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Essay by Dmitry Runge, cover, interview with Evgeny Yunosov in Komsomolskaya Zhizn (December 1989)

Komsomolskaya Zhizn, the Soviet Komsomol’s bi-weekly magazine, featured in December 1989 a 5-page essay on the troubles of Soviet secondary educational system, the Young Physicists’ Tournament and the first all-Soviet School-Session for Young Talents in Ufa, where in August 1989 author Dmitry Runge approached and interviewed Evgeny Yunosov, devoting most of the essay to the interview and related discussion. The issue (No. 23, 1989) featured two of Yunosov’s photographs by Nikolai Kononov on its cover, and credited Yunosov not only as the YPT initiator, but also as the “Founder” of novel educational ideas in USSR.

Komsomolskaya Zhizn was founded in 1920. By December 1989, it circulated in 1 175 000 copies and cost 10 Soviet kopecks.

Download: original paper and cover, in Russian (pdf.)

Shh, Duma assembled

School today and tomorrow

Oh, oh! It was too late to repel a bee, and a reddish spot was swelling on the left hand. Here sounded a question that the host posed to the audience,

“What should you do, when a bee bit you?”

I did not wait until participants of a chemical victorine find the answer to this casual and very actual for me question.

“The alkaline medium is needed to neutralize the poison.” Team leader of young chemists, associate professor at Bashkir State University Natalya Anatolyevna Amineva chose among many others, one test-tube on which the formula NH4OH was derived, mysterious for me, outsider. (This is when you should regret that you forgot everything you learned in chemistry at school.) “Yes, this is common ammonia water. You can also treat the bite with a weak solution of washing soda. And the details of relevant properties of ammonia are in the section ‘Nitrogen’ of B. V. Nekrasov’s Bases of General Chemistry.”

The Chem-Show-89 then switched to the final stage. “A chemical tale with explosions and other effects” started and continued until “Dose 1” (20h00) and later until “Precipitation” (00h00), as supper and sleeping time were marked in schedule in the newspaper CHLOR (standing for Chemists are Curious and Wit Guys.)

A Chemists’ Day was coming to end at the pioneer’s camp Alye Parusa. There were others Days for physicists and mathematicians, geologists and ecologists, young space researchers, and certainly common to everybody, the Day of Bashkiria. Almost 250 children, representing different republics, regions and oblasts of the country, were attracted in August to the first all-Soviet School-Session for Young Talents, held near Ufa.

Digression on a topic

Do you know what the chairmen of the State Committee on National Education G. A. Yagodin was most afraid of, when he just became the minister (then, of the Ministry of Higher Education)? You will not believe it! He was afraid of… visitors.

“They do not know how to add unit fractions, but they very actively fight for their rights”, Gennady Alexeyevich shared his view with journalists soon after the February 1988 Plenum of Soviet Communist Party Central Committee where the questions of educational reform were discussed. “You ask a visiting girl (who came certainly with her mom) with a complaint about “not letting her” to a history department, when Lenin was born, and you hear “applicant’s” puzzled silence in response. This is not a private, but a social trouble. When trying to improve secondary education, we received a pseudo-secondary one.

Yes, the years of stagnation, did influence here as well. The prestige of intelligence, knowledge, teacher’s authority, especially in rural areas, fell (“My girlfriend can be anyone, but not that teacher”.) A half of educated teachers, people who got the pedagogy education, do not work in their specialization, spread across the country and can be found anywhere, but not in schools. An intelligence did not receive sufficient moral and material support in the society. Indeed, why to cultivate, starting from school, the ability and need to think independently, if the System itself not only left these qualities non-required, but sometimes cruelly suppressed dissidence, trying to “hold at a proper level” the ideological dogmas that came to crude contradiction with life.

Here they are cultivated, those numerous bighead and extremely self-satisfied “know-something” people, which are much more dangerous for the society than “know-nothing” people, according to G. A. Yagudin himself.

“A know-nothing-person will never take courage to solve what he doesn’t know. But the one who assumes that he knows something, will take such a courage.

There from come Chernobyl and others, not so global, catastrophes of the recent years; a “know-something” just assumed that he knew what to do. And is our catastrophic (I cannot call it otherwise) lag behind developed capitalist countries in terms of labor efficiency in industrial and agricultural segments, only a sequence of laxity and shortage of enthusiasm? No way, the point is in the smart, intelligent part of labor.

