23 September 2011
By Alec Luhn
KAZAN – Google has become a classroom tool in Tatarstan as the republic, already ranked by Forbes as Russia’s best region for business, invests heavily in digital technologies for its schools in hopes of becoming the best region for education as well.
Tatarstan’s annual budget for education has doubled over the past five years to 36 billion rubles ($1.2 billion), and it is spending 1.92 billion rubles over 2010-11 to develop computer-based education, the republic’s education and science minister, Albert Gilmutdinov, said at the Electronic School 2011 conference in Kazan. In addition, 103.2 million rubles in federal funding is being used.
Gilmutdinov recalled the Russian saying “a miser pays twice” as he explained the republic’s hefty investment in education. To be commercially successful in the 21st century, Tatarstan will have to be well-educated, he told The Moscow Times at the conference last week.
“The more we invest today in education, the more we will get as a result of this investment tomorrow, and we will get more money to invest for the day after tomorrow,” he said.
Gilmutdinov and conference co-sponsor Intel said the republic is an example for other Russian regions. The microprocessor producer has donated Intel-based computers to a Kazan classroom and conducted free teacher training in Tatarstan, said Sergei Zhukov, the Russia and CIS director of Intel’s World Ahead Program, which works with governments to increase access to technology. The program’s work in Tatarstan is one of its largest projects in Russia, he said.
“Out of the 83 regions of Russia, very few can boast such a well-defined strategy” for e-learning development, Zhukov said.
The republic’s educational development strategy for 2010-15 includes installing computers and high-speed Internet in all of Tatarstan’s 1,940 schools,
purchasing digital educational content and training teachers to use the new technology. All schools will offer services such as school web sites, text messaging for parents and digital records and schedules. The region is working with partners including Intel, Google, Microsoft and the Tatarstan IT company ILC-KME CS.
The republic does not have an estimate of how much money the program will cost overall, but no matter the price tag, Tatarstan will pay it, Gilmutdinov said. Tatarstan has already purchased laptops for all of its 42,000 teachers at a cost of about 1 billion rubles, and equipping its 380,000 students with computers would cost about 10 times as much, he noted. The region has also already purchased 16,739 desktops computers for schools and 6,360 laptops for students.
Tatarstan is “in the first rank” of Russian regions in terms of information technology in schools, said Moscow Institute of Open Education rector Alexei Semyonov, who also presented at the conference. The republic’s schools have even higher IT penetration than in Moscow, thanks to the policies of the current administration and its predecessor, Semyonov said.
He said Tatarstan’s e-learning project is important on the national level because of the support voiced by high-ranking leaders such as Gilmutdinov and Tatarstan president Rustam Minnikhanov, who also spoke at the conference.
“That’s the biggest investment,” Semyonov said. “If we had that [support] in Moscow, we would have even more” e-learning in schools, he added.
Even provinces with less money than oil-producer Tatarstan can emulate its strategy, since those regions receive more federal funds, Semyonov said.