By Galima Galiullina, Ph.D. for VT
While British six-year-olds are learning to write same-sex love letters from the prince in love with his servant, Russian children triumph in international intellectual contests. An oversimplification for sure, but illustrative of differences between Russian and western judgments of the value and purpose of education.
Along with cruel economic shock therapy forced on Russia in the 1990’s, a fundamental change in the education system ushered in attempts to reeducate post-Soviet children to western standards. Russian children perhaps fared better as education continued to be compulsory for children – something not always so in the former Soviet republics.
In Russia, the curriculum was changed from traditional academic disciplines focused on mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy, and applied sciences, and of course the humanities, which produced great Russian scientists, writers, historians, and philosophers. Instead Russian children learned a western inspired version of history, literature was squeezed and redirected to characterize the Soviet Union as an evil empire, and education achievement was measured by multiple choice and true false exams that were inferior to traditional essay and oral examinations used in Soviet-era schools.
This modernization of Russian education was characterized by Andrei Fursenko, Minister of Education and Science of Russian Federation (2004 -2012) who stated in 2007 at the Youth conference in Seligher…
“The shortcoming of the Soviet education system was an attempt to form a human as a creator, and now the task is to nurture a qualified consumer who can skillfully use the results of the creativity of others”
He was sure, that:
“higher mathematics kills creativity and is not needed in school.” By his own admission, he did not study higher mathematics at school, and at the same time “not foolier (sic) than others… “the ideology of education for the most part remains the same, the Soviet one: universities are convinced that they must prepare creators, but creators are not always needed.”
Does this sound familiar to my American audience?
In addition to its huge industrial base, the Soviet Union left magnificent resources of human capital. This reservoir absorbed in itself lessons of a tragic history, the pride of victory in the most terrible war of mankind, and precious masterpieces of Russian culture, literature and art. The advent of the era of wild capitalism and the power of liberals of the pro-Western Russians spoiled Russia in the 1990’s and largely eroded foundations of the Soviet system of education and upbringing.
Fortunately, parents of Russian children were the first to realize the danger of the corrupting and stupefying ideology of the consumer society. I remember how my daughter threw the TV set in the trash when she realized how its “programming” affects her little son.
This is another sign of the great process of Russia’s return to the true values of human life. The system of education is still bad. Textbooks published with Soros money still distort history, or ignore topics and views opposing western liberal social agenda.
Worse still the university departments are full of agents of the “fifth column,” or peopled by professors untrained in disciplines suited to physical sciences and technology. But gradually in spite of the tragic experience of survival and faith in their country and people, a generation of new Russians are born.
My confidence that Chelyabinsk has phenomenal human capital was greatly strengthened when I saw the photos of the winners of the International Robotics Championship in Taiwan in August 2018. On the pedestal of the FIRA World Cup. stood two adult men, one of them gray-haired, but at the highest level – a boy and a girl she in a beautiful pose of a young ballerina. Michael (11 years) and Anfisa (10 years) Makarov, brother and sister, not only won in the competition, but beat two world records in the creation of robots along the way to their victory.
I present to you, my dear readers, two representatives of this generation.
Misha and Anfisa, as well as their dad Andrei, agreed to talk across the ocean on September 17, 2018 and here is the story of their remarkable accomplishment.
Galima – Misha and Anfisa, you won the international competition just now, I congratulate you. And what are your plans for the future?
Misha – We want to create a robot archer, he must shoot an arrow and strike a moving target. This is the plan we adopted for the next World Robotics Championship. The robot itself must calculate the trajectory of the target’s movement and of the arrow to successfully reach the target.
Galima – How do you prepare the robot to calculate the needed trajectory?
Misha – We use the programming languages C ++ and Python for this.
Galima – And what does Anfisa do?
Anfisa – I’m responsible for technical support. For example, I follow the temperature so that the robot does not overheat, and I change the batteries if needed.
Andrei Makarov – In championships of this kind, team participation is envisaged, usually five people, since different competencies are needed. It happens that projects of singles are forbidden. The more a robot acts, the more it should have competencies. And a whole team develops a set of competencies. We in this plan are an exception because we are a team from one family.
