Friday, July 18, 2014

Are We Teaching Math and Science too Early in our schools?

 When did you fall in love with science? Did you find a science passion from a teacher in your early years of school?

Personally I found my passion when I was a child thanks to my mother. She taught me to observe butterflies, and we spent hours watching, reporting and measuring changes of caterpillars, butterflies and eggs.

My teachers didn’t do too much to light my fire about science in fact, they never talked about science, so my only one deeper knowledge came watching the TV show Cosmos. Nobody can deny the value of science for education, economics and countries progress, or how much education is working to engage children in math and science, and how difficult is find the right way to do it, but certainly education must find new strategies, and this example comes from UK.

The British newspaper The Guardian published few days ago a note about a new model to teach science titled Maths and science 'should be studied up to age 18', which has opened a huge, debate about when and who should teach science in UK classrooms.  The title is “Maths and science “should be studied up to age 18” explaining briefly recommendations of a committee of education experts of the UK National Academy of science.

These recommendations are particularly important coming from UK. since they have a high level on teaching, research, development and inversion in science with Oxford, and Cambridge Universities as example of their quality.

The main argument of the report Vision for science and mathematics education is based on the fact that analytical and problem-solving skills acquired by studying mathematics and science should be introduced by an inspirational curricula at the heart of the laboratories and places where this knowledge is generated, where researchers and theorist work every day.

The main debate is focused on a question, who should teach science?

This reminds me Carl Sagan, when he wrote in his book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995) that science was not inspiring for him during his first years at school, but he found that passion when he began to be in touch with people doing science.

My story is similar. I didn’t find passion for science until I began to study my PhD, maybe because all those hours watching butterflies had sense between persons trying to understand everything about the brain.

I am sure many of us share similar stories. What can we learn from a checking list written on a book? What can a teacher see wrong only following the book? Should students believe with faith what books say? Books never talks about deadlines, or a short budget; books never fail trying to convince to others that our research is viable, needed and possible; books never talks about how to convince to other researchers and participants that our method is correct.

Learning science from a book is like learning how to write with a teacher that does not read our ideas. Teachers are not scientist!, but don’t take it wrong!, teachers have a very different, important and amazing work: teach to learn, and in some cases, teaching to motivate and keep us in the classrooms, and if we have any doubt of their work, let’s see the number of students who left classrooms every year, adding more and more pressure to unemployment and violence at any country.

A good teacher will inspire, a good teacher is an example of life. A good scientist will show us a different world, a world of service, a world where our ideas are useful.

The cited report includes critical analyses about how students see science, for example “84% agree that science is a such a big part of our lives that we should all take interest”. Science is not a note on an exam; science is not a label on a product. Science changes and save lives!

“72% of students agree that is important to know about science in their daily lives”. Isn’t our goal? People would take better medical and daily decisions, or maybe I should say: people would know the right to take decisions.

“55% did not feel informed”. No matter how much work scientists can do writing notes every day about science, public doesn’t feel engage with them, part of it because in general, people do not see themselves as scientists and this is something that a person with an obsession about any field can spread.

“21% of the people in the UK workforce need scientific knowledge and training to do their current jobs”. Science must leave the comfortable and warm space of universities and colleges; science must be in streets and in every home, because it allows countries to grow.

Can we create scientific literacy nations? Can we develop knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity? No doubt!, there is enough history and strategies to reach that goal. Some countries have been more successful than others, and as UK is showing, even those with high level of science development can auto evaluate their skills and make them better.

Human beings are curios by nature, and scientists are like children repeating questions. We shouldn’t stop children’ questions, we need to engage creativity in classrooms because is an important part of the process of finding new ideas and solving challenges.  We need that in schools as preparation to define a problem, find the right method and innovate to find solution to our every day problems.

I hope many countries can analyze carefully the report, because probably many new scientists will find a path with this model, especially because focus on grasp concepts at an earlier age and then move on to the complicated things in a higher level of science can be a good strategy, instead trying to teach everything in the first years. In addition learning from modeling and not only with a book can be more inspiring.

If you could change the way science is taught in your country, who would be teach science? Who can share more passion, a teacher or a scientist when we have a question about the universe or biology?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Antibiotic resistance: don't take this pill!

A few days ago the World Health Organization made a call to health sectors after information taken from a first research about anti microbial resistance around the world, which concluded that "no country is immune to bacteria and viruses that have become resistant to drugs", this is worst especially thanks to the incredible ability to travel using both motor vehicles and aircrafts.

