Is Distance Learning Preventive Measure or Profanation?

Is Distance Learning Preventive Measure or Profanation?


Switchover of the Russian general schools and universities to remote and distance learning causes a mixed response among the Russians. While some groups of parents and students stand for it because it reduces the chances that some of the children might bring the virus to the family.

Another part go up the wall saying that now as children stay at home, it is parents who often have to feed their children the information that otherwise would have been given in the classroom. It seems these parents outnumber the satisfied ones.

The situation with higher education is somewhat different, but the universities have their own serious issues. Meanwhile, back in May of this year, the State Duma introduced a bill on remote education

in Russia. The government supported it. Let's find out who needs it, how it started, and what consequences it might lead up to.

Start of Distance Education

Fairly recently, distance learning was intended for children with identified disabilities. Then the list of target learners expanded, and more and more students began to study at home. Nevertheless, this did not substitute for the entire system of education.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent total lockdown that hit the world changed almost everything. After the lifting of the general self-isolation, during which the instruction process continued anyway, schools reopened with certain restrictions. However, all mass events were cancelled. Therefore, school graduates were deprived of the tradition Last Bell ceremony, which takes places at the end of May, with Russian seniors bidding goodbye to school life, and the prom night.

Now, during the "second wave" of the pandemic much is left at the mercy of regional governments. So, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has already announced the extension of "distance learning" for Moscow students from 6th to 11th grade.

"I believe that this measure will save the health and lives of many Muscovites, including your nearest and dearest ones," he said.

In St. Petersburg, the authorities decided to stay away from the one-size-fits-all approach. Thus, families have an opportunity to choose a mixed form of education for children. Rumor had it a similar measure might also be implemented for students of grades 5 through 11 in Moscow. However, the authorities have decided not to do it.

"Despite the fact that distance learning in its current form has invited criticism, almost a quarter of families are still vote for it today,” said Irina Potekhina, the Vice-Governor of St. Petersburg.

At present, 91,000 students in 42 regions have been transferred to distance learning.

"These measures are not widespread [in Russia,]” said Tatiana Golikova, the Deputy Prime Minister, at a recent online meeting. “They are introduced with respect to the situation in each region.”

However, forced restrictions against the background of the pandemic are one thing, and long-term measures are another. That is exactly what has been addressed in the draft law. Russian news agencies indicate in this connection that the adoption of the law will require changes in regulations regarding the role and responsibilities of teachers, the list of subjects taught remotely, home assignments, etc.

The plan is to implement the Education National Project by 2024 in Russia. In particular, it includes the Digital Educational Environment federal project. A total of 784.5 bln rubles ($10.42 bln) has been allocated for them. It is clear that these two facts are inextricably linked. Many have the apprehensions that, over time, digital platforms will replace the traditional studies in the classrooms.

The bill was introduced by senators led by Ilyas Umakhanov, the Vice Speaker of the Federation Council. At the level of the State Duma, Lyubov Dukhanina, a deputy and the head of the National Resources Education Fund, is lobbying for the new system.

Pros and Cons

Interestingly, even before the bill was introduced in mid-April this year, Dukhanina had published the results of a survey of nearly 2,500 parents and 2,700 schoolchildren. The poll on online education was taken nationwide.

According to it, the majority of parents (70%) believe that it is impossible to replace school with distance learning. Teenagers themselves do not want to study remotely all the time. For 65% of students it is much easier to memorize and understand new material during regular lessons in the classroom.

In addition, as many as 88% respondents say that all of the online platforms, which the students use during distance learning, function erratically. The same is true of links. Internet connection is also unstable. In addition, it is not always possible to send completed assignments to teachers.

A total of 45% of parents, in turn, point to the lack of communication with teachers. "Distance learning should not be about sending out material to be read and assignments to be completed,” says one of the inhabitants of the Krasnoyarsk territory. “Teachers should give online lessons. In our village, this is still very difficult. That is why some children simply do not learn the material but rewrite it and send ready-made answers to the teacher."

