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Talented Children of Siberia and the Internet

Larisa G. KORTAVA <>
Novosibirsk State University


For over thirty years the Scientific Study Center (SSC) at Novosibirsk State University has been selecting talented children 15-16 years old from all regions of Siberia for further study there. Winners of Olympiads in physics, mathematics, and chemistry interview with the members of the Olympiad Organizational Committee at the Presidium of the SB RAS. The best applicants are invited to participate in the Summer School held in Novosibirsk. According to the grades they receive while studying in the Summer School, the final selection is made for the university. In spite of political and financial difficulties that exist in Russia, this multistage selection process continues.

The goal of the project, being realized at the present moment, is to maintain the process of teaching talented young people at a high international level and to provide the application of telecommunication systems and other possibilities that are available through the Internet.

Project realization permits us to teach students the skills necessary to work on the Internet; give them access to the international educational nets; create a favorable atmosphere for communication among students from different regions of the country, to broaden their knowledge and give them additional possibilities to improve their knowledge of foreign languages; and analyze international experiences in working with talented children.

When students become participants in the educational process, they actually start working on two different programs. The first one is the official curriculum and the second one can be called latent. This is a program of socialization, stemming from the character of interpersonal relationships. It usually has no strict organizational form, but at the same time it helps to shape the emotional and social life of a person. By providing access to international information channels, the SSC considerably augments its role as a social institution, in which each individual is developed in an appropriate direction. Among the tenets of this program is the protection of the right to live in a favorable habitat as one of the components of sustainable development, spreading the ideals of civil society directed toward democratic reforms in the country among the young people who will become the intellectual elite of the country and will play leading roles in their society in the near future and influence its development.

Joint education will make it possible to introduce new components into the content of education and make use of the Internet as the information channel for practical work in the information society. Experience in intercultural communication develops skills in preventing and resolving different kinds of difficult situations. The fact that the educational institution thus becomes an open information system is of major importance.

To use the Internet services properly, one needs a certain level of maturity, which young people may lack. The seeming anonymity tempts some teenagers to reveal their aggressiveness. It is necessary to teach them certain skills for working in this environment, gradually increasing their freedom of choice and action within the framework of principles that control inappropriate behavior and teaching them the norms of etiquette required to work in computer networks. Six years of work have demonstrated the expediency of conducting an initial course of intensive education.

In the course of this project, a unique regional telecommunication channel will be created, having no analogues in Russia, that will unite secondary educational institutions. It will embrace the Asian territory of Russia through the RUNNET, with the potential of entering the international educational networks. The regional networks should be developed with the SSC domain as a base.

The project is partially financed by the Soros Foundation, which makes it possible to optimize expenses and reduce the time it takes to introduce new technologies into secondary education.


One way of studying how the Internet influences one's everyday life could be the selection within both actual and potential users of the Internet of different user groups based on their interests. This approach allows one to simplify information searching and maximize the use of possibilities offered by the Internet when solving our specific actual problems:

  • Seeking, finding, and supporting talented young people; and
  • Developing different forms of education and coordination of existing ones.

The goal of the currently held project is to support and continue the process of education of talented teenagers at a high level that corresponds to world standards during this period of development which is hard for Russia, and provide the application of telecommunication, networking technologies, and all other possibilities the Internet can offer.

It is planned to organize a special regional telecommunication network of high school education facilities that doesn't have any analogues in Russia. It will embrace the entire Asian part of Russia and will use the resources of the Russian University Network, RUNNET. This will open the perspective of integrating into a worldwide global educational system, with Specialised Scientific Student Centre of Novosibirsk State University (SSC NSU) as a main node.

Today it is clear that Russia is unfortunately still far behind other countries, speaking of information technologies, and most people don't realize all the problems with the "informatization of society." In this situation, we should think not only about new generations of the computers, but also about new generations of people who will create and use them. Education takes a strategic position here, since education is a key that will open and form new informational culture. This makes the project very actual.

In this paper one won't find any discussion of technological aspects of the issue; the point is to find out what influence the Internet has on the educational process and what role communication technologies play in education, interpersonal communication, and the upbringing process. One of the main features of this project is that it is oriented towards the work with talented and gifted children that passed through the multiple stages of selection and become Scientific Study Centre (SSC) students. The wide geography of places students came from allows us to get a representational sample for a large territory, which can be used in different research projects.