Super Salmonella
This represents a possible health crisis if it’s considerate that we wouldn’t be talking about new viruses or bacteria, but the evolutionary expression of those that have been developed drugs as a cure of many diseases, so the same bugs are now able to ignore drugs effect and become resistant to the antibiotic, which makes them even more dangerous.

Defined as antibiotic resistance to the ability of a microorganism to withstand the effect of drugs that were originally designed to attack them. This is possible thanks to two processes given by natural selection: vertical form, which is to pass the mutations when a cell is duplicated, passing new genes among individuals through the exchange of plasmids; another way is through mutations produced randomly through and once it has been generated the genetic information that is resistant to the molecule that attacks them the bacteria mutate to avoid its effect for the purpose of survival, or thanks to a lysogenic conversion which is a process where viruses that infect only to bacteria, carries extra genes and thereby alters the bacteria which is hosted.

Another process that can occur is more artificial in which a selection on the population is charged with genetic information. No matter if it’s through a natural or artificial way, when a virus or a bacterium carries several resistance genes, it is called multi-resistant or super-bacteria or super-virus.

Under this advice to combat this super bugs, what Mike May called "a catastrophic bacterial resistance" as estimates that only in the United States at least 2 million people per year are infected each year by antibiotic-resistant germs, creating a greater health alarm than cancer, as according to figures from the Center of Control and prevention (CDC) intestinal infections as the Clostridium difficile in only a decade has increased the number of deaths.

How did we go from having the stone to kill lizards, to fight with Godzilla?, the truth is this happened while we slept, in a simple and imperceptible way: accept antibiotics to cure everything, from colds, toothache, to health problems that actually needed them, and in addition, we administer them in a regular livestock. Part of the problem is that as soon as antibiotic made us feel good, we stop them, and that's how bacteria and viruses began to grow, in their struggle to adapt and survive, they created mechanisms that have allowed them to adapt and combat the drugs.

So now the recommendation is to return to the past, to the traditional remedies to treat the symptoms of those diseases that do not need to take antibiotics, such as earache, throat ache, sinusitis or bronchitis. This does not mean fail to see a doctor, but together can make more intelligent decisions.

So that while major pharmaceutical firms are in looking for mechanisms that allow to fight viruses, bacteria and resistant super derivatives, to avoid havoc in the population, each citizen can do something to avoid antibiotics in the first place not getting sick, and there are simple habits that can develop between those who are:
-Keep up to date vaccines, and attend medical check-ups on a regular basis.

-Wash your hands, really? Yes!, washing hands save lives, and this habit should be spread among children, before eating, after going to the bathroom, after being exposed to public places, avoid touching their eyes with dirty hands, and the best way is with SOAP and water and not gel.

-Cook the eggs, meat and sausages correctly and to the maximum and to avoid cross-contamination of food.

-Taking antibiotics properly, does it sound illogical?, the truth is that there are times when medications should not be avoided, of course under a physician supervision, these must be managed wisely and complete treatments. It is common that patients take one or two pills and they feel good and make them away, but this action is exactly what produces the super bugs, because administer them that way starts bugs survival mechanism.

-Avoid sneezing on other people or leave disposable paper that has served to clean saliva or mucus in the open air.

-Consider organic foods free of antibiotics.

If you go to the doctor it is very important that you provide as much information about your health status, and if you visit it because there are symptoms of disease, be sure to clearly mention when symptoms began, if you have had a fever, if you has eaten and rested long enough, and if you have taken other medications before coming to see doctor, so you both analyze the convenience of taking or not antibiotics.

The side effects of antibiotics is that they kill both healthy bacteria such as infectious, this means that the bacterial environment of the body will be modify which opens the door to other bugs since your immune system will be weak, this is why is so important of staying healthy in the first place.

This is not the end of antibiotics, but if the time used more rationally for our own health.

Boseley, S (2014) Who calls for urgent action to preserve power of antibiotics and make new ones. The Guardian. Disponible en red:

Cannon, B. (2014) Microbiology: resistance fighters. Nature 509, S6-S8. Disponible en red:

Laliberte, R. (2014) Is our drug habit killing us? Disponible en:

May, M. (2014) Drug development: time for teamwork. Nature 509, S5-S5. Disponible en red:

May, M (2014) Antibiotics. Nature 509, S1. Disponible en red:

Zimmer,, C. (2014) The continuing evolution of genes. The New York Times. Disponible en red:

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Looking through the eyes of New Technology

By Dolores Luna Hogan
The Learning and Neuro-Development Research Center is so  happy because we have another international interview today, we will share some ideas from Japan, because we have the honor to talk with Mineshima Takayuki. Mineshima who graduated from high school after the 3 year information processing program, later graduated from University of Nebraska at Omaha with Bachelor’s degree in geography specializing in USSR.

