President Vladimir Putin gave a very long and comprehensive speech about the Russian State of the Nation on February 20, 2019. We split the speech into sections for shorter reading and some offered analysis and comment about the direction Russia is taking under President Putin’s leadership. The previous topics – the military, international trade, the family, the environment, and infrastructure, are all covered in companion pieces linked here. This section covers the matter of education as Russia continues to adapt to and develop its own 21st century technological prowess.
We begin with the sections of the President’s speech on education, with emphases and comments added.
Colleagues, the number of students from small towns and remote areas studying at the best Moscow and regional universities is increasing. According to international assessments, our elementary, middle and high school students demonstrate good results in the humanities and hard sciences. We can see it ourselves, based on the results of contests and various student competitions. All this is an indicator of qualitative changes in our school education.However, despite all these achievements, we must not overlook the obvious problems in this crucial area.
The share of schools with modern study conditions has increased from 12 percent in 2000 (only 12 percent) to 85 percent in 2018.But even today, some 200,000 children still go to schools where there is no proper heating, water supply and sewage system. Yes, it is less than 1.5 percent of all schoolchildren, but when their parents see these conditions, any words about justice and equal opportunities only irritate them.
I want to draw the attention of the heads of the regions where poorly equipped schools still exist. This problem can be completely resolved within two years. We can do it. I know that the Government is thinking about it and making certain decisions. I am asking you to support the regions that lack their own resources.
When in 2006 we started providing internet connections to schools, the technology was completely different. You know, it seemed like a real breakthrough. And it was indeed a breakthrough at the time. Right now, this technology seems ancient, and we have new tasks to resolve. By the end of 2021, all Russian schools must have a high-speed internet connection rather than just a connection.
Let me remind you that in 2006, when schools were being hooked up to the internet, the recommended speed was 128 kbps. Now we need 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps, which is at least 400 times higher. This will help our kids to gain access to lessons and lectures by prominent teachers, to contests and Olympiads; it will allow them to significantly expand their capabilities and get involved in online projects with their fellow students from other regions and countries. The content of educational programmes must also change. The national standards and programmes must reflect the priorities of the country’s science and technology development, while the federal lists of recommended textbooks must include the best of the best books.
Of course, human resources are the most important issue. I have already spoken today about expanding the Country Doctor programme. I propose starting a similar programme for education, the Country Teacher. Teachers who decide to move to smaller towns and villages will receive a one-time payment of one million rubles.
This is an attempt to normalize the distribution of qualified teachers and educators across all of Russia and not just in the larger cities. Russia has relatively few large population centers but many villages, and in the past such places have not been attractive for teachers or any professionals. This is a stark difference from the rather homogenous quality standards in the US. In America, city people might ridicule the people in the country for poor educational levels, but it is actually quite likely to be the case that a rural school students will outscore the city kids.
In Russia it may be different because the rural areas are difficult places to live in. Americans dream of getting away from the city. Russians often find themselves forced to flee to the cities, so there is a peculiar loss of balance that the president is trying to correct here.
We must work consistently to strengthen the common environment of education and culture. The culture and education centres in Kaliningrad, Kemerovo, Vladivostok and Sevastopol will open no later than in 2023. Our leading museums and theatres will be represented there, and branches of art schools will start working there already next year.
The demand for a rich cultural environment is very high, primarily in the regions, where a great number of talented and committed people are working.I propose greatly expanding assistance to local cultural initiatives, that is, projects dealing with local history, crafts and the preservation of the historical heritage of our peoples. For example, additional allocations can be made towards this from the Presidential Grants Fund.
In addition, we will allocate over 17 billion rubles within the Culture national project for the construction and renovation of rural culture clubs and over 6 billion rubles for supporting culture centres in Russia’s small towns.I would like to remind you that medical and educational institutions are exempt from profit tax, but only until January 1, 2020.
I propose making this incentive of unlimited duration and also extending it to the regional and municipal museums, theatres and libraries. By the way, this will allow them to save some 4 billion rubles, which they will invest in development or will use to raise salaries. And lastly, this measure will encourage private investment in local cultural establishments.
Colleagues, I would like the heads of regions to ensure that salaries in education, healthcare, culture and other public sectors are kept on a par with the average wage in the given region’s economy. Colleagues, this is very important. I keep talking about this at all my meetings. We must not lower this standard. At the same time, the average wage in the economy must grow. Over 40 million people who work in the public and defence sectors and are non-working pensioners receive fixed payments. These payments must grow together with the inflation at the least. I ask the Government to take this into account.
This language we emphasized shows the simple and firm grip on reality that the President took in his tone about dealing with the problem. For him, addressing infrastructure needs is not political pie-in-the-sky. He brings the sense of focus and accountability right back to the parents, for the sake of their children who are the country’s future.