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An American View of Russian Education

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The following is an interview with Professor James J. Hearn who comes from the USA. Mr. Hearn has worked around the world (the USA, South America, Belarus and other places) and he is currently a visiting professor at the Plekhanov Economic Academy and the Moscow International School of Business.

- What are the main differences in the systems of education between Russia and the USA?

- There is one important difference. In America I feel that students have more opportunity to develop themselves. In Russia many students are intelligent, but they are passive. Russian students are trained not to take initiative. They are good listeners, but most of them are reserved. Last year I had a student, who always took initiative and gave responses to my presentations. And I really appreciated that.

Students must be more than just listeners. Education for me is when I present something and then students discuss the topic and share their ideas.

-How can you characterize Russian students?

- Many Russian students write and think well. For me, an average Russian student writes in English as well as American students do. For example, this year I asked my students to write a paper on the film "A Civic Action". And many of them wrote some really sophisticated and interesting ones. Russian students are educated really well, but they miss the feeling of openness, as they are taught to study in a discipline.

- Is a foreign professor in Russia restricted in what and how he teaches?

-I feel no pressure here, I feel very free. Nobody has ever criticized me or told me how I should teach. However, I know that I'm in another country, so I try to be tactful in presenting issues. When I speak about my or your country, I try to be fair. I give articles to the students that express the reality from different points of views. Every country has its own understandingof some problems, so I try to be intercultural in discussing the issues with my students.

-Mr. Hearn, in your opinion, have students changed since your days as a student?

- Two things have changed: students today are more worldly

- They use the Internet and they know a lot, and the second thing that changed, is that students today have lots of ambitions. Students today have a lot of .opportunities that, for example, I didn't have, when I was a student. IT systems are available now and the Internet is very helpful. Students are more global, they are more understanding of cultural differences.

- Speaking about yourself, did your university unite students? Did you make a lot of friends then?

- In America we make friends wherever we are. Classmates are not as close as they are in Russia. We study subjects by individual choice, so the groups always change. It's not like in Russia, where students study together in the same group for a few years. So I made relations with different people according to where I was: in Law School, in Oxford, (where I studied in summers), in California, in Washington, where I've lived for 45 years, and on different foreign internships.

- Mr. Hearn, what reforms would you recommen for the Russian system of education?

- I've been teaching Russian students for 4-5 years and I noticed that the students who have been overseas come back with a different attitude to life. They become more open, ambitious and talkative. So the first thing I would recommend is to develop more democratic processes in classes. Russian students need to develop such skills that would help them to compete in their future life; they have to open their creativity up. One Russian professor told me that Russian students don't know what is happening in the world as they are not getting the updated information. So the second thing I would recommend is to be more global, to give students more information about the world.

Interview: Tatiana Komarova


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