After he came back to Japan, he used to work as a teacher at a private school in Iwakuni for 5 years this gave him the light to reconstructed my career to assimilate knowledge and skills in education and technology at NTT (Nipon Telegraph and Telephone). Thanks this he received an endorsement from Educational Board of Hiroshima City to work at Fujinoki Elementary School as an ICT (Information and Communication Technology) specialist to help accomplish Japanese ICT educational policies including so called “Future School Project” and “Learning Innovation Project” for 3 years respectively.; with this background he established Learn For Japan to help learners and educators with ICT educational policies of Japanese ministry of Education and let us say that we are front a innovation leader.

LNDRC: Thank you so much Mineshima for sharing so deeply information about you, our first question is one we ask to every foreigner we met, how is Educational System in your country, Japan?

Mineshima: Japan is trying to getting out of criticism about its legacy educational system in which more academic emphasis is put on goal oriented approaches to accumulate knowledge, and now is trying to develop towards process oriented approaches to nourish abilities and skills such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration with using the cutting edge use of technology for the 21st century learning as a national educational policy.  This is exactly what is happening in Japan today and innovations in learning are getting part of its big driving force to nourish global citizens who are well adaptable to changing societies in the world, successful in international contexts, and confident about where they should go.

On the contrary, geographically isolated conditions have oddly allowed Japan to be committed to conservative tendencies towards educational uniformity and Japanese as a dominant language in the country has often lead to non-internationally educational systems resulting only to struggle with poor communication with foreign people, clumsy collaboration for building international understandings and consensus, and embarrassment in solving worldwide problems in different languages.  Japanese conservative educators tend to prefer being part of their local communities and exclusive decision-making trying not to contribute to advancement of globalization.

It is, however, true that Japan has become more enthusiastic to give it a change to be part of the 21st century society where global awareness plays a key role in learning from and working collaboratively with individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community context.  Japan is looking for a better way to a new educational system as technology finds new possibilities in classrooms.

LNDRC: What are the pros and cons of Japan Educational System?

     Mineshima: As shown in PISA test results, Japanese Ministry of Education puts great importance on international academic achievement to confirm effectiveness and reasonableness of its educational system while making progress with remediation and improvement from a global view point.  This inspires Japanese leading educators to be more confident about what new pedagogical approaches and learning methods play a key role in breaking through difficulties and limitations whose solutions were left unclear under existing learning conditions and environment.  As Japanese educational policies of using technology in classrooms show evidences of their effectiveness and usefulness, educators in the country gradually pays more attention to technology and expects its growing possibilities to apply them to development of the Japanese educational system.

  On the other hand, conservative educators in Japan still don’t pay much attention to exploratory possibilities or advantageous options of technology use in classrooms along with their academic effects or pedagogical value in the advanced educational system.  Many of them advocate traditional learning environment already include effective pedagogical philosophies which are good enough to meet conditions to build the 21st century educational system.  They point out the small number of computers in classrooms and limited vindication to contradict the PISA test results so Japan should wait for more explanatory evidence for diffusion of technology use in Japanese classrooms.

     This, however, doesn’t mean that Japanese educators are insecure about where they should go, but there is room for both sides of the educators to discuss and share ideas about what the essential nature and definition of Japanese educational systems should be today and tomorrow.  To understand this situation more clearly, one possible explanation could be the fact that the newest knowledge and experiences harvested from the technology-based educational policies are not well shared or understood to arrive at reasonable conclusions for both of them.  Today it is often seen in Japan to discuss pros and cons over technology use in classrooms.  Pros insist that learning in classroom with technology should effectively enhance academic advancement and quality education while cons maintain that technology should distort and mislead the intrinsic nature of traditional Japanese education only to result in much more burden and confusion left for teachers and students.

LNDRC: You designed an application, especially for teachers to engage children with mathematics; this application is Digital Block, why did you decide this application was necessary in Japanese classrooms?

Mineshima: Digital Block actually has shown good evidence in Japanese educational policies with technology in the 21st century classrooms.  As a student-centered learning tool for knowledge building through communication and collaboration with classmates, Digital Block is necessary for children to make mutual understandings and consensus so they can arrive at mathematical conclusions while finding a way to grow their learning skills by themselves.

