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Alexander Veraksa: Our Children are More Successful Than Many of Their Peers in Other Countries

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Alexander Veraksa: Our Children are More Successful Than Many of Their Peers in Other Countries

11.02.2021

Svetlana Smetanina

Photo credit: The Ministry of Education of Russia

Alexander Veraksa, Doctor of Psychology and Head of the Department of Educational Psychology and Pedagogy, Faculty of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, won the 2019 Russian Federation Presidential science and innovation award for young people. His educational methods are used not only in Russia but also in many countries of the world. The Russkiy Mir spoke with the scientist about the developmental features of contemporary children.

You won the 2019 Russian Federation Presidential science and innovation award for young people for your research on the cognitive and emotional development of children and problems of educational success. What goals did you set in this study? What was necessary to understand and learn?

There was a whole cycle of research aimed at understanding the developmental features of contemporary children. We talk a lot about the fact that today children are different from children in the past. However, such a statement can be made based on facts only.

An important point of our research is that it involves a number of regions, as well as children who are speakers of various languages in addition to Russian and live in various social environments. Thus, we get an idea of children's development process in our culturally diverse country today and what we, adults, primarily parents and teachers, can do to ensure that this development is harmonious.

In the course of our research, we observe children - their cognitive and emotional development. Traditionally, of course, more attention has been paid to cognitive development since it is associated with children’s academic success in the future. But we see that currently, it is the difficulties in emotional development that come to the fore, especially at school.

We are also interested in the extent that teachers influence childrens development. Here we follow cultural-historical psychology founded by Lev Vygotsky, the outstanding professor of Moscow University. And we can say with confidence that the peculiarities of the teacher's interaction with children have a decisive influence on their development

I would like to emphasize another important point related to child development. It lies in the fact that the child's capabilities are enormous. Preschool children thinking matches adults one in a number of aspects. It is extremely important to understand these opportunities if we are to build effective support for child development.

Does it mean that in this chain - family, social environment, that is social networks and school - the teacher always has a priority in education? Will the teachers influence be decisive?

The very fact that this influence is significant suggests that we have the opportunity either to contribute to the development of the child or to hope that this development will somehow happen by itself, which is unlikely.

Of course, the global digitalization process for instance, social networks - brings a new facet to our reality, which did not exist before. Moreover, children are introduced to digitalization at a very early age, starting from twelve months. And adults need to take more interest in what children see on the screen in front of them. As our research shows, this content may sometimes be far from the one that promotes development and self-realization.

The modern digital device is a window with opportunities to influence child development. It is important to make it consistent with the goals and objectives faced by our country.

And yet, if a child meets on his way an interested, enthusiastic teacher who will be able to awaken his abilities, will this give him a powerful impulse to develop in the future?

Yes, that's right. It is the teacher who is capable of building up communication with the child in such a way that his development will help him further in school and ensure his academic and social success. This foundation is laid in preschool time; therefore, we paid special attention to this period in our study.

If the preschool education system is arranged properly, and preschoolers feel support from their environment, then their development becomes unparalleled. Children go far beyond the standard options of daily activities. They come to school with a great desire to learn and have their minds set on the development of their personality.

Does it mean that development and education should be started in kindergarten?

Fortunately, our pedagogy has been based on an understanding of the importance of childhood since Soviet times. It is not just a period when a child's stay in an institution, but a period of education and active learning. Again, following the ideas of Lev Vygotsky, the adult leads the development of the child by passing on cultural patterns that the child cannot master spontaneously.

And here it is important to emphasize the consistency of efforts. Parents, due to their business, sometimes are unable to devote the required time to the child. And in kindergarten, this process is regulated quite clearly. Thus, we can ensure comprehensive development.

Alexander Veraksa. Photo credit: Russian Psychological Society http://xn--n1abc.xn--p1ai/psychologists/rpopsych/psychologist/735/

Your study involved 12 regions and 20,000 schoolchildren. Have you identified any differences between the regions?

We did not intend to compare the regions since they have particular characteristics. But the research enables us to observe, for example, specifics of the development of bilingual children. We see that these are the children who have a higher level of refocusing, but at the same time, they do not have so deep understanding of emotions as monolingual children.

In general, when it comes to cognitive development, our children are quite successful and more successful than many of their peers in other countries. And this is attributable to the educational process. But there was the result that turned out to be unexpected - our children are more successful in understanding emotions than their foreign peers. The culture of children's reading and familiarization with emotional experience give such an interesting result.

Is this due to rich childrens literature, for instance, poems?

Yes, and due to the cultural level of the citizens of our country in general. This is especially due to the development of moral norms and rules, as well as moral emotions. This suggests that children are included in a rather complex system of norms that they master from an early age.

The methodology you have developed can be used with equal success in various lessons - from mathematics to physical education. So what are its particular features?

The idea of the methodologies is to make the most of the available cultural means - schemas, models, and symbolic images - to master the content. Furthermore, it is extremely important to provide children with the opportunity to come up with a pro-social initiative and implement it successfully. When this work is structured systematically, children demonstrate very high results regardless of their individual characteristics. We see an extremely great potential of the educational system in this.

This is widely implemented in preschool institutions - more than 60% of preschool institutions in our country use the developed methods within the framework of the From Birth to School program.

At the beginning of the conversation, you said that today's children are different from those that lived 10, 20 years ago. What are the main differences?

The challenge is that total digitalization causes a decrease in children's self-regulation. They need to react to everything quickly, press the buttons sometimes not thinking about the consequences, or rather not having time to think about it. The resulted behavior does not help perseverance or goal setting. And in this sense, it is important that the preschool institution stays away from these technologies in a good way. Children learn to control themselves, master their behavior, as well as attention, memory, thinking, imagination through the wealth of culture and performance of children activities.

Does this mean that distance education cannot replace personal communication with the teacher and the childs presence in the classroom?

We have research results that have not yet been published. They clearly show that the progress of children who had distance learning is significantly lower. This suggests that the wealth that an educational institution provides is impossible to be compensated at home.

Interestingly, children under two years of age had the opposite situation - their development rate was significantly higher. This is a completely different situation: parents found themselves at home with toddlers and began to communicate with them much more. Because parents have the idea that preschool children can take care of themselves quite independently, but this is impossible for toddlers. And if we are to say that the lockdown benefited someone, this is certainly about toddlers.

More than 8,000 teachers and more than 106,000 children from different countries have already been trained according to your method. The countries involved include Singapore, Poland, India, USA, Israel, Thailand, Philippines... Tell us about this program.

This is a program based on the principles of Russian psychological science, which have been proven practically. The program was first presented in English, and then gradually it was translated into Chinese, Polish, Hebrew, and many other languages. We assume that the education process is quite universal. And its principles, the laws of child development are the same for all children.

How did these schools and teachers come to this program? Did you introduce it at international forums?

First of all, they learned about it from publications in international scientific journals, through conferences. In 2019, the European Psychological Congress was held in Russia, and childhood studies were presented there on a very large scale. More than 4,000 participants from 93 countries visited Moscow. And we can say that children psychology and education are of increasing interest to everyone since teaching children is the future of every country.

From this perspective, is our child psychological science highly rated in the world?

Suffice it to say that Lev Vygotsky is one of the three most cited psychologists in the world. We see new interesting results that are published by our compatriots on the pages of leading international magazines. We see that the traditions of childhood studying laid down by outstanding representatives of Russian science keep developing and are reflected in new research fields.

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