Should it be said in such conditions that the demand for talents is a social and even political demand from society. Hopefully, we start ourselves to gradually understand that large investments into education will improve the situation in the country.

On the history of the question

For E. N. Yunosov, the laboratory chief at the Physics of Oscillations division at the Department of Physics, Moscow State University, and also to all his associates, this year may be called anniversary.

Exactly a decade ago, in 1979, was held the first in the Union, Young Physicists’ Tournament, shortly YPT. Only 7 Moscow schools took then part in it, the perspectives looked dim, and no one thought of YPT to enter the international arena, even Evgeny Nikolaevich himself, who spearheaded the movement as the Founder (as he is now referred to.)

Today in Moscow alone, there are above 40 scientific groups of school students, enthusiasts of the Tournament. Several all-Soviet and two International YPTs have been held, and an Organizing Committee is created for preparing the Third one, to participation in which are invited the teams of Bulgaria, Hungary, Holland, Poland, FRG, and the Soviet Union.

“In comparison to the traditional Olympiads (individual contests of students), the Tournament is a collective and a long-lasting form of work, which quite accurately models all stages in a real scientific research: establishing the problem, choosing the solution method, obtaining a scientific result, and discussing it”, recounts E. N. Yunosov. “A further advantage of the Tournament is that it does not expose a child to a shock stressful impact, as it happens at Olympiads, when, in a few hours, one has to extract out of himself everything he has earlier learned.

How is the Tournament held? Everything starts with a Correspondence competition. In August, the physico-mathematical journal for children Kvant publishes the problems. I should note, very tricky problems, as none of them has a finite numerical solution. A school student, a teacher, a university undergraduate, a research institute can fight over such questions as, e.g. how much jam should Karlsson eat not to get thinner during the flight, or why draughts happen (if one thinks of what does the Hydrometeorological Service perform, they end up with measuring draughts of a global scale.) All of them will obtain a respectable result at each own level.

At the stage of Correspondence competition, creative teams of children are formed (and they can be created not only in schools, but also on the basis of out-of-curriculum entities, everywhere where enthusiasts exist.) When working, students use reference literature and the assistance of teachers.

The solutions for problems are discussed at Physics Fights in the form of scientific debates, in which a very active participation is taken by the seniors – university undergraduates, PhD students and university scientists. The Physics Fights are most commonly held with the scheme of “Reporter-Opponent-Reviewer”, and teams consequently present themselves in each of these roles.

The last stage is the Finals: the Final Physics Fight, the introduction of teams and jurors, the contests for Captains and Observers, the determination of winners. Everyone – and this is principal! – is invited to the Finals, which is most often turned into a bright, memorable physics festival.

Roughly the same scheme is used at the city-wide, the regional, the Republican and the all-Soviet tournaments: children send to respectful Organizing Committees the solutions for correspondence contests , and they choose the most original ones and invite participants.

I will not speak now in more details of the structure, features and regulations for holding a YPT, as any school can request them from the Organizing Committee (address: Moscow, GSP, Moscow State University, Department of Physics, YPT Organizing Committee.) Besides, the advices for participants and organizers are placed in Nos. 8 of Kvant in 1987 and 1988. I can tell only what is recognized officially (including the decision of the International Consultation Meeting): the Tournament is an effective form of searching and supporting the talented youth.”

“It can be developed not only with regards to physics, but practically to all areas of science and technology. To ‘flop’ Tournaments to other sectors of knowledge and entire spheres of human activity, e.g. the exploration of outer space, is one of the main tasks of our School-Session”, says Lyudmila Ermolaeva, an instructor from Komsomol’s Central Committee.

Democracy Camp

This is how children themselves called Alye Parusa.

We were having a discussion in the Pioneer’s lounge, where rooster Petrusha was walking with dignity.

“He lives here”, children shed light to my silent question. “Petrusha was to be awarded as a prize at the national Bashkir fest Sabantui, but it was felt sorry to prepare a Kulesh from it, so it was settled here. We normally hold all entertainment events in the afternoon. And after breakfast, there are lectures and seminars.”