In fact, Japanese educators put more emphasis on learning than on teaching because they think it is highly important for children to become aware of their own learning processes with consistency and reasonableness so they can develop their own learning skills by themselves.  Teachers play an important role in nourishing their learning skills, as they grow intelligent in learning. 

As often seen in Japanese classrooms, for example, concrete materials are used to help children easily understand abstract concepts of mathematics while assimilating their real experience and simultaneous feeling through manipulating concrete materials.  This makes a lot of sense as long as their behavioral and cognitive development stages correspond to each other.  Otherwise, children would use a lot of time to find analog materials they may lose, find more space to put them back on their untidy desks, and find friends to talk about their clumsiness.

One of the biggest roles of Digital Block is help children to assimilate their instinctive sense and thinking processes through simulated experience and intuitive cognition in a calculating area of mathematics.  They can correlate the concrete and abstract concepts, bind them together, and make structured knowledge and systematical understanding by providing them with a framework of ideas they make without losing precious time to learn at higher stages of mathematical processes they would consequently deserve.  This makes their learning processes more efficient and exploratory in understanding abstract concepts of mathematics and acquiring subordinate procedural knowledge while they feel it is not easy to understand mathematical logic through limited time, space, functions presented in the Japanese 20th century classrooms as pictures below explain.

LNDRC: When you invite to teachers to use Digital Blocks, what is the most important to you?

Mineshima:  What matters most to me is see how children learn how to learn by themselves.  It is not necessarily difficult for children to gather information, put up ideas, and build knowledge, but learning the way they learn is much more meaningful and important.  Learning how to learn is one of the biggest goals children should accomplish as long as they are life-long learners.  So I would like teachers to use Digital Block as a learning tool rather than a teaching tool to help children nourish their learning skills, which are flexible and useful for fluid problem solving in their entire life.  

LNRC: Do you think new generations are less interesting on learning?

    Mineshima:  I don’t think new generations are less interesting on learning because children are bone with intellectual curiosity.  Children have intellectual appetite for extending the range of their behavioral and cognitive application as they grow while absorbing information from environment that surrounds them.  If there is a concern about their willingness and interest to their learning, you can find some aspects of the problem in educational systems and the way they include children.  In other words, educational systems define the way children learn.  Well designed educational systems and curriculum, indeed, can be effective in improving the performance of children learning.  It is, however, true in a way that the educational systems don’t always secure children their willingness or motivation to learn.  The educational systems rather tend to restrict the range of the way they learn.  So I think that is when educators need to rethink about what results from the education systems involved if new generations are less interesting on learning.

LNDRC: What is your perception about New Technologies in the classrooms?

     Minesima: Today we are living in an era of transitional technologies.  With development of information society, global citizens are required to have demanding skills to create new value and contribute it to global society where the way they live and work has to be multidimensional and trans cultural.  If education plays an important part in creating the new era, NEW Technologies should not merely be something that encourages children to acquire knowledge and skills as a goal of their learning, but something that inspires children to transform from students in classrooms to learners in society.
In other words, the essential value of New Technologies in education must be in the process to help children acquire knowledge, experience, and skills required to lead their entire life as a member of ever-changing society.

LNDRC: In your opinion, what is the role of New Technology in learning process?

    Mineshima:  The role of New Technology in learning is discover New Learning.  This means learners can become aware of their own cognitive activities and make an objective evaluation on which the process of nourishing their problem solving skills is based.

In recent years, many international educational institutions such as ATC21S (Assessment & Teaching of the 21 Century Skills) place special emphasis upon problem solving skills required for children to play a successful role in an international society in the future.  It is highly important for children to plan, analyze, evaluate, and adjust what to learn with their classmates, not just to learn respectively with efficiency.

     Naomi Miyake, professor at Tokyo university, points out as follows; Learning skills were mainly defined as skills for individuals to comprehend knowledge exactly and solve given problems efficiently so educators could set goals and design education to reach them.  But today massive informational environment is created and information is updated all any one time.  Goals are regarded more like something that reset themselves as you get closer to them so goals need to take care of every situation.  For this reason, it is important for children to find problems and answers at the same time, share methods of solution among groups, and remake their knowledge building processes, not for teachers to teach what is supposed to be taught.  For this purpose, goals need tools to trigger these processes.  At the same time, New Learning requires a new evaluation method.  The new evaluation method is not something that measures achievement of learning but something that keeps track of progress of learning and generates clues to go on to next levels of learning by deciding on how to modify what is actually happening there.  In order to make this kind of evaluation in accordance with progress of learning, teachers need a strong IT infrastructure to record, analyze, and share learning processes for next steps.  If the IT infrastructure is strong enough, teachers can concentrate on innovating New Learning without being distracted by maintenance of IT environment and the evaluation method.

