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Belarus Deputy Prime Minister on improvement of education system

At a meeting on the improvement of the education system, President Lukashenko spoke about the need to address the most essential problems of the education system without resorting to significant reforms. Let us welcome Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Natalia Kochanova. She's in the studio with us.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Mrs Kochanova, welcome to the program!

Natalia Kochanova:
Good evening!

Yuri Koziyatko:
What place do you think education takes in order of priority in Belarus and in your life? Would you place the healthcare sector higher?

Natalia Kochanova:
I would put health first, no doubt. But education would follow it immediately. Because it is very important.

Yuri Koziyatko:
If there is no good education, there will be no good doctors. I would still place education higher. But how healthy is our education? Yesterday, you met with the President. Did you note any "sores" in the education system? Do we need to change anything?

Natalia Kochanova:
You know, yesterday we reported to the head of state on the fulfillment of the instructions given by him concerning the development of the education system. The education system includes not only school. This is also pre-school education. So we also reported on it. The provision of families with kindergarten places is essential, and Belarusian media covered that topic extensively.

Yuri Koziyatko:
People have to queue for many years!

Natalia Kochanova:
Yes. And you know, here I would say that the situation is actually adjustable. The standard (the required number of places in kindergartens per person) is observed in almost all regions of Belarus. With the exception of the Frunzensky district of Minsk. There are some problems in the Minsk region. And another such district is Moskovsky District of Brest.

Yuri Koziyatko:
These areas were built up too quickly, weren't they?

Natalia Kochanova:
You know, it is absolutely true. Housing was built but there was no suitable infrastructure. Hence there are such disproportions. But the government has adopted a program for the construction of kindergartens, which is designed to run until 2020.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Let's move on to school problems now. 

Natalia Kochanova:
As for the school, here the emphasis is on field-specific education. And we are opening specialized classes. About 1,000 of them have already opened. I believe that it will allow kids to study particular subjects at a higher level and maybe, in some way, solve the problems with tutoring in our country.
Anyway kids will have to study nine forms according to a standard curriculum and then they can choose some specific subject or profile. 

Yuri Koziyatko:
All right. What else did you discuss?

Natalia Kochanova:
We also noted that there are some functions that teachers need to perform but these things are really unnecessary. So many paperwork... The government was instructed to strictly monitor the situation. The teacher should first of all teach and bring up kids. It is the sacred duty of teachers.

Yuri Koziyatko:
You mentioned tutors. When we learned at school, no one knew about tutoring. But now you cannot sometimes get a place in a university without a decent tutor's training. But why do kids need to go to school if they still need tutors?

Natalia Kochanova:
You know, you're absolutely right, Yuri. I asked the minister the same question when I came to work. But then I found the answer myself. Tutors generally work to train children for tests only. This sometimes does not help expand students' horizons but just gives lots of facts on a particular subject.

Yuri Koziyatko:
What do we need to do with textbooks? Some of them are very difficult to read.

Natalia Kochanova:
This is said by many. Alexander Lukashenko instructed us to determine the research teams that will develop the new textbooks on a competitive basis. Now 22 creative teams have been selected and work is underway to develop the new textbooks.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Ok, but you did it only after President Lukashenko's order...

Natalia Kochanova:
No. I said that it is not only about rewriting. Firstly, we are revising curricula. There are heat debates. In general, I think today parents and we all know that kids are overloaded. Therefore, the child should receive optimal basic knowledge at school. And by developing these programs we are developing new textbooks. Some books for grade 5 are uninteresting, written in small font and have almost no illustrations. For a fifth grader, it is hard to grasp such material.

Yuri Koziyatko:
(speaking in Belarusian) Do you use Belarusian often?

Natalia Kochanova:
(replies in Belarusian) A little bit.

Yuri Koziyatko:
We have two official languages ​​- Russian and Belarusian. Every officer and deputy chairman of the government should sometimes use Belarusian. President Lukashenko also does this in official speeches and when asked in the Belarusian language. And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is at the forefront when it comes to the use of this language. And ambassador Latushko has not been fired for using the Belarusian language (it's a joke).

Natalia Kochanova:
It is very good when people can enjoy the Belarusian language.

Yuri Koziyatko:
But do you know what I mean? I mean that we need to do something with the study of the Belarusian language! Should we do anything? You can answer in Russian, because we have a Russian-language program.

Natalia Kochanova:
(continues in Russian) I said we are revising curricula. We may increase the number of hours dedicated to the Belarusian language. I know that the society is worried about this issue.

Yuri Koziyatko:
It is not only the language that forms the national education system. There must be some other components. For example, take math. Maybe we need to abandon those Soviet typical exercises like "a train goes from point A to point B" and replace them with "a train travels from Orsha to Brest." These are Belarusian toponyms and it somehow forms our reality.

Natalia Kochanova:
You know, maybe yes. We should do so.

Yuri Koziyatko:
You must have talked much with teachers. What did they say, what are they hoping for?

Natalia Kochanova:
We have excellent teachers. Now teachers are not the same as in previous years. In our times, it was like this: half of the lesson is dedicated to checking homework and the other half is for the studying of new material. Now it is completely different, thanks to creative teachers. Our task is to ensure that there are more such workers today. And most importantly, universities must accept those who really would like to become teachers in the future.

Yuri Koziyatko:
So the salary is not important, is it?

Natalia Kochanova:
I think it is not that important.

Yuri Koziyatko:
I am really afraid to ask you about salaries. You once said about the salary of doctors. And then something was cited out of context...

Natalia Kochanova:
You know, I did not really answer like that. You must understand that this is an outright lie. We understand that salaries of teachers and doctors must be worthy at present. Teachers have an average salary of BYR 5,618,000 already.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Not enough. At our TV channel, the average salary is higher.

Natalia Kochanova:
I believe that this is a good level of salaries. I'll tell you this: if a teacher wants to work and earn, he will manage to do this: if he takes some extra activities, he or she may earn BYR 7, 8 or even 10 million. It is not me who reveals such statistics. These are figures teachers told me when I asked them. Another thing is those who have the right for mandatory first job placement. Of course, they have low salaries. It's true. Yesterday's Alexander Lukashenko told us to see what we can do for these people so they earn more. Because we need to arouse these specialists' interest.

Yuri Koziyatko:
Ok, thank you very much for the interview. We were talking to Deputy Prime Minister of Belarus Natalia Kochanova.

Natalia Kochanova:
Thank you!

Belarus Deputy Prime Minister on improvement of education system