Robotic engineering is perfectly developed in Russia in primary and high schools but is practically not developed in universities. This is a hint of the legacy of the 1990s, when education was not funded, the university scientific schools disintegrated, and competent instructors left. Now our schoolchildren are perfectly integrated into the global competitive process, but the students are still being drawn in very poorly.
Galima – But in Russia in recent years, the attitude towards technical disciplines is beginning to change, is it not?
Andrei Makarov – Yes, certainly. As a parent, I am certainly interested in the future integration of all children into international teams. But the level of competition in Europe posed around eminent professors is extremely high. And in Russia the problem is that the profile of teaching staff in universities is not aimed at that. This is connected with finances, and with publications.
Tomsk TUSUR, and the Kazan universities have excellent equipment, and an excellent scientific and technical base, but students do not aspire to the direction of robotics, they are still from that “lost generation.” But the new generations, younger children – we are even afraid of them, such strong competitors are growing up!
In the field of robotic education, Asia is moving at a tremendous speed. We found that the level of requirements for the student in their education system increases every year, while we are declining. The volume of requirements for pupils of junior classes in Russia is quite high, but then it gradually decreases. Therefore, we cannot achieve the same high level of preparation of masters, as in the universities of Asia or Europe.
The second problem in the Russian robotics industry – the potential of mid-level specialists – machinists, locksmiths, milling machine operators – is very scattered. In America there are companies where there are specialists with golden hands. We do not have enough of these golden hands. And in this issue, it is wrong to rely on state support alone. In America and in Canada both have well-developed system of university support from alumni. Successful graduates can significantly support their alma mater in the development of innovation, research, and engineering. In our case here in Russia such system practically does not exist.
But in the Chelyabinsk State University the beginning of a new direction was laid – the Department of Robotics was opened. Similarly, in TUSUR (Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radioelectronics), ITMO (St. Petersburg National Research University), successful teams of students have already been established. This path is followed by Moscow Physics and Technical Institute (MPTI).
In Russia, the production of combat robots has traditionally been developed, as well as in Europe. Humanitarian projects are successfully developing in Asia outside the defense industries. Our universities have not yet paid attention to sports robotics, although this direction has great market opportunities.
It is important to bridge the gap between high school and higher schools of education. Maybe it’s worth opening high schools at the universities. And establishing universities focused on robotics in factories where automation can improve safety and productivity.
Circles of interested children should not only be in the House of Pioneers, where in Soviet time children gathered to pursue special education and skills. Involving children in the creation of robots in university groups can become a starting point for successful careers for children.
It is important to create conditions for competition, for example, two universities in Chelyabinsk, Chelyabinsk State University (CSU) and South Ural State University (SUSU) should compete against one another in the development of robotics. In the meantime, throughout the developed world schools are perfectly involved in various kinds of competitions, but Russian universities are practically not represented in this arena.
For young people, competitiveness is very important, but our students fell out of the world process of robotics competitions. We need to learn talent search technologies and use them to identify gifted young people and engage them in the process of continuous growth and creativity. It should be remembered that one engineer needs 10 workers. But the workers are sorely lacking. The popularization of scientific and technical labor is not yet fully developed in Russia. But everything changes.
Robots are already trading on stock exchanges, vacuuming our houses, driving a car, our Mikhail Mikhailovich Dyshayev, a scientist from the Chelyabinsk State University, has created new mathematical methods for trading bots on the stock exchange under the guidance of Professor Fedorov Vladimir Evgenievich. The intellectual potential of Russians is only beginning to be truly revealed through robotization. It is important for us to stop trying to catch up, instead we must find our own path and only then we will be become leaders in robotics and its associated technologies and applications.
Galima – What is your role in the victories of your children in such responsible competitions?
Misha – (Laughing) We often have arguments in our family.