Since the role of New Technology depends on how we can define the applicable range of learning processes, there is no expected answer in advance.  This way a lot of attention and expectation have been paid to a rapidly-growing technology society where the effective way of utilizing technology in education is mainly on the table.  In conclusion, if it is children who create a technology society in the future, it will be self-evident what the role of New Technologies in their learning processes is.

LNDRC: If you had all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decision to design a school, what would you include in it?

   Mineshima: If I had all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decisions to design a school, I would provide all the children in the world with equal opportunity to learn.  Children should be given an equal opportunity and the right to become successful in their entire life through learning.

As discussed earlier, international educational institutions and their organically mutual cooperation has been facilitating international consensus and standardization regarding a modern education method and learning process.  However, there are still many children who do not have an opportunity to enjoy modern and idealistic education because of a variety of factors such as politics, economy, and culture in the world. Furthermore, problems about academic achievement gap among countries and thus negative effects on education have been frequently pointed out.

Therefore, it is extremely important for educators to build an international educational platform and lead collaborative innovations in trans cultural education so children as global citizens who are living in a modern society can live a better life beyond borders with success by nourishing their intelligence and skills that will be useful when they grow up.  I believe everyone can be happy if everyone hopes for a global educational consortium for everyone.  And this is just what I am trying to do in my country with Learn For Japan and I believe this leads to the first step toward Learn For the World.

Don't forget to watch some videos to understand Digital Blocks:

You can find Digital blocks in Itunes Store:

And Learning for Japan is an wonderful resource:

Finally we share another Interview to Mineshima:

Friday, March 21, 2014

Looking through the eyes of inspiration

The Learning and Neuro-Development Research Center is very happy because we have an international interview today, we will share some ideas from Russia, since we have the honor to talk with Irina Pechonkina.

LNDRC: Irina is an English teacher and philologist by education, whom believes in humanism as ideology, and she explains with her own words her passions:

Irina Pechonkina: To Alvin Toffer "The illiterate of the 21-st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those, who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn"

Lifelong learning is my credo. I was born in a family of the all-round, universal personalities- thus; my self-made dad had 3 MDs in medicine, aviation, and history. I learned myself reading when I was 5 years old.

My first poetic work was published when I was 10 years old, and my first scenario was realized when I was 20 years old. 

I had changed from schools during my childhood, so I studied in Tukums (Latvia), Chernyakhovsk, Step (Transbaikalia), Torzhok region, Irkutsk (Siberia). This makes me happy, because I have been experiencing 4 types of education systems. They are 1. Soviet System of education, 2. Dneprov's reform, 3."Our new school" with "money coming after a student" and USE, 4. National (Federal) Education Standards (on the humanistic foundation)!!.
So I can tell Soviet system was linear and almost Spartan. It was extremely boring. We couldn't use another sources besides of textbooks at school.

- LNDRC:  How did this impact in your life?

Irina Pechonkina: This is very helpful in my life, because I have the ability to use genetically earning information of archetypes in a trice. The dual strategy and tactics, being either "artist" or "logic" helps in our changing world. My two higher educations in two universities were free and extremely productive. My professors were enthusiastic, creative, highly intelligent and universal (salt of our earth). Thus, my favorite professor Rubanovich was an enthusiastic professor, humanistic teacher and children's writer.

So learning languages and cultures, writing scenarios, performing, singing with a guitar, winning the 3rd grade in sport gymnastics, participating in scientific society of students, in dialectological, folklore experience programs, construction team, festivals and what not - were happy pages of my academic life. 

-LNDRC: How did this systems influence your life?

Irina Pechonkina: All my school life -morally pure and with strong discipline- was politicized and highly ideology-driven. Nevertheless, I think, I got a good education through the method of repetition, memorization of texts, hacking of the articles and poems from the textbooks, learning from simple to complex.

All these methods were structural and led to quality of knowledge. It resulted in my phenomenal memory. Knowledge like idioms was automatically retrieved out from memory in ready forms. Teachers' activity was hypertrophied with hard taming of left hemisphere. It was characteristic of algorithmic logical manipulation of bare information in humanities, discrete step-by-step teaching and repetition without any possibilities for development of creativity.

Surely, my brain was revolted by the system and found an appropriate outcome. My thirst for reading, writing, traveling, communicating as well as love of nature, art, theatre, music, religion, and also diverse cultures led to harmonization of my hemispheres. Theoretical constructs plus experience, adaptation, imagination and the highest moral values of my family- compliance, mutual understanding, moral synergy, empathy, compassion- resulted in forming asymmetric "cyclotomic" type (left-bright).