Children themselves also feel a lack of communication with both schoolmates and teachers. For many, the issue of children's motivation to study at home remains acute. Some 62% of respondents said it had decreased. Only 9% said that it had grown.

That is why for 48% of parents the children’s transition to online learning compelled them to put much more effort into the education process. At the same time, a little more than 20% of schoolchildren saw new opportunities for themselves. They said that they were interested in trying a new format of education.

Here is the comment by Dukhanina herself. "The transition to distance learning is easiest for those children who can organize their day on their own,” she said. “So, they have time for everything. A total of 22% of teenagers say that they have no problem organizing their studies, vacations, household chores, and entertainment. Another 38 % say that they mostly can manage it. A total of 26% of kids have some issues with it, and 12% admit they cannot do it at all.”

In Dukhanina’s opinion, when the first shock wears off, interest in the opportunities opened up by the distance educational system will increase.

As regards the pros, at least now, during the pandemic, first of all, this system provides safety for teachers. Some of them have already passed away because of the virus. Secondly, it is safety for family members of the schoolchildren themselves. Especially if there are aged persons at home.

In Their Own Names

Some time ago a collective letter from parents and teachers was written to Vladimir Putin against the digitalization of education in Russia.

“We demand the protection of the Russian children and teenagers and stopping of the crime that is gaining momentum in front of us,” the first paragraph says. “Namely, Digital Distance Learning. We also ask you to protect teachers, education workers, current and future school students, and university applicants against the Digital Learning Environment project. In our opinion, it is aggressive, unreasonable and anti-popular.”

The authors of the letter also underline that the transition to digital education is likely to be “disastrous for the Russian system of education and for the health of consumers of this system.” Moreover, “it might lead to social degradation, the growth of crime, and the decline in the overall level of culture. To say nothing of the likely vanishing of teachers, education workers and thinking people as a class.”

In addition, there are scientific facts, too. According to research by scientists Manfred Spitzer and Susan Greenfield, the frequent use of gadgets leads to digital dementia, that is, feeble-mindedness. Adolescents spending much time in front of the computer screen suffer from a range of disorders affecting memory, attention, and cognitive functions. This also includes depression and frustration. It might even cause schizophrenia and weakening of self-control. In the brain itself, there are changes similar to those that appear after a brain injury.

Even the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) recommends limiting the time spent by children and teenagers in front of the computer to 15-30 minutes a day, since prolonged exposure to computers negatively affects mental and physical health.

Explicating the idea and citing other facts and quotes, the authors admit that the introduction of new norms is quite possible as an alternative to basic education in accordance with those standards that have always been cherished by the Russians. They make references to the past record of the Russian President himself who got his higher education at St. Petersburg State University.

There is Always a Choice

Speaking of St. Petersburg State University, students and teachers there have been sent to distance learning, too.

“My son who studies there told me the terrible news today,” Eugenia Alexeyeva wrote on her account on social nets. “The university has been entirely transferred to distance learning. For good. All the lectures were given online at St. Petersburg State University from the very beginning [of the pandemic.] However, in October, they started practical training (...). Freshmen got to know each other, made friends, and had an opportunity to leave their places at least a couple of times a week. They had a chance to touch minerals with their hands, to ask questions to their lecturers, and to dive into the learning process deeper. So, it was at least some kind of student life.”

In general, Alexeyeva called this kind of education “a profanation.” At the same time, she admits that there are majors that might suffer less. “There is no way [to get a proper education] in natural sciences without in-class training,” said she. “An exception was made for doctors. They continue studying offline.”

