It was snowing when we arrived. Thank goodness. Mid-February can be grey in Moscow and a fresh layer of snow refreshes both the Soviet-era apartment blocks and adds sparkle to the Orthodox domes above the Kremlin. You don’t want to travel to Russia without finding icicles, fur hats and clouds of condensed breath mixed with the marketplace shouts. Best to acknowledge the stereo-types before challenging them.
We’d been invited to speak at the “Trends in Education: How to measure the effectiveness of Educational Institutions” conference at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. MSSES is a young (founded 1995), internationally-oriented institute and was an early-adopter in Russia of the Bologna processes and structures. It offers Masters level programmes to students across the post-Soviet space in partnership with similar universities in Europe and America. As you can imagine, in the current geo-political climate, MSSES has challenges with its international offer. Academics from Sheffield Hallam University have been presenting at their conference for several years and we were all happy to spend three days with Russian academics engaging with the transformations at all levels of Russian education.
Sue O’Brien talked about the changes in UK teacher education policy, alongside the proposed reforms to the quality assurance of schools via the Ofsted framework. Both aspects drew interest: of course, the proposed shift from the focus on data was well received and, not surprisingly, the various routes into teaching were confusing and particularly difficult to translate! But of particular interest was the assessment of teachers, Russian colleagues having recently undergone new requirements for the assessment and testing of qualified, experienced teachers which has proved to be highly controversial.
Sally Pearse talked about Quality in Early Childhood Education in England and the issues of data taking priority over pedagogy. Sally also gave a Master Class on the role of Early Years Teachers in England and this session generated a great deal of discussion with Russian early years teachers as there were a number of comparisons to be drawn with issues of status and funding.
John Wrigglesworth gave a workshop on Quality and Accreditation in Academic English Pedagogy: an international reflection. The workshop built on a previous research project with the Turkish ministry of education and another with the British Council (in Kursk). It also covered the vexed question of English becoming the international academic lingua franca and how scholars around the world can communicate their ideas within a globalized community.
In sharing experiences about the problems of education policy, quality assurance measures, and academic communication we found a growing shared experience within the international teaching profession.
The conference was, therefore, a great opportunity to work with colleagues trying to harmonize the Russian education system and the International one. As part of our Transforming Lives Strategy, Sheffield Hallam University has global strand:
“We will extend and deepen our global engagement – linking Sheffield to the world and the world to Sheffield. We will work with like-minded partners locally and globally to enhance our impact and reach.”
Like another knotty problem of the day, global engagement can be seen in soft and hard forms. Soft forms include fostering an enriched student experience, conducting research between and across cultures, and enrolling lots of full-fee paying students. Hard forms bring into focus issues of deep-seated political misunderstandings and even conflict, bureaucratic mismatch and inertia, and the ethical difficulties of facilitating the participation of groups who cannot pay Western education prices.
Back in Sheffield, we return to the hard challenges of moving the partnership from the conference floor to the university’s boardroom.
Sheffield has just had the warmest February on record. But this morning (10th March) there’s a fresh fall of snow. Maybe it’s not going to be so difficult to link Sheffield to the world and the world to Sheffield.