30 august 2019

To Teach Everyone with Amazing Speed and on a Surprising Scale

To Teach Everyone with Amazing Speed and on a Surprising Scale  

The Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia (Herzen University)

The launch of the Herzen Pedagogical Seasons in St. Petersburg is a good opportunity to rethink the role and place of teacher education in modern Russia. Pedagogy today can claim the status of a key tool in strategic development of regions and the country as a whole.

To learn everything all over again

This year, the competition for entry to the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia (Herzen University) -  the leading pedagogical university of St. Petersburg and one of the leading pedagogical universities of the country – has increased considerably. Grade point average of candidates for the university admission has also increased.

This shows that many years of  government efforts to  bring the wage levels in the sphere of general education closer to the average salary level in a region have started to bear fruit.

That is why teaching professions today are chosen not only by those whose chances to go to the  most prestigious universities are too low or by those seeking economic stability.  Some of the most talented  and ambitious young people who are looking for free space for rapid career growth also tend to choose pedagogical education. Intuition tells the most active part of society that in the coming years all of us, especially residents of large cities, will have to study a lot.

People study to be able to work, study at work, willingly spend their own free time on studying.

In order to prove himself, to gain access to development or simply to enjoy the benefits of civilization, one needs to study and be able to learn everything all over again. Moreover – to do it with amazing speed and on a surprising scale, far beyond the boundaries of formal education.

In this context cities are becoming giant education ecosystems, where the new Enlightenment is one of the main policies for adapting to the era of radical change. Education is automatically transitioning into the category of key urban / regional strategies. This is a great challenge for the education system. It gives the national pedagogy a chance to gain new importance, to become a development driver for cities, regions and for the country as a whole.

The scale of the education market

Classical teacher education in Russia has found himself in  a difficult situation in recent years. With the development of the Internet, the digitization of books, the spread of multilingualism among young people, high school teachers and university professors have completely lost their monopoly on knowledge. And the established system of training teachers found itself under great pressure.

On the one hand, about 300 higher education institutions (universities and  their branches), almost 400 colleges (with their branches) provide teacher training programs to over 550 thousand people annually. On the other hand, in recent years specialized pedagogical universities have become relics of the past - there are less than 40 of them left in the country. Most of them have undergone transformation or have become parts of classical universities.

Pedagogical universities have a minimum impact on the huge, dynamic and profitable educational services market,  market for “educational entertainment” services (games, lectures, trainings, etc.), as well as on  the rapidly growing education technology market. Estimates of the size of these emerging markets vary. Experts suggest 1.2–1.3 trillion rubles a year in general and vocational education, 150 billion rubles in child supplementary education, 100 billion rubles in  adult supplementary  education, 220 billion rubles in the market for training and “educational entertainment”

The growth of the education market, the number of people studying to become a teacher , the change in the status of a teacher, increasing competition for entrance to  leading pedagogical universities - all this gives the chance for pedagogical education in Russia to begin the in-depth transformation and to occupy new and significant positions in the formal and informal sectors.

Education as a development strategy

Modern megacities have already entered the race for collecting educational resources. The UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities brings together 224 cities from 52 countries. Winners in the competition for talents and technologies in education expect to take leading positions in global economy and culture, while losers face the risk of becoming an “education desert” or an “intellectual desert”.

However, a city as an education ecosystem must have its own integrator and architect. Universities are the most legitimate candidates to take up this function. If education is becoming the main strategy for the development of cities and regions, then the new pedagogy - the pedagogy of educational ecosystems - can be among the leading tactics.

The main question is: what cities will be able to organize movement in this direction? And who in the city, as in a large school class, will become the core of the ecosystem?

The government of St. Petersburg and the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia  have made their choice. At the beginning of summer, the campus located in the historical center of St. Petersburg, between Kazanskaya Street and the Moika River Embankment that had been closed for the past two decades, was presented to the city and the city’s residents. The campus was opened to conduct an experiment on assembling the urban educational ecosystem.

The theme for the first “Herzen Pedagogical Season” was “Schedule for the Day After Tomorrow”, i.e. the transfer of skills and knowledge required at present.

The city has deliberately became a partner of the university in this project. The government of St. Petersburg in addition to such key areas of development as the  “comfortable city”, the “social city”, the “open city”, has also chosen the “smart city”.