“It is different for the students of human sciences, too,” student Sergey Davydov writes in the comments below Alexeyeva’s post. “I'm pursuing graduate studies in the Creative Writing program at the HSE. To our thinking, all these lectures are like spiritualistic séances. I feel like I am missing a half of the program as online creative workshops and meetings with authors are little better than nothing. I admit that the theoretical disciplines are better “imprinted” in the classes (...). I miss my professors, their energies, and the feeling that all of us gather there for a reason and do something common and important. I wish that students would have two options – offline and online. In doing so, you could choose and would not miss a class even when you are on a business trip or visiting your mom.”

In Moscow, about 20 of the fee-paying students at Moscow Lomonosov State University went farther than simple discussions. They decided to file a collective lawsuit in court. Their main concern is that because of the "distance learning" the quality of education has decreased while the fee remains the same. They still have to pay from 240,000 ($3,187) to 570,000 rubles ($7,570) per year.

"Measures have been taken to maintain the educational process on-going and to ensure its best compliance with the approved standards and programs,” the university’s administration said promptly responding to the appeal. They added that distance learning was a type of a full-time one. Therefore, there is no plan to revise the cost of education.

Ekaterina Vinokurova, a reporter, public figure, and member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, also shared her viewpoint on this issue on her social nets. “Everybody feels bad now,” she said. “However, everyone has a simple choice. To think about oneself or to think about other people. Today, this also applies to the great battle of the adherents of the face mask regime with its opponents and those who demand the abolition of distance learning and all others (...). If universities are forced to refund money for distance education given that it is still not equal to distance learning, many of them will more likely abolish distance learning. And it might affect the health of teachers.”

Opinions on this issue are divided in the comments. However, it has been precisely known that Tatyana Moskalkova, the Commissioner for Human Rights, still called to recalculate the fees for full-time education in universities due to the transition to distance learning. There have also been calls to accelerate the consideration of the bill on remote work.

In general, according to official statistics, 54% students in the country have transferred to remote learning. So, it is necessary to develop this format in Russia. However, this idea does not mean that traditional forms of education should be abolished, said Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin. "The computer will never replace live communication between the teacher and the student,” he said. “We are talking about reasonable and justified use of digital technology in addition to traditional teaching.”

Nevertheless, the bill in question awaits further consideration.

"Remote" Roots

It should be said that today, many experts who are popular with the media have discussed the problem of remote learning. Even those who, to put it mildly, have not been noticed in the opposition ranks. Thus, Dr. Alexander Myasnikov said that children practically do not catch COVID-19. To his thinking, even the asymptomatic carriers might make the virus much less dangerous. In addition, it is in educational institutions that schoolchildren get the skills that help them communicate with their peers. The fact that parents will have no opportunity to go to work since the children are at home is another disadvantage of this system mentioned by him.

It is noteworthy that psychotherapist Andrei Kurpatov expressed a very skeptical view of digitalization. He said that the constant use of gadgets develops “digital autism.” This means loss of communication skills in real life, and loss of ability to analyze, build images of the future, adapt to life, and succeed. In children, excessive computer screen consumption leads to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD.) The most interesting thing is that he said all this as a consultant to Herman Gref, the head of Sberbank, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Interestingly, in the spring of 2020, Sberbank provided schools with its free distance-learning platform.

Klaus Schwab, the President of the World Economic Forum in Davos, has been called one of the co-authors of the Great Reset plan. It is even claimed that the forum itself was created for this very idea in 1971. This year, Schwab openly said that the novel coronavirus had shown that capitalism in its present form would be unlikely to continue any longer. He called for the Great Reset and a fourth industrial revolution. This means the digitalization of everything, artificial intelligence, and other aspects of the industrial revolution. Moreover, in addition to his already published books, in July 2020, he issued another co-authored book titled “COVID-19: The Great Reset.”

So, chances are if everything goes according to the plan made not by the Russian experts, then the transition to remote (distant) education will not be much different from other countries. Another thing is how it will be adapted to the Russian reality, so as not to destroy what has been built up over the centuries, and not to bring harm to future generations. As they say, the devil is in the detail.

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