Now that I’m home from my most excellent, whirlwind trip to Russia, Finland, and Sweden, I want to share a few reflections on what I heard and what I learned. I’ll talk about Russia here, and I’ll be posting my Finland reflections on our ChangeLeadership Facebook group. (Join us!)
Given the political conversation here in the States right now, it was an interesting time to go to Moscow. But to be honest, I never felt any sort of tension. The Russians who I got a chance to spend some time with were in a word, great. Sincere, curious, funny and really helpful to their international guests.
There’s no question that Russia employs a highly traditional approach to schooling despite a lot of discussion about technology, at least at the EdCrunch conference I spoke at. From what I could tell, the focus was around digital literacy, and everyone was excited about being able to “digitize” all aspects of the school curriculum. The speakers mentioned “flipped learning” a number of times, and I heard about a couple of huge roll outs of video curriculum to support it. They want to teach kids “critical thinking,” but they seemed to want to do so via explicit instruction rather than by putting kids in situation where they need to think critically in order to solve a problem or reach a goal they care about. Yet, my questions about how critical thinking or creativity or other skills and dispositions were to be assessed went pretty much unanswered. It’s too hard.
From the late night dinner discussions with other speakers, my take is that there is little in the way of a progressive, interesting approach to technology, and, not surprisingly, little coherence around what anyone meant by the word “learning.” (As a side note, I was shocked (but not really shocked) by one high profile speaker in particular who is having a huge influence on the conversation globally couldn’t really articulate a definition that he could actually apply to his own experience.) In general, like most other places I’ve been, the Russians seem to be playing with change. It’s surfacy, driven by tradition and global rankings, proffering a vision that’s grounded in little more than how to deal with the digitalization of the curriculum and the growing ubiquity of devices.
To that end, one of the most ironic moments was when one of the cute school kids they brought on stage at the beginning of the conference answered “to get a good grade” when the emcee asked him what was the goal of learning. (That and when they gave the kids iPads to look up Newton’s First Law of Physics and the wifi wasn’t connecting. Oi.)
What I enjoyed most about my trip were two things: meeting some really interesting and well-meaning educators from around the world, and hanging out with the university students who were our guides at the conference. My guide, Olga, had never left her country but was dying to come to the United States. And another young man, Kyrril, who personally rushed me to the airport via subways and trains with like six minutes to spare, also aspired to make a visit and see what we were all about. They were nice kids who were very much awed by their foreign guests. (Lots of group selfies.)
For my take on Finland, skip over to Facebook.