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Artyom Oganov

Online education addresses crucial issues but it does not replace the traditional one

Will online learning platforms be able to supersede conventional schools? Will dilettante teachers kill online education? Why do Chinese students want to study in Russia? And what does the development of education have to do with de-urbanization? Artyom Oganov, a well-known teacher, professor at Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech), crystal chemist and mineralogist, professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences, sheds light on this subject in his forecasts.

I think it is obvious that education is the most important aspect of our lives, especially in times of crisis. Education of a high quality dramatically improves the survival potential of a society. In the event of a catastrophe, educated people will be able to create new technologies, build factories, restore the world from ruins.

Moreover, education can be a profitable business. One of today's leading intellectuals said that the next Google will be an education-related company, and this prediction seems likely to me.

Liberty, equality, online

Before the coronavirus epidemic broke out I was very skeptical about the idea of online education because about 80% of information is communicated from a teacher to a pupil non-verbally. In addition, there is feedback which is very important for both sides. Traditional universities provide systematic education and ensure socialization. They shape their own communities (fraternities), establish important contacts, etc., which then helps their members to build their careers, address various issues: looking at others and learning from them, we advance.

In online education, these components are largely lost, and for these reasons, I did not trust this format very much. However, when I faced it during the pandemic, I revised my attitude. Now I believe that online education, although it will not replace the traditional one, should carve out a niche where it can solve important problems. A lot of people live in remote regions facing a huge shortage of good teachers. More than half of schools lack teachers, especially those of maths, which automatically impedes performance in all-natural sciences.

Online learning gives so many people a chance. In addition, online education makes it possible to assess the quality of learning. By watching the recordings of the lessons or lectures, you can easily get the idea of whether the institution or the teacher is right for you. This is very important not only for choosing a school or university but also for a fair ranking of professionals in education.

Two heads are better than one

I do not think that e-learning will supersede traditional learning: it is likely to fill an important niche, complementing the format we are all used to. Russia already has a number of companies that develop and improve online learning technologies, therefore in the near future, we will see convenient and modern educational services. Just 15 years ago such projects were exotic, and today there are already many platforms in place, ranging from online courses like Coursera to solutions that are used by schools and universities.

Globalists against globalization

Until now, education has been going global and international. If you look at any major American university, you will see it has a lot of Chinese, Russian, Indian, and European students. This is also true for European universities. By the way, we can recall the example of the Soviet Union universities attended by young people from different countries, especially from Asia and Africa. Nowadays more and more foreign students attend Chinese educational institutions.

Recently, we have seen the opposite but quite powerful trends. There is already an open discussion in the US that American institutions should not enroll Chinese students in science. They are welcome to study philosophy but not physics. If a country that has won the competition called “globalization” throughout its history were to close its borders, then it begins to lose.

It is not yet clear which trend will prevail — nationalization or internationalization. Perhaps in the future, there will be blocks with a high degree of internationalization - for example, the SCO, NATO, etc. This is far from a rosy outlook, and we have already been through this during the past Cold War. But today such a prospect looks like one of the most likely trajectories of our world.

Three-body problem

Incidentally, the tension between America and the Celestial Empire has a curious effect. A few years ago Chinese students aspired to study in the United States, while Russia was not at all regarded as a country for studying and working. This has changed: today this state perceives Russia as a more or less equal partner, despite the difference in population, the size of economy and university rankings. Russian scientists are often invited to work in China, to deliver lectures to students and postgraduates. The Chinese are willing to cooperate. And I believe this cooperation has a great future.

To study in the middle of nowhere

Many predict that the pandemic will accelerate a downward trend in the concentration of megacities residents. Living in overcrowded cities is not only uncomfortable but also it aggravates the risks in the time of pandemics. As far as I know, it is poor urban areas with a very high population density that have been hit by the epidemic in the United States. And vice versa: suburban dwellers are not particularly worried about the coronavirus.

People do not leave megacities because of jobs. However, the transition to partially or even completely remote employment in many professions is becoming a reality. Companies cut the costs of office rentals, while employees lead healthier and more comfortable lives without wasting a lot of time on transportation. The supply and demand in the construction sector will change correspondingly: there will be a shift toward low-rise private housing instead of the “human anthills” that we are used to.