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Belarus' Education Minister on changes in Education Code and Belarus' IT sector

What is the reason for the growth of IT sector in Belarus and how is the Belarusian education system responding to the challenges of time? We will talk about this with our guest - the Minister of Education of the Republic of Belarus Igor Karpenko.

Mr Karpenko, glad to see you.

Igor Karpenko, Minister of Education of the Republic of Belarus:
Good evening.

Spring is a hot time for the education system, and for parents in the first place. This is the time when exams and proms are held. Will anything change this year with the arrival of the new minister?

Igor Karpenko:
The rules of admission to higher educational institutions are signed and the presidential decree was released. In the near future, we will update some nuances, until April 1. We will decide on the number of Centralized Test points that are considered a minimum below which we will not issue a certificate. And a number of other organizational issues. Among the significant changes is that this year's entrants will be able to take four Centralized Tests and pick three of them for admission. Moreover, these tests, test certificates will be valid for two years.
As for exams in schools, nothing will change.

Now changes in the Education Code are being discussed. Has life changed since the last adopted Code, since 2011?

Igor Karpenko:
We are not revising anything radically. These amendments will be for clarification. Redistribution of some of the functions and delegation of certain powers.

The draft Code says that children go to school from six years old, but by the decision of one of the parents they can go from seven. By the decision of a school founder the child can be accepted from an earlier age too.

But now it's also allowed. The Minister gives a permission...

Igor Karpenko:
Yes. But hardly can the Minister granting this permission know the child better than the school the child wants to go to.

There is a problem with very large homework. Even the President mentioned it and all Belarusian parents know about it. Will this be changed?

Igor Karpenko:
Firstly, we must understand that learning is a very laborious process. And it is important to build a child's time rationally. Not only in school but also at home. Parents sometimes want a child to take sport or something else but this child hardly has time to grasp the basic school curriculum. Of course, the teacher should compare the amount of homework he or she gives to a particular child. A good teacher, who is experienced, does everything so that the subject is well-taken and learned during the lessons. There should be additional lessons, supporting lessons. Sometimes we need incentive lessons. In the form of electives. But, again, it's all about rational study time. In Estonia, the maximum load in secondary school is 35 hours per week (5 days). For example, in South Korea, it is 14 hours a day, five days a week!

South Koreans are all workaholics.

Igor Karpenko:
This is about 70 hours a week. That is quite a large amount of time.

The same is in Japan, I think.

Igor Karpenko:
Therefore, our school workload corresponds to some European average.

Let's go back to the changes in the Education Code, and in general to changes in the education system. Should we rewrite textbooks or not?

Igor Karpenko:
This process is permanent. The textbook is written on the basis of the training program, which is also developed and approved. Performing the order of the President, I signed an order on obligatory engagement of teachers and experienced experts in the creation of curricula and textbooks.

That is, these will be new people. Previous authors will hardly write some new textbook.

Igor Karpenko:
I agree. But we also need to understand that we announce an open competition. And everyone can participate in it. When the textbook is finished, is passes some examination. Certainly we also include teachers and experts, professionals who make the corresponding review in these expert groups. After this the textbook is sent to schools and after one or two years we try to assess whether this textbook was good or not.

Should we introduce more national components into Belarusian education? I mean the same math exercises. We could write about trains going from Minsk to Orsha or from Moscow to Berlin via Minsk.

Igor Karpenko:
My personal opinion is that the national component must be present in textbooks.

Most universities are named after Tank or Skaryna or Kuleshov. But we also have a University named after Pushkin in Brest. There is still the Suvorov military school, but he is not a Belarusian commander. Should we change anything in this area?

Igor Karpenko:
The world is very versatile. And if we carefully analyze all the world's problems, trends and questions of national identity it is very important for many countries, especially for countries with small population. Such as Belarus. And I would not like us to sweep all things at once and introduce something new instead. Here we need a skillful combination of national identity and the world's cultural heritage. We exist in a global world. See how we've changed the palette of foreign languages ​​at our schools. After active work, trade and economic relations with China have improved and we in Belarus began to study Chinese.

This is a necessity.

Igor Karpenko:
Yes, it is a necessity. Belarus today cooperates with the African continent, we are entering the Latin American continent. Today the question of foreign languages ​​is very pressing. Maybe even more pressing than in the days of the Soviet Union.
Speaking to the ambassadors of European states I always encourage their students to also come here. But now it's only Belarusian students who leave to study abroad, in those European states. This is a one-way street, which is not good.

If you take the Ministry of Health, they begin to produce new drugs, which means import substitution. They do heart and lung transplants. Take our military industry: they successfully tested Polonez missile. Take the Ministry of Culture: they shoot a film or host a festival, and this is their success too. But what is success for the Ministry of Education?

Igor Karpenko:
The investments in education will produce results tomorrow. At the same time, all these successes you've mentioned stem from the education system. These people did not come out of nowhere. We have good traditions of mathematics and physics. I can say, for example, that the Belarusian State University is now working on a satellite program. And now we are now solve the problems regarding where to launch this satellite from and so on.

The BSU is developing its own satellite? With whom? It cannot be just the BSU. Probably, they are working with Russian partners, with the Chinese, perhaps.

Igor Karpenko:
Of course, it will be launched either with Russians or Chinese.

But with whom are they developing it?

Igor Karpenko:
They are developing it together with the Academy of Sciences.

Another topic that is relevant for Belarus is information technologies. This week, the President visited an IT company and appointed a new head of the High-Tech Park - Vsevolod Yanchevsky. And there was raised a question that the High-Tech Park, the Belarusian IT industry should work not only on outsourcing, but also produce its own products of some sort. So, maybe, education must adapt to these challenges too... If there is success in the IT field, then we probably need to specialize in it or open new universities that will train these professionals?

Igor Karpenko:
Mr Koziyatko, you're absolutely right. Education acts as a contractor for staff training. If we are now developing IT, of course, we need more specialists. We are adapting to it.

The last question, it is a kind of fantasy. If you had a magic wand and you could make one wish and it would become a reality, what would you wish as the Education Minister?

Igor Karpenko:
As the Minister of Education I would like all children to be happy, to be with parents and enjoy mutual love from both parents and from their loved ones. Unfortunately, it does not always happen. When you as a minister face with such situations, it's painful to see. Against the problems of the international community, against the backdrop of those humanitarian disasters (when people don't have enough food or water, and this affects primarily children), you begin to understand how our socially-oriented state pays attention to the protection of maternity and childhood and supports the education system.

Thank you, Mr Karpenko.

Belarus' Education Minister Igor Karpenko