During this period I'd read, published and learned a lot. Our Regional Teachers' Training Institute, Yaroslavl SU, Novosibirsk SU, state initiative "Our new school", Russian-American program "Teachers to Teachers", "The First of September", VATE, NATE (National Association of teachers of English)  (MSU, VSU) with their famous scientific leaders, helped me in my self-actualization. To me, personal-oriented approach is very important in education both to a student and to a teacher. According to my theory of major I-conception, it consists of 3 items: I-conception of administration (creating of appropriate environment for personal realization), I-conception of teachers (objectification of subjective I), students (the situation of success). Success includes intellectual-creative abilities, will qualities, initiative, understanding of culture, social, civil competences, health. Besides, content (fundamental kernel), ways, methods, technologies, reflecto practices, organization of social lift working are required. From 2003 till 2011 I had realized my conception on reflective culture forming through a long-term cross-cultural project. The 8-steps are presupposition, anticipation, problematization, immersion, visualization, interpretation, creation, and integration. The basic elements are eternal moral values- from Aristotle- beauty, truth, good. The content is classics. I prefer stylization, arts integration, a polylogue of cultures, aesthetic symbols, IT, masks del'arte, social roles so that we can be nearer to the natural situation. Unfortunately we obliged to learn English in the artificial situation of communication. Every detail must be "natural" and beautiful. 

I adore method of thinking in depth, outside the box, discursive approach, active learning strategies. The main intrigue is seeking to unravel the mystery. Aims- enhancing the communicative competences on semantic-cognitive- pragmatic-motivational level through classics, national-regional component, polylogue of cultures and arts, synergy. Reflective culture forming, development of critical thinking, creativity, synesthesia. Shaping of socio-cultural, value-meaning, compensatory competences, personal culturedigm, culture of peace, love for native homeland. Rendering the atmosphere of tuning the students on a cultural-historical wave. Their names are lessons of moral linguistics in the school of discursive reflection.

-       LNDRC:  What did all these give you?

Irina Pechonkina: Then I received some invitations for working in the newspaper and then on TV, but after graduating from my university we moved to Voronezh. I began working in school and felt drag. My brain appeared to be hungry, that's why I entered the Linguistic University and I felt very much at home there. In addition, Soviet system is considered one of the best in the world. It was free of charge and free to all. Those days there were no terrorism, drugs, violence, ethnic hatred and conflicts, mass depression, aggression in our country.

 Every human was sure in his/her future and guaranteed loaf of bread, roof over his/her head and job. We went for a walk at nights and were not afraid of anybody. There was a very good system for entering the university. Thus, we passed exams to our teachers, and then we passed the exams on the same questions in the universities. There were rabfak (worker's school for guaranteed entering the universities), full-time course, or part-time. Every student could have part-time work and get a scholarship. An interesting fact from my school life: my school was the best in our city and Ministry of Education offered me as a gifted child- a place in MSU "hors concourse".

-        LNDRC:  How were those days to Higher Education? How was to students?

Irina Pechonkina: There were a lot of students entering our universities from all over the world. I'd like to stress some cons in Soviet Union- only "steadfast Iskraists", or "nomenklatura" could make success in career. Government interfered in religion. I think, the most terrible things were "cold war", or  iron curtain". It was ugly and ridiculous to forbid English rock bands and BBC. You see, I was "a girl vice versa", that's why it motivated me to learn English and to listen to "Jesus Christ is a superstar" and to sing, "Smoke on the water" to the guitar.

-       LNDRC:  How is Educational System in Russia?

Irina Pechonkina: School system had been rapidly changing; we turned out to be free from traditional classical teaching in sociogenic, didactic-centric, information, authoritarian, mass school in the reckless 90-s. It was modified in "authoritarian-democratic" system of education. To me, Dneprov's reform (1992) was a greatest event in new Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. I returned from Germany to Voronezh and began working as a vice-director in the college (it had been a school before, but it became to an innovative institution- college, then it was named "lyceum").

A few words about Russian Education System:  Secondary education (in the chain of - pre-school- secondary- higher-postgraduate one) takes 11 years to complete. There are specialized schools- teaching and educational complexes, gymnasiums, lyceums, cadet schools, military schools, boarding schools, Sunday schools, religious gymnasiums, and schools, schools with profiles, schools with major subjects. Educational institutions may be state, municipal, private. After 9-th grade (compulsory) a pupil obtains a Certificate of Incomplete Secondary education and can go to a Community College or to the 10-11-th class.

