Ansar M Bhatti
ISLAMABAD: — SCO Secretary General Vladimir Norov during an interview with daily Islamabad Post, DNA News Agency and CENTRELINE magazine said given the difficult current situation in the world due to the pandemic of coronavirus infection, all activities within the SCO on education have either been postponed or translated into an online format.
He said under the chairmanship of the Russian side, the first organizational meeting of the Coordinating Council of the University of the SCO (CC USCO) was held in the mode of videoconference, which was attended by members of the SCO CC from five SCO member states (Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan), one representative from the state body, at the level of the deputy minister of education and chairman of the council of rectors from the country.
SCO University is a network of higher education institutions of SCO member states, united to jointly train highly qualified personnel on the basis of agreed innovative educational programs in specialties of priority interest for the economic and social development of the participating countries.
The main objectives of the SCO University are to maintain a single educational space; exchange of students, graduate students, doctoral students, and academics; Expanding scientific and academic cooperation; Introduction of modern educational methods and technologies; training for SCO structures and affiliated organizations.
Based on the interests of SCO member states, the SCO University participants introduced the following mutually agreed areas of training: regional studies, ecology, energy, IT technology, nanotechnology, pedagogy, economics. In the future, other areas of training and a set of specialties will be introduced and refined in accordance with the coordination of the educational departments of the SCO member states. National and international expert teams are set up for each of the training areas, and modules and training programmes are harmonized.
It should also be noted that from each country the SCO University includes the most authoritative and representative higher education institutions, which have a solid educational and educational base and necessary competences. I would like to note that despite the differences in educational systems and standards of education of SCO member states, effective and coordinated work of universities to jointly train in-demand and competitive specialists in the international labor market is possible and necessary.
As of now, 78 higher education institutions are included in the SCO University, of which the total number of universities is distributed as follows: from Kazakhstan – 14, China – 24, Kyrgyzstan – 8, Russia – 20, Tajikistan – 11 (including Belarus – 1).
In the 2010-2019 academic years, more than 1,500 people were trained at the SCO University.
The idea of creating the SCO University belongs to the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin. He put forward this initiative during a meeting of the SCO Council of Heads of State on August 16, 2007 in Bishkek. There were good reasons for such a step, as SCO member states have developed a serious legal basis for cooperation in education in general over the years, and regarding the SCO University in particular.
Thus, the Charter of the Organization of June 7, 2002 identified the key priorities of multifaceted cooperation of SCO member states in the sphere of cultural and humanitarian cooperation. The Charter’s preamble states: “The main goals and objectives of the SCO are to strengthen mutual trust, friendship and good-neighborliness among member states, and to encourage effective cooperation in… Cultural… Educational… and other areas of common interest.”
It is also important to note that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Development Strategy until 2025 identifies the main areas for deepening our countries’ cooperation in the areas of policy, security, economy, and humanitarian cooperation. The SCO member states stated that …”there are preconditions for bringing the SCO to a qualitatively new level, characterized by increased cooperation in the fields of policy, security, economy, development of cultural and humanitarian ties, increased participation in the affairs of the region and the process of global regulation.”
On June 15, 2006, an intergovernmental agreement was signed on cooperation between SCO member states in education.
To implement the initiative to establish the SCO University in 2008, the SCO Union’s Minister of Education and the SCO University Concept were adopted, laying the groundwork for network cooperation between the leading universities of SCO member states.
At the SCO Summit in Astana in 2017, five member states – the Republic of Kazakhstan, the People’s Republic of China, the Kyrgyz Republic, the Russian Federation and the Republic of Tajikistan – signed the “Agreement on the Establishment and Functioning of the University of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.”
The Coordinating Council of the CCU SCO is the highest governing body of the CCU SCO (Article 7), accountable to the Meeting of Ministers of Education of SCO Member States. Its composition is formed from the representatives of the SCO member states that signed the Agreement.
During the first organizational meeting of the Coordinating Council, the agenda issues were discussed and several decisions related to the SCO University were taken, which will have to be approved at the meeting of the SCO Ministers of Education (Science) meeting.
He said at the mentioned organizational meeting of the Coordinating Council of the University of the SCO, interesting speeches and proposals from member states were made. The SCO Secretariat is generalizing them.
It can be noted that the SCO University has become an important platform for the development of cooperation in the Organization’s space in the field of higher professional education, deepening inter-university cooperation and developing methods of implementing joint educational projects in a multilateral format.
At the same time, it should be noted that since the beginning of this year we have all found ourselves in a new reality. Education systems around the world, including in SCO countries, are taking steps to educate in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
In most countries of our Organization, schools have been completely or partially closed and many students have been transferred to distance learning.
Interestingly, the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic comes at a time when most education systems, as shown by the latest round of the OECD International Student Assessment Programme (ISAP), have been unprepared to take advantage of new digital learning opportunities.
It is obvious that the closure of universities, colleges, schools, and the emergency transition to distance learning are fraught with problems, mainly due to insufficient technical equipment.
Taking into account the fact that almost the majority of the world’s population was in quarantine and self-isolation mode, the demand for computer equipment increased dramatically, even avalanche-like. I will give only a few examples, which are also typical for many countries: for example, in Vietnam by 624%, and in Singapore by 82% increased demand for webcams. Demand for keyboards increased by 264% and 137% more than was available in Vietnam and Singapore, respectively.
Equally serious was the behaviour of teachers and educators in the transition to distance learning. According to Professor Abdul KarimAaas, Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Academic Excellence at the University of Sainz, three of the main problems with distance learning are: the experience and skill of teachers in the use of online systems and online applications; Infrastructure readiness status, such as Internet connectivity, bandwidth and devices as well as evolving thinking, both teachers and students. Moreover, the third component is the third component – changing the mentality.
