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School Barometer: Russian Students Still Not as Independent and Self-disciplined as Their European Peers

School Barometer: Russian Students Still Not as Independent and Self-disciplined as Their European Peers

The latest session of the IOE Weekly Seminar Series on Education R&D brought together a premier cohort of academics to discuss findings from a massive School Barometer survey of education stakeholders that spanned a landscape as wide and diverse as Russia, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. The project outcomes suggest that Russian schooling is still not particularly good at nurturing in students the key ingredients of agency, such as independence, proactive thinking, and self-discipline.

School Barometer involves a series of inventories that ask students, parents, teachers, and administrators about particular facets of their learning and work experiences and wellbeing during the pandemic.

Originally designed by the University of Teacher Education Zug, Switzerland, the survey got underway in late March 2020 when the Covid-19 emergency took hold. A Russian adaptation of the inventory set has been prepared by psychometric experts at IOE. In total, School Barometer has surveyed about 70 thousand informants in Russia, of which about 20 thousand are students in various grades.

One important conclusion we have made from the Barometer data is that there are distinctive subgroups that are highly polarized in terms of the learning attitudes and socio-emotional behaviors that students embraced during the Covid-19 lockdown. For example, there were students who were able to sustain motivation and remained well-organized while learning remotely so they would get up early in the morning and get down to their studies right away, just as they would always do before the pandemic. At that, some students perceived the lockdown as a kind of extra vacation time so this subgroup was likely to cut back majorly on their learning effort. And yet, there was one more group––particularly populous in Germany––where students found themselves almost literally cut loose from the learning process and would play computer games almost round the clock. Sure, it is paramount that we carefully analyze and factor in this heterogeneity of learning experiences when seeking to recoup the losses from the pandemic halt in schooling and also when devising curriculum and instructional strategies going forward.      

Dr. Stephan Gerhard Huber, University of Teacher Education Zug

The Barometer asked students a wide range of questions so the project experts could identify and evaluate various factors that were implicated in how comfortable students felt while learning remotely (i.e., main instigators of stress and anxiety; specific factors of academic success and failure; etc.). The informants most frequently indicated a lack of self-regulation and parental support as the main downsides that afflicted their wellbeing and academic performance during the lockdown. At that, there was a substantially smaller proportion of respondents who pointed out challenges of mastering ICT and difficulties stemming from how the digital learning process was designed as the key reasons why their performance sagged.

Unlike their European counterparts, Russian students very frequently reported that they spent more time doing formal schooling during the Covid-19 lockdown. Yet, they were less likely than students from the three peer nations to give an affirmative assessment to how well their parents were able to support them in the new disruptive environment.

Dr. Christoph Helm, University of Teacher Education Zug

According to the survey data, Russian students lag noticeably behind their peers when it comes to the capacity for self-direction and self-discipline. There was a substantially greater share of Russian informants than of their counterparts from the other participant nations who indicated poor self-regulation as the main cause of anxiety and stress.

The survey testifies that European schoolers are more inclined to take initiative and display greater self-efficacy so they act in a determined and well-organized way whenever they have to tackle challenges and difficulties that confront them. By contrast, Russian students do not have much capacity for self-direction and are likely to pass the responsibility over to their parents and teachers. Paternalism is woven deeply into the matrix of Russian schooling, so the student just cannot help finding themselves in a sort of authority relations where they are subordinate to the teacher, and it is the teacher who determines to a great extent their learning and socio-emotional behaviors.

Dr. Anatoly Kasprzhak, HSE Institute of Education

In sharing his observations of how Russian K–11 education was able to get into the swing of and navigate in the pandemic reality, Yefim Rachevsky, Principal at School No. 548 in Moscow emphasized that it is not so much whether education is being done online or in the classroom that affects the exposure to stress and academic achievement, as rather if a student is able to act mindfully and independently. A good confirmation of this is the fact that students who scored higher grades before the pandemic were by far better at resisting stress and sustaining their academic performance during the lockdown than their low-achieving classmates.

What the Barometer has shown only reaffirms that there are few students in Russia who embrace a proactive mindset so they perceive schooling as a high-yield investment in their development and the odds of succeeding in life. It is sad to realize that most Russian students only go to school because they have to. Since they are poor self-starters and lack self-discipline, these students saw their mental well-being suffer and their performance slacken as they found themselves caught in a sort of ‘lockdown trap.’

Yefim Rachevsky, Principal at School No. 548 in Moscow   

Going forward, the international expert consortium of School Barometer plans to administer a second round of processing and analysis so new and deeper insights can be drawn from data better aligned across national samples and refined down by specific regions and age groups.