Architects and educators from across the world have been grappling with the pandemic fallout. The future of school buildings and the curriculum itself is on the agenda from Minneapolis to Minsk. Ksenia Dokukina from the EdDesign Mag in Moscow reports on the situation in Russia. Text was prepared specially for the Planning Learning Spaces.
There are over 40,000 schools and 16.6 million schoolchildren in Russia, a number that is expected to rise to 19 million in the coming years. Almost all children go to state schools and only 1 per cent attends private institutions, making Russia a global outlier. But pandemic-induced distance learning has highlighted many weaknesses in the Russian education system, which may explain the increased availability and quality of private educational online content. Emerging hybrid forms of education suggest how the future of schools might look. Last year, the Russian edtech sector grew by more than a third. Alexander Laryanovsky, executive partner of Skyeng online school, one of the top three players in the online education market, observes that “more than a quarter of the entire volume (£141 million/€166 million) is from extracurricular online education”. He expects that by 2023 this figure will be around £380 million (€450 million).
With these part-time activities in mind, seven key trends have been identified that will have a systemic impact on how pupils learn in modern schools:
School is no longer limited to the school building
Modern education is moving out of classrooms into nature, museums, parks and research centers. The entire urban infrastructure is becoming an educational platform. A network of “Quantoriums”, or technoparks, where schoolchildren can study STEM for free, is developing. Moscow city authorities have launched a project called “A School Day at the Museum”, where several lessons on different school subjects can be organised on the premises of partner museums. For some schools, outings to museums, theatres and exhibitions are part of the educational process and are integrated into the curriculum. Likewise, students can use local libraries, sports or theatre complexes rather than have them take up space and resources on school grounds.
Photo: Danila Gorunkov, “Point of the Future school”
School infrastructure does not have to be a dumbed-down building designed for adults
Schoolchildren do not have to play at science – they are able to make scientific discoveries on a par with grown-ups. A 12th Grader (final year of secondary) from one of the Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) in Kazakhstan won a £4,000 (€4,750) grant for the best start-up project, named “Obtaining powdered milk whey from dairy waste” (so that it would not have to be imported). Within the school building learners can process and work with information, rather than simply receive it: they try, they invent, they experiment.
Elena Aralova, general director of school designers EdDesign, says: “Schools should have powerful, well-equipped infrastructure blocks, such as workshops, laboratories and art studios.”
Photo: Danila Gorunkov, “Point of the Future school”
Separate highly specialised research centres exist with hi-tech equipment
Children can go to these centers part-time to work on individual projects, supervised by qualified experts. The most vivid example of such an institution in Russia is the Sirius Centre in Sochi, created by using the 2014 Winter Olympics infrastructure. For several years the Sirius Centre has been preparing mathematicians, physicists, athletes and musicians for participation in international competitions. A total of 800 children, aged between ten and 17, from all regions of Russia, go there every month, and the teaching is conducted by leading specialists.
Schools have expanded the circle of experts involved
For certain courses, schools invite specialists from outside to give anything from one lecture to a whole course of classes. The more versatile the school’s expert community is, the more opportunities for personalised learning it can provide. Scientists from the Institute of Nuclear Physics are involved in conducting classes at the St. Petersburg Physics and Mathematics Lyceum No. 30. This kind of cooperation prompts reconsideration of the concept of the school staff room, which turns into a co-working space where both full-time and invited teachers work together.
Photo: Evgeniy Ivanov, “Junior Science Academy”
Children in middle and high school are free to manage their study time by themselves
In the engineering building of State School No. 548, located in the Moscow region, Saturday lessons for children, starting from the 7th Grade, are now held online. In 2022, at the request of schoolchildren, the administration is planning to make attendance optional one day a week. During offline lessons, the space is divided according to two types of activity. Some subjects, like literature and history, unite several classes in large rooms, then the students disperse and go to small classrooms to study in groups of varying size.
Remote work is the new normal
First of all, it is worth using the distance learning model where it can be most effective, such as showing interesting and short video lessons, or texts and infographics which can be used by several schools and teachers at once. Although the content will need to be updated, there will be no need to maintain a huge staff of teachers just to “explain the material” and “check progress”. By moving away from their packed subject-teaching schedules, the teachers will then be able to tackle the development of children’s soft skills, working with their values and motivation.
“The school building should be able to maintain this remote approach,” Elena Aralova says. “It should provide both a well-equipped studio for recording highquality video and sound with an option of augmented reality, and a call centre to ensure technical support for people working remotely that day.” Take the Point of the Future School, which was opened in 2020 in Irkutsk, Siberia, designed by the Danish architects CEBRA and equipped by EdDesign. Emerging hybrid forms of education suggest how the future of schools might look.
35 *Unless otherwise indicated, data was provided by the Higher School of Economics (HSE), which is rated one of the top three universities in Russia and the top 200 universities in the world in terms of research, according to Times Higher Education rankings. The school has a state-of-the-art media laboratory, including a TV studio with professional equipment and a press centre with screens where you can hold a conference. The multi-functional library centre allows staff to create modern video materials. There is a printing house with plotters and printers nearby.
Technical infrastructure provides a flexible environment
Getting wireless access to a projector or interactive panel should not be a problem, neither should instantly sharing audio content from any gadget. There should be the option to rearrange mobile partitions within the school premises overnight, so as to demarcate new types of spaces whenever needed. Laboratories therefore should be versatile and transformable, like those in the engineering building of State School No. 548, where – whether you study chemistry or biology – the electricity, vacuum equipment, water, compressed air and gas are supplied from the ceiling and there is access to it anywhere within the room.
Systems should be controlled automatically, like those in the Moscow private school Snegiri, which was opened in 2020. All this makes it possible to change the purpose of rooms and zones. There are 16.6 million schoolchildren in Russia – and they are all different. These children will have a vast choice of ways to find the skills and knowledge they need: by attending traditional and online schools, open lectures and commercial courses or by collaborating with museums and research centers. The process of going beyond the school building cannot be stopped – the pandemic has demonstrated that academic resources can no longer be owned and provided solely by schools.
Photo: Danila Gorunkov, Moscow private school “Snegiri”