For over thirty years the Scientific Study Centre at Novosibirsk State University has been selecting talented children 15-16 years old from all regions of Siberia and Far East for further study there. The winners of Olympiads in physics, mathematics, and chemistry have an interview with the members of the Olympiad Organizational Committee at the Presidium of the Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences (SB RAS). The best applicants are invited to participate in the Summer School held near Novosibirsk. According to the results they receive while studying in the Summer School, the final selection is made. In spite of political and financial difficulties that currently exist in Russia, this multistage selection process has not been abandoned.

The creation of the system of training the new scientists was developed simultaneously with the foundation of SB RAS, starting in the 60s. The institutes of Akademgorodok and Novosibirsk State University (NSU) actually have been solid facilities since they were created. The interaction of SB RAS, NSU, and the school for talented and gifted children has a long history, traditions, and vast pedagogical experience. And at every stage of development of computer technology, every new achievement had been successfully integrated into an education. This tradition is being held up to present time.

The project that is planned to be used with accompanying Internet technologies has the following goals:

  • To make young people interested in scientific research early in life and to increase state scientific potential on this base;
  • To teach the basics of the Internet and how to use it in order to provide access to international educational media, including participating in various kinds of Olympiads, with Soros Olympiads among them;
  • To create a favorable communication environment for children from different regions of the world and to support foreign language learning during the process of interpersonal contacts;
  • To provide informational tools for creating and distributing textbooks and publications, teaching programs, and methods of intensive teaching;
  • To develop and improve methods of early professional orientation and training the staff for academic science, based on the usage of modern computer technologies;
  • To use the possibilities of analyzing and generalizing the educational experience and work with talented children, including the work with telecommunication technologies; and
  • Depending on how well different regions are technologically developed, to try to achieve a higher technological level of teaching by correspondence PMS SSC NSU.

Because many SSC graduates become NSU students and than go directly to work in institutes of SB RAS, it's clear how important it is for SSC, NSU, and SB RAS to get young researchers involved in teaching at SSC rather than a higher level, and with application of modern high technologies. Multistage competitive selection is a key process for solving the problem. However, insufficient (from the modern point of view) informational support in regions makes the process of competitive selection difficult and inefficient.

Thus there is a mutual interest for the scientific community, the University, PMS, potential students, their teachers, and parents to work together. This will result in that not only the pedagogical staff and students of SSC will get involved in the project, but also high school teachers and students as users.

When groups and individuals that are interested in obtaining and distributing the information and complete implementation of the project have been outlined, we can discuss the question: what can this project deliver to the participants, including implementers, as users of the Internet, and what can each of them do for this project? That's why we need to give the detailed description of the procedure of selection and educational process in SSC.

Traditional successive improvement of the process of early professional orientation and methods of researchers' training within the classic chain PMS - NSU - research institute allows the collection and processing of a vast amount of information and experience concerning the teaching of some traditional disciplines.

Using the balanced composition of traditional conservative and flexible modern new education ideologies, we try to increase the efficiency of preparing highly qualified personnel for fundamental science. Acquiring different skills and knowledge during the educational process, using modern new information technologies in different life applications, must correspond with the system of didactic requirements (it has to be scientific, systematic, consistent, etc.) and offer the possibility of using efficient education technology. This is achieved by improving old courses and adding new ones, including those based on using computer technology and considering the specifics of work with talented and gifted students. During the studying process, lots of time is being spent to work on problems that are solved in laboratories of research institutes SB RAS and the world scientific community in general, and computer technologies play an important role in this research. This helps students to realize and understand what the real scientific work is. Since the main goal of SSC is to prepare highly qualified young scientists, students must grasp far more information than usual, and the entire education process is very intensive.

To do this in the best possible way, we need to use methods that will interest students in the learning process and make them think and involve their imagination. They must learn about implementing correct types of problems and applicable ways of solving them. One of the possible ways of reaching this goal is to use computer and communication technologies.

That's why the complex educational system is being used in SSC NSU and implemented for solving such problems as

  • Helping students learn how to solve problems that arise during the learning process by themselves;
  • Learning logical and abstract thinking and speech etc. because this ability of abstract thinking is the main achievement of intellectual development during the youth period; and
  • Revealing both intellectual and social prerequisites (motivation, personal qualities, way of thinking) that stimulate change to individual study.

