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Pedagogues of St. Petersburg Mining University spoke about the main purpose of the changes taking place in the higher education system

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

One of the priority tasks of the current modernisation of the higher education system is to increase the role of the institute of mentoring. After all, the educational process should not only contribute to the professional development of students through the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, but also provide the process of moral education of young people. Aristotle argued that the fate of empires ‘depends on the effectiveness of this activity’, and Johann Pestalozzi and Konstantin Ushinsky called it ‘the main purpose of the school’.

‘The mission of any higher technical education institution is for its graduates to become competent specialists and to ensure a generational change in production, science and pedagogy. But, of course, it is no less important to help them grow up to be worthy citizens of their country, true intellectuals who are characterised by high standards of morality, decency and nobility of soul. In order to bring this work to a new level, we have assigned a pedagogical mentor to each group of first-year students. His task is to facilitate the adaptation of yesterday's schoolchildren to the new academic environment, as well as the formation of their positive behavioural principles through moral development,' said Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of the Empress Catherine II St. Petersburg Mining University.

Горный университет
© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

It is at this university that a pilot project to improve the training of personnel for the national economy, which will be scaled up nationwide in the foreseeable future, is being tested. ‘Forpost’ decided to find out what exactly is the responsibility of the mentors, what methods they use in their mission as educators, and how they assess the mindset of today's young men and women.

Maria Goncharova, Assistant of the Department of Foreign Languages, says that if the theatre begins with the coat rack, then the start of university studies is adaptation to a new academic environment. It is no exaggeration to say that many first-year students experience real stress in unfamiliar conditions. Often, in order to feel part of the team and relieve overstrain, they look for support in others: either psychologically more stable peers or strong teachers. The role of the latter is played by supervisors, whose fundamental mission at the initial stage is to create a favourable moral and psychological climate within the ‘new recruits’.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘The adaptation of students in my group was not easy. In the first few days, two leaders emerged, and there was a conflict of interest between them. Some of the guys fell into the sphere of influence of one of them, some - of the other. And I, as a curator, had to reconcile the parties first of all. We learnt to build communication with each other at informal meetings. We played board games, went to karaoke, which, by the way, helped us to ‘sing’ both literally and figuratively. Now I can confidently say that my group has united, we managed to create an atmosphere of trust, necessary for productive learning and creative self-realisation of students", - said Maria Goncharova.

Her task also includes moral education of young people. One of the obvious methods is to convey to them the value of belonging to the great heritage, because Mining University is the oldest higher technical education institution in Russia. Its graduates and professors have been making a colossal contribution to the growth of sustainable development of our country for two and a half centuries. They discover new deposits, build plants, introduce innovations that improve the efficiency of production chains.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘It is very important to reveal the role of our university as one of the pillars of the country's sovereignty, which is impossible without the continuity of generations in science, pedagogy and the real sector of the economy. To tell about the rich traditions, including the wearing of uniforms, corporate culture. This stimulates in students the sense of responsibility underlying patriotism, develops in them analogue thinking. Yes, young people should have opportunities for self-expression. That is why nobody is going to go to extremes and forbid girls to dye their hair or wear bright make-up. Nevertheless, it is necessary to familiarise the boys with the basics of business style, and this is also part of our function,’ adds the teacher.

Once a week there is a so-called ‘mentor hour’. The tutor and students get together to discuss both eternal and current issues. Today it may be a discussion about what honour and dignity are. And in 7 days - a conversation about attendance, academic performance or the essence of any innovations that are an integral part of the life of any university.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘One of the students in my group was in hospital for a fortnight, and when he returned to university he had to master the material he had already learnt in a short period of time. Given the current workload, this is a very difficult task. By sticking to a clear plan, he did it. He proved to himself that he could. As a result, he successfully passed the session and continued his studies. My task was to convey to him the necessity to ‘tighten up tails’, to help him, as well as other guys, to plan their time competently, even if they work in multitasking mode, in order to have everything in time. This allowed them to successfully adjust from the gentle school pace to the intensive university pace and keep the set high bar,’ emphasised Lyudmila Yachmenova, Assistant of the Department of General and Technical Physics of Mining University.

In order to become curators of study groups of first-year students, 84 teachers of the university underwent special training on the eve of the beginning of the current academic year. For several days they were taught the basics of their new mission at an off-site seminar in the academic centre ‘Solnechnoye’. One of the topics emphasised was the civic and patriotic education of young people.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘I believe that it is very important for each of us to know our history. Moreover, in today's world, the value of such knowledge has increased dramatically. The flow of information has become so rapid that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish the truth from outright lies, which are spread on social networks on purpose or due to the uneducated administrators of groups and channels. That is why students and I regularly go to museums of the city and participate in solemn and mourning events of the university. For example, in winter we held a subbotnik in the museum-reserve ‘The Breakthrough of the Siege of Leningrad’ near Kirovske. That is, the guys decided to spend part of their personal time on a socially useful work. This, in my opinion, is a very important result of educational work,’ says Andrey Fedkin, Assistant of the Department of History of Basic Engineering Education.

After the completion of the second year, pedagogical mentors-mentors pass the ‘baton’ to mentors - professional supervisors. The task of the latter is to provide conditions for students to undergo industrial practice, as well as to motivate them to successfully pass the diploma and obtain all the necessary competences.

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© Форпост Северо-Запад / Павел Долганов

‘Increasing the period of industrial practice to 10 months is one of the most important components of the pilot project to modernise the higher education system. Young people gain unique experience at enterprises, as well as the opportunity to establish effective communication with potential employers. My group of metrologists, for example, tried their hand at the Baltic Plant, Kinef Refinery and Mendeleev VNIIM,’ says Ekaterina Smirnova, Associate Professor at the Department of Metrology and Quality Management at Mining University.

In her opinion, strict control of student groups, where everyone is about 20 years old, is a thankless and unnecessary endeavour. The main thing is to build a trusting relationship with the team and become for all its members a person who is ready to help in a difficult moment.

‘The guys are getting older, and their life orientations are changing along with it. If earlier they needed a mentor as a ‘guide’ to the adult world, now they need, rather, an older comrade with whom they can discuss the prospects of their development as a professional. However, despite the fact that these boys and girls are much more mature and independent compared to freshmen, educational work is also among my tasks, although it is not the most urgent", - summarised the teacher.

It should be reminded that all first-year students taking part in the pilot project aimed at improving the quality of personnel training for the national economy are trained according to a single curriculum. This is the ‘Core’ of higher engineering education, which takes the first 4 semesters to master. Within its framework, students study a module of 13 general education and 12 general technical disciplines, including the Basic Scientific Competence programme.