The city authorities have supported the initiative of the Herzen University as a project going far beyond narrow corporate boundaries, the first in the city university project  for incubation not of a separate group of innovators or a startup, but of the entire ecosystem. For  the Herzen University this project is an opportunity to develop its profession, to obtain new resources and to acquire more influence on important city affairs.


In principal, all the key ideas on building an education ecosystem have been explored since the early 2000s. First, the greatest effect of education on the city is achieved through the integration of the activities of traditional formal structures - schools, colleges, universities, etc. - and informal ones, the interaction between  education per se  and “educational entertainment”. Second, education should be provided to whoever wants to learn and it should be done in a form that supports this desire and helps students to enjoy the learning process. Third, in order to get city residents involved in general training and retraining, to retain talented players in the corresponding segment of the services, it is necessary to have a specially created environment, flexible enough to respond to requests from students, and a teacher friendly environment.

Still, despite these theoretical premises, the question of how to organizationally implement these ideas for the Herzen University and the St. Petersburg authorities remained open. What type of pedagogy is required for a city-size educational system?

Education science does not provide answers to these questions; one cannot mechanically copy someone else's experience. It can only be done through   hands-on experience, practical experimentation. Open a campus, invite leaders of formal and non-formal education, find the way to connect education with entertainment. Offer training to families, children, adults, various groups of citizens eager to increase their education level. Start a co-working space – a university “boiling point” - for working with pedagogic, and more specifically, with education professional communities. Make the intellectual agenda of ecosystem pedagogy a subject of open discussion. Arrange a dialogue not only with members of  academic community, but also  with the city, with the city public opinion leaders.

Thematic “Pedagogical Seasons” conducted on the university campus  were chosen as the format for  communication between the Herzen University  and the city,  its pedagogical communities, volunteer movements and other interested parties.

In the first months of the 2019 Herzen Season more than 10 thousand citizens participated in  nearly 200 educational and discussion events organized on new site of the Herzen State Pedagogical University of Russia. Not only advanced schools, but also dozens of partners in the  city’s educational ecosystem presented their programs. Among the participants were online Russian teacher community “Pedsovet”, “Nanograd”, the Association of Private Alternative Schools “Other Schools”, the Metaversity, the LabyrinthUm Museum, the Skyeng School, the Kidburg kids’ city, Busy Moms, Smeshariki and many others. The Center for Strategic Research “North-West”  Foundation - the leading St. Petersburg “think tank”, participated in the  “Herzen season” as partner. Nearly 200 teachers and employees of the Herzen University took part in the launch of the first pedagogical season. More than 100 new events and projects are scheduled to be conducted before the end of the summer.

What's next

 All those involved in the process are “learning by doing”,  there is an abundance of questions and problems. So far the resource allocation model for the project has not been identified. For the time being financing is  provided by the Herzen  University and partners engaged by the city government. However, the main hypothesis underlying the project was confirmed: there is a public demand for a new version of the urban strategy - creation of a competitive, dynamic and diverse educational ecosystem.

Discussions held during the first season helped to realize the need for another step – to create the sites for application and testing of pedagogical developments on the basis of an open campus of the Herzen University. To create the park of advanced educational technologies that would be significant both at the city and  national level. So far, our country does not have any such structures. Although in the  small neighboring country of Finland, even a provincial  city of Joensuu decided to go ahead with the project. The Joensuu EduPark brings the knowledge from the Finnish educational sector under one roof and is regarded worldwide as “the Silicon Valley of Pedagogy”

It is vitally important for the Herzen University to have such park,  because a contender for the core of the educational ecosystem status must integrate  leading innovative developments. The city needs an educational technology park as a driver for the development of a modern, growing and profitable industry that creates high-tech jobs.

Open system

 “Herzen Pedagogical Seasons” is not the only possible option for a joint strategy for development of the city and the university. More important, it shows that Russian cities have all opportunities to implement new versions of their strategies. Moreover, these strategies lie in the sphere of education and training. The first phase of the experiment showed that pedagogical education in Russia has a chance to take on a new role in the country and to rebuild itself. The main condition is that the educational system should be fundamentally open. It requires strong initiatives and new partnerships. The system of this kind  needs a new pedagogy and a new organization of teacher education.

However, the joint project of St. Petersburg  and the Herzen University is much more than simply a good argument in favor of maintaining a system of pedagogical universities. Supported by strong partnerships and federal programs, it can make Russian pedagogy an accelerator for positive changes and launch a national development initiative with its help and participation.