This includes studying and using modern information technologies and possibilities available with the Internet. This allows the creation of educational programs that solve methodical problems of development and the creative part of thinking, supported by technologies where there is no strictly determined student activity. It's been demonstrated that computer technology can be used as a perfect instrument to unite different processes of learning, knowledge consolidation, and control of how well it has been learned and understood. This is why a significant place in education process is reserved to form ideas of possibilities of new computer technologies and what role they play in scientific research.

The complex program consists of many courses on different subjects that are logically connected. When each program was formed, all technological principles that relate to the point of the course were determined. This realization of the educational process provides for reaching the goals, continuous and logical organization of given material, when systems of different forms, methods, and ways of education work as one unit. Let's view this on two examples -- methods of teaching physics and informatics.

Based on the study of how to use modern computing and telecommunication technologies in everyday scientific research activities in the examples of unique physical devices and complexes of the Institute of Nuclear Physics, the program of the course "Modeling of the Physical Processes" allowed for an incredible opportunity to learn and understand the basic principles of the use of the personal computer for raising and solving real physical and technical problems with preliminary intensive studying of PASCAL algorithmic language and working with local area networks (LANs) and the Internet. This knowledge also can be used in different subjects. This is why an educational program at SSC starts with an intensive course of learning the basics of computer knowledge.

While the analysis of the educational requirements for students to take them inside the learning of basic and specialized discipline with the use of computer technologies allowed for the formation of the concept of the primary intensive program, its systematization allowed the determination of the optimal length of the course, based on the method of inductive reasoning. Didactic principle of orientation on need of knowledge, skills, and abilities in this case is applicable not to some single discipline, but to the complex of ones.

The novice primary course contains theoretical and practical parts. The theoretical part consists of five lectures that are composed so that the information the student receives gets more organized and complete from lecture to lecture. Practical lessons go after each lecture. Efficiency of the teaching is reached by the strategy of using the available resources. Six years of work have demonstrated the expediency of conducting the course of initial intensive education.

After completing this intensive course, students start to study specialized and general learning using the computer technologies. For example, there are many courses devoted to different areas of physics, and while solving the problem it's often necessary to present the results in easy-to-read form, especially graphically. Graphs of functions, paths of different particles, displaying various fields and histograms, are just a few ways of representing results. Graphic representation allows one to find patterns, to describe the rules and laws of the natural world and various physical processes, etc. Very often these problems either cannot be solved analytically or have rather complex and cumbersome solutions. Finding solutions to all of the suggested problems while developing independent working skills includes thinking about the algorithm, writing down the program and its testing/debugging, and the final stage when the student receives final results. Because SSC prepares mainly researchers who will work in physics, special attention is paid to students' ability to estimate how good and reliable are the results they get, to find out the regularities and rules for the process they research, and to be able to predict the results when some initial conditions and parameters had changed or additional factors had been added. So, the knowledge that was acquired during this intensive learning program is used while studying physics.

Problems have different levels of complexity, and they are formulated to be interesting and attractive to students. Problems that were invented by students are also appreciated.

Another example of how the problem of using the Internet influences the forming of the educational plan, and, as a result, of every student, regardless of his or her interests in working with the Internet:

Not too long ago, the most popular elective course in SSC was "C++ Programming: Object Oriented Aspects." Now, the absolute leader in popularity is "Introduction to Internet." In the beginning of this school year, there were 450 students who signed up for it. It's obvious that using telecommunication and the possibilities available through the Internet has already seriously influenced the education process and brought innovations and major changes to education in general.

The program of the "Introduction to Internet" course consists of two parts: a basic one and a practical one.

The basic part introduces the basics of the Internet to the students. They learn such terms as "connection," "protocol," "client-server," "provider," and others. Students are being taught in terms of virtual software tools; this approach simplifies understanding of general principles. As a result, students will be able to use any new computer product, but will not be "tied" to one of them which they learned in the very first time.

The practical part, which consists of different tasks, is constantly changed depending on technology progress and will be adapted depending on what computer realization or operating environment is used and what methodical problems are being solved. The main emphasis is made on the practical use of the Internet in everyday life as a new perspective technology. From the variety of Internet applications only the most useful and popular were selected. Also, students' attention was focused on ethics and rules of the Internet.

Being the regional leader of the system of specialized education of the students, SSC NSU provides education at a level high enough to meet the requirements of modern science and, being the basic node of the regional educational network, provides informational filling of the basic project parts:

  • Systematic updating of basic lecture courses in SSC NSU that are related to using computers for solving physical and technical problems, and preparing corresponding supporting materials;
  • Creating the World Wide Web pages containing information about main activities of academic institutes. This information should help to find out interesting work and unique projects, modern equipment, research, etc. This should provide some basis for future deliberate choosing of the specialty; and
  • Creating the library of demonstrational and educational programs made by SSC students. This library will help teachers to organize lessons, and the student will get acquainted with different ways of solving problems.

