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Monday, February 21, 2011

Standards vs. creativity?

Russia has gotten carried away lately with heated debates regarding new educational standards for high schools. This is understandable; what and how our kids will be taught concerns each and every one of us, and molds this country’s future capacity. It is an important determinant that economic growth hinges upon, as skilled workforce is as prized an asset globally as Russia’s commodities.

Each camp has its own pros and cons arguments. When I listened to them, as a former schoolteacher I first tended to side with those who are worried about the new standards. But it dawned upon me then: why do schools need federal educational standards at all? We have a Centralized Testing system of exams that lists a minimal number of subjects to study; why not allow each school to teach a select number of subjects outside the list to an extent the school deems necessary? The authors of the new standards want multiple-choice alternatives for schools; so, the above option would provide a student and his parents with a choice of a school to go to. The reformers’ opponents advocate classical approaches to education; with what I just said there will surely be schools that cherish traditions.

I went on thinking and asked myself: why does such a vast and multi-culture country as Russia have to have so many various standards? Why not grant the regions permission to levy or abolish their own taxes (keeping the federal taxes intact, of course)? Why not let each region think of how to raise budget revenue while presenting itself as investor-friendly?

Or: why does almost every Russian company set January 1 as the beginning of a fiscal year? It is so inconvenient to prepare for a holiday season, do shopping, etc. and at the same time think of planning and reporting. Most international corporations start their fiscal year on April 1 or July 1, and they do fine…

There is a whole raft of standards, both written and verbal, which we hardly ever analyze. But if we bother to do so, we will understand that preserving all of them makes little sense. And as we do, then we’ll be more confident saying that Russia’s competitive advantage is not only well-educated but also unorthodoxly thinking and creative people.

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