Lecturers from Moscow and Bashkir State Universities, other leading universities, undergraduates and PhD students worked in the camp with school students who were winners at all-Soviet Young Physicists’ Tournaments, republican and regional specialized Olympiads. “Motion and design of rockets”, “Types of expendable launch systems”, practice with a movable map of night sky, work on computers, all that is the schedule for just one day and just for one group (young researchers of space), as copied in travel notebook.

“That’s a pity that you visit us for such a short time. On the 20th, there’s a Cosmonautics Day in the camp. We will feed everyone with genuine space food – from sealed packets and tubes. As early as in April, we came to an agreement with Biryulevo experimental plant in Moscow. They say, it is fantastically tasty, especially nuts with dried plums”, said deputy director of Ufa city pioneer’s palace Galina Streltsova.

I did not unfortunately try space delicatessen, but did manage to see how much have the organizers of the unusual School made for children.

In the “Duma Assembly” (the seminar building in the camp), there were modern computers, and the videocafe in Alye Parusa did not see shortage of visitors. Lyuda Ermolaeva asked me to name the main sponsors responsible for that, among them Ufa city centers for scientific and technical creativity of the youth Ritm and center for scientific and technical service Faktor, that I have the pleasure to do. I think however, that the main sponsor of the School became the enthusiasm of all its participants and organizers. The one about which we sometimes speak with a note of irony, for an unknown reason.

“We are treated with an abstract respect”, sadly confirmed the Vice-President of the Organizing Committee of International YPT E. N. Yunosov. “The seniors who came here are mainly non-mainstream individuals, addicts of enthusiastic work with students.”

(I can say in parenthesis that Evgeny Nikolaevich himself, and most instructors send to Alye Parusa on business trip from Komsomol’s Cenrtal Committee, were on personal holidays and received here no money.)

“Bosses at work gave up with many of us”, continued Yunosov. “Certainly, the enthusiasts are not convenient for local and regional bureaus of national education that still want instructions and order lists. Just imagine: a teacher abandoned his lessons and went with his team to a Tournament!”

I ask Evgeny Nikolaevich of what should be done to change the situation, rearrange the mechanism of work with talented teenagers, and I write down his

Founder’s monologue

In May, the USSR State Committee on National Education hosted a special collegium focused on the work with talented youth. It was decided to develop such a work, but it is so far not at all clear how exactly to do it. The obstacle is not the question of money itself. There was an example given at the collegium: out of 18 million rubles granted to schools in the previous academic year to develop out-of-curriculum work, only 2 million were spent. I am convinced, as a matter of fact, that a united governmental system for searching and supporting young talents is required. Until it is not existent, we cannot avoid the spontaneous and accidental character of many processes.

For example, we have ourselves learned to reveal talented youth through various forms: the same Tournaments, Olympiads, School-Sessions, and others. But how can we speak of a serious effect from a science conference for the students, if even the list of participants is not traceable a year later? That is why a coordination center should exist, a “bank manager” having all the necessary information available for the interested parties. Such a center can, let say, function within the country’s State Committee on Education. If we have gained an experience, the center could support the project immediately with people, money, and promotion. Each child should also understand that his achievements are not disappearing, but are somewhere recorded.

And certainly, the work with school students should become prestigious and highly-paid. For how long, indeed, we will recognize only on words, that investments into youth are the society’s investments into their own tomorrow?

See Americans who decided several years ago that they are doing badly with space programs, and that some new ideas were needed. They created an association for young astronauts, and just in a year hosted a summer school for 40 000 participants. They have found from somewhere both the abandoned venues, spacesuits for children, simulators, centrifuges, and gravitational models. What do we have? Several spacesuits are brought for several days here to Ufa, and boys could wear them. But is that an impetus for immediately becoming a cosmonaut? Are you becoming a general if you wear a general’s uniform?

Needless to say, we lag behind for I don’t know how many years, even in manufacturing simplest school equipment. Even here, in Alye Parusa (despite everyone has an accreditation badge, like at “adult” symposiums), children do not have laboratories, and opportunities for experiments in physics and chemistry are limited. However, things are moving. Together with Komsomol’s Central Committee, we are thinking of the Second all-Soviet…”

We put here the points of ellipsis. Let these points be optimistic. You remember the Grin’s Alye Parusa, scarlet sails, that Assol suddenly saw above a snow-white ship after waiting for many years. It is a symbol of hope.

Dmitry Runge,

Special Staff Reporter for Komsomolskaya Zhizn

Ufa

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