Character and direction of personal development are of the same importance as academic achievements. When students become participants of the educational process, they actually start working on two different programs. The first one is official curriculum and the second one is a program of socialization, stemming from the character of interpersonal relationships. This forming of personality is greatly dependent on human social intercourse; it can teach teenagers that real decisions are based on their perception of a real, not strained situation, that knowledge about themselves and others is the result of social communication. One of the minuses of the modern education system is that not all of the real interests and needs of modern generation have been considered. Teenagers are oppressed by the traditional conservative system of grading, which gives the feeling of success only to very few. Inside the class, social "roles" of students, form in the very beginning and stay the same to the end, and it's hard to overcome these stereotyped relationships. At this point, the Internet helps students who live away from their parents and old friends not to feel lonely and alone. Student of PMS and University are involved in active correspondence within Akademgorodok and create their own WWW pages telling about themselves, their interests, and friends, and usually without any of the rude and coarse teenage slang that is frequently used in their everyday speech. This is another feature of the Internet -- it can help one to express oneself, to show how competent one is, to find new friends and form one's own relationships with the outer world. That's what students say about the Internet: "Internet is probably one of the most popular entertainment facilities. All kinds of chat rooms, fun and entertaining pages, that kind of stuff -- all of this turns the Net into a favorite toy for a variety of people ranging from teenagers to adults."

Able to find and use information by means of telecommunication tools, a student can easily acquire, store, transfer, and use information he or she finds on the Net. The student is getting acquainted with paperless technologies, using the Net as information media for his practical everyday work. For instance, modern students seek information for their essays and research using a computer -- old-style libraries take too much precious time; a computer is faster and better. The fact that the educational institution thus becomes an open information system is of major importance.

There is a huge number of topics that students are interested in: for instance, practical application and use of laws. The knowledge of the legislation system develops and enriches young mind, making the student fill himself as a citizen of civilized, legitimate society. As a result, student juridical culture is being formed during the process of getting their higher education complete, because of mere interest in laws and civic activities.

While Russia is becoming a constitutional country, the transition to open market relationships, including educational institutions, stimulates the necessity of active juridical work among the new generation as the most sensitive to new knowledge and information, including laws. Today, the increasing interest in civic culture of the young generation stimulates such issues as the protection of the right to live in a favorable habitat as one of the components of sustainable development.

It's obvious that spreading the ideas of civil society directed towards democratic reforms in the country among young people who have to become the intellectual elite of the country can influence the entire society's development as a whole. A screening-survey conducted at SSC showed that 70 percent of students wanted to find out more about "Protection of the Customer Rights" and "Education" and to get acquainted with the basics of ecological, economic, civic, and criminal laws. This is why there is a necessity for the creation of databases, WWW pages, and other media with law content for young people.

The existence of modern communication tools, allowing the great expansion of the borders of intercourse, can significantly influence the educational process, yielding the capability of simultaneous development of a large number of projects, including international-level ones, and increasing the number of participants. This can help teachers to satisfy their needs in collective communication, exchanging their experiences, quickly and efficiently spreading their innovations. Experience of intercultural communication develops skills in preventing and resolving different kinds of difficult situations. At the background of this project activity, private correspondence exists and partners' relations are being formed. This correspondence can suit different purposes, including studying of foreign language during the intercourse.

Intercultural intercourse experience gained during the work allows students to develop skills for preventing and resolving problems that occur among young people and not letting them become conflicts. In the background of project work, personal correspondence takes place and partner relations are being formed. Experience acquired with ability of the correspondence can be used for different purposes, like learning a foreign language.

Interest in communication with foreign coevals is getting constant support by means of student exchanges between SSC NSU and Philips Academy (Andover, Massachusetts, USA). The fact that geographical territory, where students are selected from, is really large, makes a favorable environment for expanding the intercultural views of students and helps them to make new friends in the territory of Russia. That is why we surely need fast and convenient communications media; in addition, many students live far away from their parents, and e-mail is the only reliable method of communication they can use.