By the way, the topic of teaching readiness for the online regime is critical in many countries. For example, according to the research company BayViewAnalytics, in the U.S. 1.5 million teachers 70% of them have never edicts in virtual space.
Of course, these and other problems challenge the education system in a critical situation. At the same time, we can state that our countries are working in this direction. Thus, the relevant ministries and universities in the SCO countries have developed and issued recommendations to universities on the transfer of students to distance learning.
China was the first country to be affected by the outbreak and the first to announce the closure of schools. For example, after a detailed discussion of the situation on January 30 this year, Tsinghua University decided to start the spring semester courses online schedule. And on February 3, more than 57,000 students from Tsinghua University, faculty and alumni took part in a special lecture on Tsinghua University’s work on epidemic prevention and the organization of the spring semester live.
The Russian university community has also demonstrated solidarity and a desire to consolidate its efforts to organize effective educational activities in the new environment.
An example of this kind is the efficient remote interaction and rapid exchange of information organized by the rector of Voronezh State University, Dr. Professor D.A. Yendowitzky, among the members of the Association of Universities of the Center of Russia.
Such joint work of universities is observed in other SCO countries.
At the same time, along with obvious challenges and challenges, the new learning format provides a wide range of opportunities and perspectives for changing and improving educational systems for which a critical situation creates a forced environment. Judging by the work started everywhere in this direction, it can be noted that online education has every chance to make a big leap. At the same time, an answer must be found on how this will affect the university system in the future.
According to Article 3 of the SCO University’s Agreement, one of the main areas of educational and scientific activity of the SCO University is the development and introduction into the educational process of innovative educational technologies and modern educational methods in the field of higher education.
Taking into account the formalization of the composition of the Coordinating Council of ESOS, it is important to work on generalizing the experience of the SCO countries on the development of distance education and preparing relevant proposals for the project of the Programme of Cooperation of the Member States of the Organization in this area, as the SCO University itself should become a reliable platform for the development of distance education in the SCO space.
In a number of SCO countries, work is under way to regulate distance education. Thus, the State Duma of the Russian Federation is currently considering amendments to the Education Act, which clearly delineate the powers of the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education: the first sets the rules in secondary and vocational education, the second – in higher education. This is done in the light of the fact that the pandemic has identified some gaps in the legislative regulation of education due to the complexities of e-learning and the introduction of remote educational technologies.
By the way, the draft Prospective Plan of University for the period 2020-2023. it is envisaged to create an online platform for the implementation of joint educational programs of the SCO University.
We see that the modern world is on the verge of unprecedented, one might say, revolutionary technological changes. The second era of the digital revolution, associated with the synergy of artificial intelligence working on superfast 5G networks, the development of robotics, bio- and nano-technologies, unites the digital and real spheres of the economy. The future seems to belong to those who can effectively exploit the huge potential of the IT industry.
In this regard, given the presence of such a key area of training as IT technology, the development and implementation of training programs within the SCO University to train specialists in the development of artificial intelligence and the digital economy are of particular importance.
I would like to emphasize separately the importance of the SCO Youth Appeals adopted in 2018 and the program of action on its implementation, according to which it is proposed to create an association of young scientists within the framework of the SCO, to hold youth educational, scientific and innovative exhibitions and competitions in member states, exchange of scientific publications, organization of research works on topical issues of preventing the involvement of young people in the activities of destructive forces.
Given that the SCO University Concept covers many of the issues outlined in the SCO Heads of State Address, I am confident that the SCO University can make a significant contribution to the implementation of the above programme in cooperation with the Secretariat and the SCO Youth Council.
Successful joint work requires a permanent link between the University’s Rectorate and the SCO Secretariat in order to fully utilize the existing mechanisms for implementing the decisions and instructions adopted at the meetings of the Council of Heads of State and heads of government of SCO member states on the development of higher education and youth.
I would like to draw attention to the declaration of the SCO summit in Bishkek 2019, which emphasizes the importance of “further development of the SCO University, including by connecting the SCO countries concerned to the SCO member states’ agreement on the establishment and functioning of the SCO University.” In this regard, it is possible to express the hope that the accession of the Republic of India and the Republic of Pakistan to the SCO will allow to expand the geographical scope and direction of cooperation of the SCO University for the sake of common interests and for the benefit of our countries and peoples.
It is obvious that the consistent build-up of effective cooperation within the SCO University requires all participating member states to constantly share their experience in modernizing national education systems. We need to make a coordinated effort to improve the educational process, to find solutions across the spectrum of problems in this area.
The SCO University has enough opportunities to become one of the important tools for training “elite” highly professional competent personnel – carriers of the ideology of international equal cooperation, “translators” of the culture of partnership in the spirit of mutual respect, mutual support, respect for multiculturalism. It is necessary to form these attitudes among young generations of SCO residents in the name of progress, sustainable development, and prosperity in the space of our Organization.
It should be noted that this educational project – the University of the SCO – is complex and multifaceted, I would even say, very ambitious, requiring the painstaking and concerted work of all participants involved in its implementation and, above all, the state commissioners in education and higher education institutions.
Time has shown that the SCO University has become not only one of the main tools of multilateral cooperation in education in the SCO space, but also the main humanitarian project, which contributes to the strengthening of mutual trust and good-neighbourly relations between the SCO member states and their peoples, and enhances the status and prestige of the SCO in the international arena.
To sum up, I would like to note the following points.
The implementation of the SCO University project (including its geographical expansion) will further deepen the comprehensive integration links in education and science in the SCO space, primarily through the activation of academic mobility of scientific and educational staff and students of SCO member states.
In today’s environment, Member States are fully aware of the importance of joining forces to provide an enabling environment for the training of highly skilled personnel to meet the needs of a knowledge-based society and to put economies on an innovative path of development.