Much has been said recently regarding distance learning being morally obsolete and of standards of teaching having slipped

Solid foundation for knowledge

Much has been said recently regarding distance learning being morally obsolete and of standards of teaching having slipped. In 2011, Department of Knowledge Quality Control at the Ministry of Education conducted an examination of 5th-6th year students studying remotely, in the most popular specialities: economics and law. Only 43 percent and 20 percent, respectively, received high marks as a result.

“We’re planning to significantly reform our system of part-time education. Fewer students will be enrolled and the focus will be on distance learning,” Education Minister Mikhail Zhuravkov has told Parliament.

Reform appears vital, especially now that Belarus has joined the Bologna Process. Vadim Mozheiko, of the Discussion-Analytical Society Liberal Club, wonders whether these reforms will be only for the sake of appearance. He muses, “On the one hand, we should openly acknowledge that, in the academic sphere, it’s well known that part-time study is a ‘profanity’. To describe its quality, we can recall a famous anecdote: ‘A sparrow is a nightingale who took part-time courses at the conservatory’. In fact, managing part-time students creates an additional burden on lecturers, who abhor the ‘express-method’ of gaining knowledge.”

“On the other hand, part-time courses are gaining popularity worldwide,” he continues. “To be successful requires serious independent study, completing tests and essays via online-platforms such as Moodle. Literature is available there, as are videos of professors’ lectures (from any part of the globe). You can communicate by Skype, which saves time and money. Of course, those who have jobs cannot always attend in person.”

Mr. Mozheiko accepts the need to embrace part-time education but wishes to move away from Soviet practices. If reform is no more than an illusion, he believes it will be offensive.

The Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics is among the few Belarusian establishments offering distance and part-time education. “Of course, reform always has opponents and education inspires hot debate. Those who oppose reform are sometimes truly respected people,” comments the University’s Rector, Mikhail Batura. “However, we must proceed from the understanding that a person wishing to gain an education should have a choice. Among over 15,000 students at the Belarusian State University of Informatics and Radioelectronics, 6,000 study part-time and 440 take remote courses. We’ve offered distance learning since 2002 and, in 2009, full enrolment was realised. The same year, we also introduced foreign language lecturing; at present 28 US citizens are enrolled in our distance learning courses. Everything is going well, without problems.”

“We’ve prepared local documents for our University: a provision on distance learning technologies and on distance learning itself. We’ve sent our proposals to the Ministry of Education, offering to use our experience and, simultaneously, approve standards for distance learning, such as those which already exist in Russia,” he adds. “We have concrete examples of success. One student found a part-time job after two years at University, and was unable to attend lectures on certain days. So, we allowed him to attend some courses remotely. If these norms were applied across our system of higher education, it would allow any student (e.g. someone at Brest university) to attend our courses and gain qualification. It would be both flexible and convenient.”

Many experts believe that the forthcoming changes by the Ministry of Education may favour state higher educational establishments, while most part-time students are enrolled at private universities. Admission boards of non-state educational establishments stress that these figures would be higher were it not for a decree adopted several years ago, which envisages obligatory employment of alumni under their speciality. After the decree on ‘social parasitism’ came into force, the labour market began experiencing more job seekers than available jobs. Moreover, there is a rumour that part-time education might disappear altogether, although there has been no panic as yet.

“Changes to state institution programmes are now in focus,” says the Rector of the Private Institute of Management and Entrepreneurship, Alexander Semeshko. “If the issue does affect us, it’s unlikely to show immediately, as we’ve approved our enrolment plans for the coming year. We have part-time students and those attending day and evening courses. Some also study under reduced programmes. Without any instruction from the Ministry of Education, we’re expanding our distance learning programmes, which are both convenient and forward-thinking. We can solve any problem, so there’s no reason for anxiety.”

Impossible to mix cards

New textbooks for teaching Great Patriotic War history in Belarusian schools

The first specialised school atlas, entitled — The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People (in WWII context) — has been published in Belarus, to honour the 70th anniversary of the Great Victory. Collated by Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor Alexander Kovalenya, its historical facts have been confirmed by archive documents of recent years. He explains, “This is the first edition of its kind, with dates, names and events described visually, to better allow remembrance. The 21 maps describe the activity of Red Army troops, partisans and under-grounders within Belarusian territory, while disclosing reasons for WWII and its events, in our country and worldwide, until 1945. Almost every page is illustrated.” Belarusian schools will launch the book’s use from September 1st.

She explains, “We’ve printed a map of commemorative places — entitled 70 Years of Great Victory — in Russian and English. It indicates the location of war memorials and those settlements awarded ‘For Bravery and Endurance during the Great Patriotic War’, at a scale of 1:1100000.
By Olga Bebenina
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