Profile: Ilya Zalessky

Genna Ash talks to Ilya Zalessky, head of educational services at internet services company Yandex, about Russia’s current edtech trends and the changing role of the teacher

Info

Name: Ilya Zalessky

Job title: Head of educational services, Yandex


Q. What are your views on the current state of the edtech sector in Russia – does it differ much to the rest of the world?

Right now, the state of edtech in Russia differs to the rest of the world due to the relatively slow pace of innovations and their implementation. Compared to the pace of digitisation in K12 and higher education in top edtech markets such as the US, the UK and Asia, the sector in Russia is certainly more hard-to-reach. Saying that, the digital learning environment is seamlessly transforming traditional classrooms with the help of new digital tools and learning content.

The training and adult education sectors seem to be a more developed area of Russian edtech. People who want to boost their skills, advance their careers or switch to a new field are enrolling in distance education or online courses. Compared to the west, skills are valued more than a degree from a top-ranked university.

Speaking about investments, in recent years, the Russian edtech market has experienced consistent growth as investors and educators see great potential in it. Analysts estimate an annual growth of 17–25%.

Q. Which edtech trends do you see taking the world by storm?

We can see that AI and machine learning are evolving as the most discussed technologies. They will play a big role not only in education, but in other spheres of human life. Experts say that the AI market will grow to a US$118.6bn industry by 2025.

When it comes to learning practices, emotional design is a new approach in education that helps increase attention, while strengthening motivation, creativity and problem-solving abilities.

Generally speaking, one of the significant trends nowadays is the reconsideration of the quality of education. What’s important now is that technologies make education more accessible, mobile and personalised.

Q. Can you describe the challenges facing edtech today, in both Russia and the world?

It’s sad to admit but edtech still faces such challenges as the lack of IT infrastructure in schools or universities: more than 360 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 across the globe do not have any access to the internet at school.

Another acute problem is connected with personal data and privacy. There are still discussions on how we should secure stored data.

Q. How is technology transforming the traditional role of the teacher?

It’s essential to mention that teachers still play a central role in education. Technologies change the role of a teacher from a traditional provider of knowledge to a facilitator in a way that teachers have more resources and opportunities to tailor learning processes, engage students and measure their advancement.

Q. To what extent can digital tools influence student results?

In 2019, we conducted research which showed that digital tools really do improve learning outcomes.

For example, one of our educational platforms has more than one million registered students, and every teacher who is using this platform noticed that technologies were most helpful for slow learners. Digital tools make it easier to design learning plans that meet students’ individual needs. This helps increase their motivation and engages them throughout the learning process.

Again, it’s vital to mention that technologies make learning more collaborative and interactive, but they’re only effective when there’s a guide (a teacher or an educator). In and of itself, tech can’t result in better learning.

Digital tools make it easier to design learning plans that meet students’ individual needs

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Q. Tell me about the Yandex School of Data Analysis: what does it do? Who is it for? How is it relevant in the real world and where do its graduates end up?

Yandex School of Data Analysis (YSDA) is an intensive, free master’s-level programme in computer science and data analysis, which has been expanding career opportunities for graduates in engineering, mathematics, computer science and related fields

since 2007. The school aims to train specialists in data analysis and information retrieval for further employment in any IT company, including ours, anywhere in the world.

One of the school’s key advantages is the opportunity to learn first-hand from practising data analysis professionals who know their jobs inside out.

The courses are delivered by Russian and international experts working at leading companies and universities.

Since 2007, the school has produced 854 international experts in various fields of computer science. By 2022, YSDA will train over 600 more experts in areas such as computer vision and natural language processing.

Q. How can edtech companies create more opportunities for people to learn, grow and serve the needs of the future workforce?

It’s widely believed that the edtech sector can provide learners with the necessary job market skills and knowledge with the help of traditional education.

Edtech creates new jobs and helps us prepare for the future. Companies should dedicate more time to corporate learning so employees are prepared for the changes and will have a chance to easily adapt to digitisation.

Q. What is the Yandex education initiative and how does it intend to train 500,000 Russian teachers and data specialists?

We have always been passionate about education.

Today, Yandex has more than 30 educational projects and services that are used by people of all ages – from first graders to graduates, from young professionals to those who decided to change their careers. So, our education initiative aims to expand our programmes to create more opportunities for people to learn and grow.

Teachers play a central role in education, and we’re always eager to support them with the resources to build a productive learning environment. Working with higher education institutions, we will provide training for up to 500,000 teachers and teaching students as part of a new programme called ‘I am a Teacher’. Through ‘I am a Teacher’, educators will learn how to use new technologies and teaching software. The initiative to train half a million teachers through higher education centres is an exciting new step in our academic partnerships.

As for IT specialists, we’re helping create learning environments across Russia that prepare students for data science studies. Starting from secondary school and continuing into adulthood, we offer several ways for learners to pursue computer science. Our programmes help people build their data skills at every stage of their professional career.

We also hope to partner with more foreign institutions and organisations to open new YSDA branches, similar to our programme at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Q. Can you see initiatives such as this being echoed across the world?

In today’s world, what matters most is not data and algorithms, but the people who build them – their knowledge, experience, and unique ideas. Through our education programmes, we want to give people the tools they need to build the companies and technologies of tomorrow.

Such initiatives are important as they help promote open and flexible dialogue between society and big corporations. So, they should be echoed across the world. It’s a way to show that companies actually care about people.


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