Interview with the General Director of the Russian Venture Company (RVC) concerning investments in education
Aleksandr Povalko, the General Director of the Russian Venture Company. Photo: Andrey Minaev
The topic of domestic projects has become of the main ones at the last Russian Investment Forum in Sochi. One of the projects is devoted to education. And how it could be otherwise if we form the future of our country by investing in this field. Aleksandr Povalko, the General Director of the Russian Venture Company, told “Komsomolka” how willingly the investors enter this market and what projects are being currently implemented.
Aleksandr Povalko at the Russian Investment Forum 2019 in Sochi.
— Education was discussed a lot at this Forum, and this field is more often thought as a specifically attractive for investments. And what is the state of things with the investments in this field, or Edtech, as we name it today? And why to invest in it at all?
— Today, the Edtech market is growing fast at the global level. This predetermines its attractiveness for investments. Fast growth allows for investors to get a significant revenue. This market has a peculiar feature in Russia that is, first of all, related to the fact that the main performer here is the state. Respectively, it is not easy to integrate into such a governed system with some new technology solutions. Nevertheless, according to our estimates, there hundreds of startups now and several well-established companies that demonstrate rather convincing results. The revenue of such companies amounts to hundreds millions roubles.
A good example is the Skyeng company. In 2017, its turnover exceeded RUB 700 Mio. This is the English learning service that is not only successfully operating in the Russian market, but also moving overseas.
— You say it is widely known that this field is the state one to the most extent. What does the state undertake to develop new educational technologies and what does the Russian Venture Company do, in particular?
— There is a top-priority national project devoted to education. It includes main steps and challenges the state system faces. They are interesting for us, first of all, from the point of view of creating the opportunities for the private companies to operate in this state market. Because all to whom we give money are the private persons non the less. We do not subsidize the state. We do not subsidize the schools. We invest.
Now we are launching a specialized fund that will operate only in the Edtech market and invest in the new educational technologies. It will make about RUB 7 bln. We will launch it till the mid of the year, and we plan to announce the first projects by the end of 2019.
— In the light of the rapid change in the technology, what challenges does the sphere of education face?
— It’s a good question. I think there is a clear set of problems. For example, poor creativity the school instills is a desperate challenge because people are coming into the world where the creativity will define their success.
— But not all people can be creative. It supposes to have a certain habit of mind.
— Not all. And thus, the second challenge is soul searching in this new world. Ability to train and re-train quickly. The education system faces a global task of establishing such a continuous education system for the whole life of a human so that a person dismissed could quickly find a new job and try something new...
— Well, then another question arises. By what instruments can it be achieved?
— By decreasing the transaction costs of such person. And there are clear technology solutions to ensure this. Availability of education id also predetermined by the technological progress level. For example, during the educational intensive course “Ostrov” in Vladivostok held last year, we tested a tool allowing for assessing and predicting what will be interesting for a human. Thus, the artificial intelligence says: “You are as it is, but it would be better for you to fill this niche, go and learn there.” Such advisory mechanisms allow for a person to make an interesting and proper educational trajectory relevant to the current situation. This is the first tool.
The second one is availability and variety of content and tools. And our market is not oversupplied in this regard. Developing and offering new educational programs approved and certified both by the employees and performers — this is the second important topic.
— And the third one?
— Now, different data collection tools give a possibility to know everything about your, or almost everything. This makes it possible to avoid a situation when the final tests are the single tools that determines a person’s success. The external factors often hinder approving oneself by 100%. For example, a student slept badly this day, or caught a cold, or something else... But if you constantly collects information about him, form a digital profile, it appears that these tests are not so awful.
— And to what extent does it meet the legislation requirements?
— There is a long way to make this technology legitimate. This supposes great changes of the whole structures and systems. Many people work in the conventional paradigm, for example, teachers, and there are over million of them in our country. The system is changing, but not at once.
— Since 2015, in cooperation with ASI, you organize the National Technology Initiative (NTI) Olympiad for pupils. Please tell about this format, its results and a new season of the Olympiad.
— In my opinion, this is very cool. In 2014, the President of Russia gave an instruction to implement a project called the National Technology Initiative in order to create the leading companies in the newly formed markets. In the course of the NTI implementation, it has become obvious that the children are the source of future projects and future global leaders. And the format of the NTI Olympiad was created. This is a team-engineering Olympiad in the frameworks of which the pupils from the whole country solve certain technological tasks in the advanced fields — unmanned vehicles, personalized medicine, aerospace technology.
— For example?
— For example, the tasks of the last NTI Olympiad were to create and program the hand bioprosthesis or create a closed ecosystem with different plants. Then — programming the copters and drones. The task is to make a copter flying a certain route, taking a cargo and transferring it to the point of destination. This is very difficult, but very interesting simultaneously.
The winner gets a right to be admitted to the nest technical institutes of the country. Last year, 20 thousand people participated in the NTI Olympiad, and this year there were 40 thousand people already. And over a thousand schools all over the Russia has been conducting the NTI Lesson since last year. Not to lose young audience is a critical task in working with technology.