Nowadays the country has more than 600 governmental higher education institutions and more than 400 nongovernmental Higher Education establishments and more than 1400 branches, and there are 3 degrees, that are conferred by universities- Bachelor's Degree - 4 years, Specialist's Degree - 5, 6 years, Master's degree- 6 years.

-       LNDRC what have been your goal working in Education?

Irina Pechonkina: Well, our college was one of the best schools in our city and we had a greatest opportunity to create. I wrote a conception "City of Masters"- a humanistic conception of the pedagogized environment, created by school. Our aim was "to look for "Mozart" in every child.

It consisted of a lot of collective, creative, research activities and relations. There were a lot of free hobby groups, study groups, societies on interests. I had worked out this conception for 8 years, had a lot of publications and reports on it in our region, and used universal scientific methods- observation, experiment, assessment, comparison etc. during qualitative and quantitative research. The results were rather good. I participated in the competition "The best vice-director of the year" and won the first place in our city. I was like a fountain and created near 100 scenarios, and poems. Ministry of Education, American guests, administration from other institutions visited us on the seminars, festivals, and conferences.

I think, the system of college was rather comfortable and effective. Our students passed exams every year, and we could rotate them according to their success in learning. Our students had advanced knowledge in Biology, Physics, Maths, History, and English. The 11-th form considered the first grade of one or another university. Exams were mainly oral with 1- 2 problems in writing. We introduced defense of a scientific project for our senior students. We had a right to choose textbooks and programs, we had 38 free hobby centers on interests in our college. There were a lot of professors from other universities among our pedagogical staff. Thanks to our conceptions and achievements of teachers and students, our institution had become a school of year twice, but this period was over and our college was named as "lyceum", the first grade of the higher education in our lyceum was eliminated. There were formed two alternative types of schools- "yard" (marginal) and "elite" in the result of reforms.

  LNDRC What is the pros and cons of Russian Educational System?

Irina Pechonkina: The period of 2000-2009-2012 had been famous for the experiment and introducing USE (Unified State Exam). On the one hand, the aim of imposing the test system was humanistic- "We shouldn’t loose Lomonosov" in the situation of high payment for higher education. USE was imposed as a form of combination of school finals and entrance exams. They supposed the equal opportunities for poor and rich students; however, this was not with standing of corruption.

 As we know, the main areas of the reformers are orientation on development of a personality, major "I-conception", forming competences and situation of success for every person in social integration, standardization of education for continuity of programs and unity of educational environment. 

In essence, USE causes destruction of the whole process of forming creativity and critical thinking. To some teachers, training on the tests is not productive. It's immoral, ineffective. It leads to degradation. It causes wild fear, weird forms of physical and moral control and humiliation, formalization of knowledge. 

Relatives of the students are afraid of CCTV (TV Channel that broadcast entirely in Russian), jammers, searches and other "measures" in fighting with using mobiles during USE. The main task of a student is to guess the right answer, that's why a teacher must train student's skills to automatism. It's rather boring, isn't it? Among minuses there are a lot of not very good textbooks with poor content, tests in textbooks have answers in the Internet, too. To pass USE a lot of students have recourse to private tutors. I think, USE is not very convenient. We hope on new forms of exams.

-LNDRC In your opinion, which is element than a teacher should develop?, what is the most important to you as a teacher?

Irina Pechonkina: "A teacher, like an artist, must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices- the voice of death with all its foreboding, the voice of love and the voice of art" G.Lorka.

My friend Alma Dzib Goodin says: "Talent is a door that we must open to students". Teachers must set challenging tasks for their students so that they can gain better knowledge and skills, increase their ability to solve different problems. Hard tasks give a possibility to find out something new, to increase skills and to be proud of yourself.

 Good teachers should provide such problems to their students. It's the only way to study. They say, if you sow a thought- you'll reap an act, if you sow an act- you'll reap a habit, if you sow a habit- you'll reap a character, if you sow a character- you'll reap a fate. To Sukhomlinsky: "It's intolerable, disgusting, when a teen feels adults wave their hands at him and consider him incapable. In school- a sacred place, where must be humanism and sensitivity- such sort of relationship we must consider monstrous. In school a child must only enjoy and take pride. He mustn't suffer, feel humiliation so that after leaving school he can live with a stiffen heart."

