read is far from the Russian classics. How do you approach this problem?
— Nowadays we say that along with oral and written communication, man has ‘displayed’ communication. Our reading from paper books has crossed over to virtual worlds and ciphered texts, and this is completely acceptable and normal. Yes, of course, perhaps children have begun to read fewer classics, and they read more modern works. The task for the teacher is to become an aid and navigator in a programme of reading and in a circle for further readings.
The problem of understanding the classic texts, of course, is still there today. That is why one of our projects, the ‘Pushkin Institute Literary Readings’, is aimed at the renaissance of a deep reading of a text. And this is linked to our specialists helping with: not only understanding lines of classical text but also seeing behind these lines into the depths of the relationships and profundity of the actions: into the many aspects of our culture and society: and into the mentality of the people. I think that, quite simply, the number one pedagogical task is to teach children to feel and to understand a text. And, when the problems of reading, themselves, depart, depending on the degree to which we understand the text, and the degree to which this activity has become comfortable and interesting to us, then reading even becomes a favourite way to pass one’s free time.
— Do loan words actively penetrate into the Russian language? In particular, from English? Isn’t the Russian language clogged up by them in its connection with the development of the internet and social networks?
— Not only the Russian language, but all languages are being tested by the influence of the English language. And in not only the linguistic sphere but also in the sphere of technology and Internet communication. We know that in the history of our country there were periods when French dominated, or when more people spoke German, but at those times, the Russian language was excellently preserved and wonderful works of literature were created.
If we are talking about loan words, then, on the whole, this is a natural process. Language is a living developing system, and for the new denotation of objects and ideas by name, it has to find new words. And if this word is not found in the mother-tongue, then a word is used which arises at the same time as the thing itself.
— What place does the Russian language have in the world? How would one define its status?
— Its status is demonstrated at the international conventions of both the UN and UNESCO. It is a language of international communication. If we speak of countries of the CIS, then it is still the language of general science and the educational sphere. Formerly, academic work was written in the Russian language. Dissertations were defended using it. Undoubtedly, for the countries of CIS, Russian has the status of an everyday language: of a language of international decisions: of economic trade relations: and of humanitarian relations. According to various assessments, in the world today there are more than three hundred million people who speak Russian.
— Your institute works on programmes to prepare bureaucrats for public speaking. Could you talk about this in more detail?
— The correct use of Russian language is undoubtedly a part of the image of any company or organisation. Our system of tests, ‘Pushkin 100’, allows an evaluation of the speech competency of every employee. On the eve of the International Day of Grammar which is on 8 September 2016, we begin one of these projects with the famous state cooperation, ROSATOM.
— In Russia, which of the programmes that are targeted at, and dedicated to, the development of education are realised?
— The Russian government and the Ministry for Education and Science are prepared to support a large project which represents a completely new stage in the development of Russian education. It is called: ‘Russian Electronic School’. The project is intended to create electronic means by which educational programmes (that are created by the best Russian pedagogues), on all subjects, from year one to the eleventh grade, will be combined. And, a system of further education for all those who wish to study Russian using Russian programmes, as well as programmes which offer support to teachers are also to be launched on this platform. This will give an opportunity for our Russian language electronic platform to be developed.
So, what is being done to support talented children? There is yet another large project for further education which introduces new structures. They are techno-parks. These are new centres of technological support for education, which are aimed at the regeneration of traditional engineering education, and at raising the quality of knowledge of the natural sciences. The project means new hardware for schools: programmes on robot technology, nanotechnology and information technology. In parallel with the programmes which are focused on the development of natural science education, and on the support of cadres of engineers, the project promotes technological progress and the development of economics in any society. Through a rebirth in traditional interests in history and language, great attention is being given to questions of humanitarian, spiritual and patriotic education and upbringing. It seems to me that the key to success for the development of the whole of Russian education is just such a balanced approach.