Andrei – I have to combine three personalities: first the father, then a coach, and then also simply a human. It was not my idea to involve my children in robotics. This was Misha’s dream! I needed to support his activities and participate where I could. I have to help Misha a lot. He mastered two programming languages with my help. But I also grow with my son, I learned the language, new instruments. I am grateful to Misha that he constantly encourages me to study. Sometimes it is difficult to choose between “regret” or “force.” But there is a tough schedule for preparing for the competition. “It is necessary” – this phrase was taught to me by my parents. And Misha knows the word. It happens that he is sometimes very tired. From one and a half to six hours a day are given to the robot. Over the past summer, he had just twice cycled for leisure.
But our whole family is grateful to Misha for choosing such a path, which mobilizes all of us and unites us into a single team aimed at winning.
Galima – What role does Irina, the children’s mother, play in your team?
Andrei – Irina has a responsible role as an organizer (to keep track of the schedule, to build a plan of studies, to look for teachers), since our education is done at home. Our children do not go to school, we build their training on the method of full immersion. They never went to school. Parents traditionally see their role in ensuring that the child LEFT and COME FROM the school, but the main thing is missing – how is the child studying there? We decided to go the other way. The decisive argument was that 6.5% of children in the US did not go to traditional school, but the percentage of those home schooled that enrolled in college is one and a half times higher than children coming out of schools. So, Irina became the director of a tiny school. Mathematics is taught to our children by a doctor of sciences from the Chelyabinsk State University. The pedagogical business in Russia is growing by 40% every year, an indication that the Russians are giving more and more importance to education.
We are doing everything within the framework of the Russian legislation. I, as a parent, am obliged to take care of the education and upbringing of my children. At the same time, I believe that healthy conservatism in pedagogy is necessary.
Galima – Very often, speaking of talented children, Russians sadly note that most likely, these children will grow up and leave their homeland for the sake of other, more prosperous countries. Is there a chance to preserve our intellectual capital for Russia, for Chelyabinsk?
Andrei – Of course we have this chance. Russia is increasingly returning to the position of a leader in many areas that require a significant share of breakthrough intellectual solutions, which means that the students will be in demand. Often people complain that the bad environment in Chelyabinsk encourages many successful people to leave the city. We just returned from Taiwan, and the ecology we found there is worse than in Chelyabinsk.
Galima – What barriers do you see between innovative solutions in the creation of robots and the introduction of these innovations into commercial production? What is needed to overcome these barriers from authorities, businesses, and scientists?
Andrei – The authorities and big business are already concerned about these barriers. Participation of broad masses of parents in the interests of their children engaged in robotics – simply does not yet work! We need wider awareness of the potential and support from journalists, media and the authorities and businesses! It is necessary to popularize sports robotics. This will create in the near future a lot of specialists who will meet innovations in shops, offices, hospitals and enjoy long awaited career opportunities!
Galima – A question to Misha and Anfisa: how do you think, in what cases can a robot be a friend to a person, and in what cases does he become an enemy of a person? Do you feel for the robot that you created, the feeling that he is your little friend, just one made of iron?
Misha – A robot can become a friend if the right person created it and manages it. The robot will be an enemy if the enemy created it.
My robot is not alive and is not my friend, but I treat it well!
Anfisa – A robot can become a friend if its creators will with good intentions create it. Robots do not know “good and evil,” only people know it!
The neo-colonial doctrine the west adopted upon the demise of the Soviet Union included economic vaccination with capitalist serum to cure the world of communism. With it came the priests and shamans disguised as consultants offering to help convert Russia once again from its backwardness as was attempted in 1917. Educational reform was fundamental to transforming Russians into compliant consumers. Fortunately, Russia has regained its sovereignty, reestablishing control over its destiny and is forging a new path.
There are many utterances of intellectuals about the possibilities and threats of artificial intelligence, but Misha and Anfisa Makarovy briefly and philosophically flawlessly formulated the essence of the “human-machine” relationship. While Russia gives birth and grows such children, for its future we can be calm, and look to its unique mission to bear the light of reason and good to humanity.
Galima Galiullina, Ph.D.