 To Prof. V.Vasilyev, "Belief of a teen in himself depends on satisfaction of results of his own activity", while to Bubler, "a human being finds his own being only through absorbing the universal". I adore Lamarti, when he explains: "If a human being loses at least one of the moral truth, the keeper of that there is humanitarian education, the human being as well as all mankind will perish.I'm sure- if our children don't read- read with them. If they can't appreciate beauty- unravel the mystery of beauty with them.You must teach them to find beauty in nature, arts, cultures, human relations.

There are two types of creative thinking- convergent-vertical and divergent-lateral, creative lack of implementation is one of the reasons of children's deadaptation. Creative human beings have got empathy, originality, plasticity of mind. They can enjoy their work, work efficiency. They are self-confident and experienced. They have an inner sense of "the banal". There are a lot of technologies- Osborn's table, the method of 636, the method of collective writing, brainstorming, mapping, synectics, Socratic method, creative workshop etc, etc.

 What is inadmissible as to creative persons? -Criticism, captivity, fear, time trouble, routine, rivalry, general bad conditions, the situation where neither regalia, nor privileges, disinterest... But I think, that even under pressure and humiliation a creative person is able to create for the sake of surviving. Nowadays I have got 4 jobs- in lyceum, Sunday school, Teachers' Training Institute, commercial courses. I have written more than 50 publications, have attended a lot of conferences and seminars all over the world, have won a lot of awards, and you know what? I'm still searching…

-       LNDRC which has been your hardest experience as a teacher?

Irina Pechonkina: I think, that the most important thing is to enable individuals to have equal rights and possibilities to education. That's why in this connection USE (in a new format) should be aimed at solving this social problem. You see, I have been fighting against stereotypes for the sake of human and humane. Well, the period of 2001-2009 was one of the hardest in education and schooling. 

Besides, my family moved to another region in the city. I'm proud, the products of my creativity and logical thinking were used in the right way by the entrepreneurial, resourceful leaders (may be, dealers) with right connections and I turned out to be... in the "yard" school domiciliary.

 In the "yard" school there were a lot of children from poor families. There were children from dormitories, single-parent families, even children of homeless bums, addicts and alcoholics. I admire the teachers, who could experience this period, who managed to remain humanistic and highly professional. The innovative schools were far from our location and the classroom was rather heterogeneous. My main aim was leveling my new students. My family helped me to equip my poverty-stricken, very cold cabinet with curtains, a tape-recorder, tables. 

My elder son painted the door and bought discs with English films in Moscow. From time to time I took a TV-set, which was one in school. Students could drink tea and listen to good music in my cabinet during breaks. I chose the textbooks "Hotline" and "Matrix" for my students. The program was approximate and I had a right to modify material of the textbooks. My ability to be absorbed by my work with children and the most valuable ability which is "to grasp at the straw" of creativity in a desperate attempt to save in the situation of despair -were very helpful. I felt benevolence for my students. I decided to harmonize their life. For their acculturation I saturated their life with sharpest emotions.

-       LNDRC If you would have all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decision to design a school, what would you include in it?

Irina Pechonkina: "If you skimp on schools, you'll go bankrupt on prisons"(Yamburg). If I would have all the money of the world, and no restriction to take decision to design a school, I would include it in my fairy tale 'City of Masters'. It would be a real city, consisting of 3 buildings for every age category in the Gothic style. There would be few conference halls, transformation library, hair salon, game room, labs for research, teachers' room with cafe, recreation (relaxation) room, Planetarium, halls with soft furniture, cabinets with individual computers, room with musical instruments, room-studio, museum, rooms for home economics, wood shop, auto shop, metal work, interior garden, park, Zoo, "London eye".

 It would be three tasteful and healthy meals in a big modern canteen, shooting gallery, and bowling. Surely, it would be Western-style renovation. My long-life dream is to build a health-improving complex with 2 swimming pools, with extended therapeutic infrastructure, inhalatorium, halo chamber, massage, diets, solarium, herbal therapy, gymnasium, aerobics studio, out-of-room sanatorium. There would be some buses and cars. In other words, club, medical, research, relax infrastructure. I would raise teachers' pay; give scholarships to every senior student on successful professional socialization. It would be possible to pay for programs and textbooks, which could be worked out by our local scientists and teachers. Besides, it would be the greatest opportunity to pay for Ph.D defense of our scientifically oriented teachers. There would be a fund for traveling, visiting and organizing scientific conferences, competitions and mutual celebrations with our guests from all over the world.

LNDRC: Thank you so much Irina, you have given us an amazing perspective from Russian Education but mainly from your passion about teaching, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!

If you want to read her ideas, you can visit: and if you speaks Russian, maybe you want to try