The exploration of the Internet requires some definite cultural level except an obvious specific knowledge. At the same time the cultural level of most teenagers is inadequate. The well-known effect of apparent anonymity provokes some youngsters to unveil their age aggressiveness. Therefore the students are presented bit by bit with increasing autonomy in the well-defined framework of principles and rules (netiquette).

Yet another aspect of this project is the ability to explore the resources of Internet not only for students of the Physics and Mathematics School. It is important, that with the development of the regional educational network, the community of potential users of teaching and methodical materials produced in SSC is significantly extended, using the resources available through the Internet.

The set of problems, information about which is useful for almost every teacher as well for most students, was brought to light during specialized physics, mathematics, and chemistry Olympiads. The poll has shown that the following points are of main interest:

  • To get access to the collection of exercises and problems on physics, mathematics, and informatics (about 1,500-2,000 exercises);
  • To get information about main activities of academic institutes;
  • To get familiar with the based-on Olympiads selection system and the students' papers presented at their conferences; and
  • To receive consultations while studying through correspondence courses (currently this form of studying is used by more than 3,500 students).

Constant interaction with the help of the Internet makes it possible to follow efficiently for changes of external conditions and to plan and to control the process of forming the students' contingent. It also significantly improves the existing competitive system of selection. The availability of such a unique system allows us to keep activities on professional orientation among school graduates in various regions of the Asian part of Russia, being based on long-term relations with these regions. Next, it allows us to have comparative studies of preparation's level depending on year in various regions, to provide either teachers and students with methodical support in specific conditions of unstable teaching programs, and to assist in forming the sufficient training level of the applicants for university admission.

Thus being in consistent interaction with regions allows for the enhancement of the level of teaching of students among whom selection of candidates for entering the SSC is made in those regions. It also broadens the flow of science-oriented students and therefore provides the required conditions for improving the selection of prospective researchers. One should see that the Internet with its informational resources could provide applicants for admission to university with additional knowledge. As far as physics and mathematics school is concerned, it could sufficiently affect the quality of that admission.

Thus, by providing access to the global informational space, SSC not only sufficiently strengthens its position as a social and educational institution contributing to comprehensive personality development, but also affects the forming of teaching processes in regions, developing the ways of preparing talented youth and providing the saving and development of the intellectual potential of the country.

The effectiveness of this project is provided with both right chosen strategy for deployment of given resources and equipment and drawing highly qualified staff to the project implementation. Currently the project's activities are being performed the Computing Centre of SSC, established in 1990. This centre is opened daily for 14 hours; 2484 man-hours per week are retained for dedicated courses, planned classes, and individual work of students.

The project is partially financed by the Soros Foundation. It will make it possible to optimize financial expenses and reduce the term of introducing new technologies into secondary education.

During discussion of the project, students of PMS actively participated and made valuable contributions.

Appendix: Physics-Mathematics School of the Novosibirsk State University for Talented and Gifted High Students

The well-known Lavrentyev School was founded 35 years ago. More commonly termed as PMS, it is located in Akademgorodok on the campus of the Novosibirsk State University in a picturesque forest on the shores of the Ob Sea.

This school is considered as a junior department of the university and works according to an intensive program for intellectual development of adolescents in the various fields of knowledge. It is dedicated to creating the innovative approaches to academic material and providing students with a basis for scientific research. In October 1988, by decree of the government, it was officially reclassified as the Scientific Study Centre (SSC) and became a division of the Novosibirsk State University.

The individual approach to the students and traditionally good relations between teachers and students are notable in this school.

The Physics and Mathematics School is an initial part of the educational system for continuous preparation of scientifically oriented people. Close integration in this system exists because most professors and teachers of PMS and NSU belong to research staff of different institutes of SB RAS. Both professors and students spend their time learning not only in classrooms, but also in laboratories of various institutes of SB RAS; starting from the second and third years in University, students get involved in the real research process and their work becomes an essential part of scientific activities.

Since the founding of the school, over 8,000 apprentices have graduated from the PMS. Many of them work in institutes of the Siberian Branch of the Academy of Sciences. Each tenth has been granted the academic degree of "Candidate," and over eighty are "Doctor of Science."

Students coming from deep provinces not only spend time studying, but also try to take the full advantage of cultural opportunities at the university, in Akademgorodok, and Novosibirsk. The Scientific Study Centre consists of four buildings: a classroom building, two dormitories, and a cafeteria.

ADDRESS: RUSSIA, 630090, Novosibirsk, Pirogov Str., 11
Physics and Mathematics School. Phone: +7-3832-35-56-59

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