Russian educators study U.S. academe

    A group of Russian education leaders attended a briefing at UCSD on Oct. 29 that was designed to increase understanding of American public education and educational reform.

    The briefing was part of the U.S. Library of Congress-supported Open World Program, and was hosted by the Center for Research in Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence.

    Hugh Mehan, a UCSD sociology professor and the director of C.R.E.A.T.E., led the briefing with the Russian delegates. He began with an overview of American education and reform efforts in the past few decades.

    According to Mehan, public education at the elementary and secondary levels of education has been undergoing reform for many years. The most recent period of reform began in 1983, when a government agency published a report showing that American public education was in trouble.

    “”Our students did not compare well to students from other nations, including Russia, on international tests,”” Mehan said. “”The goal of this reform has been to have American students compete academically with students on the international plane.””

    According to Mehan, a variety of reform efforts have been made, including reforms in the structure of education and the curricula that schools use.

    “”It is unlikely in the United States that we’ll ever have a national curriculum. There’s a long political history that says that education is local,”” Mehan said.

    The emphasis on either national or local curricula is perhaps the greatest difference between American and Russian education. Larisa Chernyshova, head of the English department at the Moscow State University of Railway Engineering, said “”in the USA, [education] is primarily local.””

    Mehan also discussed reform efforts with the textbooks that students use.

    “”There has been considerable criticism that the textbooks that students use are not adequate,”” he said. “”Some criticism of American curricula has been done in comparison to Japan, for example, where it is said that Japanese textbooks cover more deeply than American textbooks.””

    Mehan contends that American education has been subject to a “”standards movement”” lately, where the discrepancy in education quality between social classes is being improved through policy.

    After Mehan’s introduction of American educational reform, the delegates participated in a question-and-answer session and exchanged information on educational systems.

    Standardized testing was another topic of discussion. Mehan’s opinion was that the American system places too much emphasis on tests as opposed to actual learning. Russia has just recently started using standard tests.

    “”The universal test is being introduced now in Russia,”” Chernyshova said. “”It is quite an innovation. But usually, students have to take their entrance examinations at the university or institute they try to enter. If they pass them successfully, they can be admitted, but the fact is that there is usually severe competition for free education.””

    Grigory Kapranov, a dean and doctor of pedagogical science at the Ussuriisk State Pedagogical Institute, added that “”the test system in Russia has just started and is going to be promoted in the future.””

    Other issues discussed included the structure of university education, the UC system, exchange programs, the most popular majors at UCSD and the school’s faculty.

    The delegates agreed that there are many aspects of the American system that they would like to try implementing in an effort to improve Russian education.

    “”The material base of the universities and the foundation for carrying out research is richer here,”” said Alexey Isakov, a manager at Mercy Corps in Russia and one of the facilitators at the briefing.

    The delegates emphasized, however, that their expectations must remain realistic.

    At the end, Mehan felt that the briefing on education had been successful.

    “”Communication across borders is always important,”” he said.

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