Chief Designer's school
2013-09-27 | Text: Natalia Naumova | Photo ©: | 4298


Chief designer is a specific phenomenon typical of the Soviet Union. This category of people has obtained a unique competences and a peculiar type of thinking which enables them to solve super complex tasks and to simultaneously work within different layouts: scientific, technological, social-economical and political. Owing to chief designers a significantly greater quantity of the large-scale innovative projects were developed in the Soviet Union at that time – in the spheres of energy, space, and the military.

Today, in the 21st century, the unique competence of general designers seems to be lost – Russia has failed to transfer the approach for growing that type of skilled workers from the soviet period.

However, several years ago, the Institute of Innovative Strategies for general education development and of the Moscow city Department of Education focused its work on the issue of producing and educating high skilled workers who would be able to develop complex projects for the continued development of Russia within a Chief Designer’s School (CDS) launched in 2005 in Moscow.

New educational technologies developed within CDS are directed to prepare skilled workers not only for contemporary industries, but for the development of industries of the future. According to the author and director of the project, Nina Gromyko, “there is no way to create the school of the future without infrastructure development. The development of infrastructure in turn presupposes the initiation of breakthrough projects. Now, the needed models of connection of the school with different sociocultural institutes do not exist at all, or require fundamental reorganization”.

Within the CDS, pupils with the representatives of innovative industries and fundamental science institutions are jointly involved in not only producing separate engineer-technical constructions, but are united to construct the outlines of the new technical-industrial formations. In fact, the pupils, together with the adults, are working on the development of branches of industry that do not even exist yet. The strategic demand for that type of worker hints at the need for providing the Russian transformation to the advanced technological mode. The authors of the project claim that the central pillar of the expanded educational model is integration of the 3 main spheres: science, industry and education. Lacking this, any single crucial issue referring to the development of high skilled workers of strategic importance cannot be solved. That principle forms the educational technologies for the CDS.

The Chief Designer’s School operates as a network platform in the sphere of supplementary education that connects pupils of 7-11 grades. The education process at CDS is based on a number of workshops on several themes. At the workshops, a team of pupils, together with teachers, engineers and scientists, work on breakthrough project. How can we understand if the project is a breakthrough one? To define that, the participants of the project should understand the fundamental scientific principles underlying the new technology. It is an understanding of the fundamental principle and the corresponding technological solution that is a basic unit of content at CDS. In some cases, the technology may be replaced with the technology of the next generation based on this different fundamental principle – furthermore, the modernization has no barriers in a long-term period of development. According to the CDS methodology, modernization projects, or projects for improvement of technological solutions, are not simply considered as breakthrough. The latter ones can be described with the following technological mode. Development of such projects is a more complex process and is connected with reorganization of the core of that branch of science or engineering that requires the capabilities of a different level of technology.

Today, CDS workshops operate within the following branches: energy of the future, pharmacology, cosmetics, aviation and aircraft building and ultra-fast rail transport. Among the developed projects are “The Russian regional plane of the next generation”, “Ultra-fast rail transport using magnetic suspension” etc. The list of workshops and projects is open and is being filled as the network expands. The network consists of 15 Moscow schools. Pupils are working in unity on projects, dividing various project tasks among these schools; exchanging the results on the experiments through review sessions. Different forms of lesson are used in the workshops – including external excursions to plants, scientific institutes, and universities. The branch role-playing is organized on a regular basis with epistemic sessions as well, where pupils may discuss their projects with experts and role play varying positions. Methodologists of the Institute of Innovative Strategies of general education, with its successor the Shiffers Institute of Advanced Studies together with innovative company “Thought-activity pedagogy” together develop the relevant form of communication among participants, teaching pupils reflective thinking, capability to see and construct complex connections within the branch.

Another peculiarity of the CDS is the fact that it is a school whose methodology is based on the meta-subject approach. The idea meta-subject education has now been brought into the Federal State Educational Standards as one of the types of necessary standards to be attained during education. That approach presupposes the development of such capabilities as imagination, understanding, thinking, reflection, etc. The work uses such thinking concepts as knowledge, sign, task and issue as a principle within the approach of meta-subject technologies in education.

The structural components of our thinking are some kinds of common “things” we share when we think, communicate, carry out action or act. The previously mentioned structural components of thinking are general and multipurpose, referring to the subjects – chemistry, math, economics, history, etc. and to the fields of practice. It is extremely important to teach future general designers to solve complex issues using the different disciplines and practices – basing on the above mentioned “things” as contemporary industrial tasks which are multipurpose and multidimensional.

Children should understand which types of problems and tasks exist, what knowledge is required, which types of knowledge exist and how do they differ. How to differentiate between the knowledge gained from information, from opinion, or specific types of task?

Thus, Chief Designer’s School has the crucial role of: educating pupils in the advanced models of science and create child-adult teams that are able to work on new fields of activity on the basis of this new knowledge. The idea of that model is based on the assumption that with the creation of this educational system for the next level, we can get the advanced technical systems implemented by tomorrow and not next year. Thus, the CDS is aimed at educating the new skilled workers to create breakthrough projects and to work on their realization. That type of education differs from the common system of education – that approach poses more complex tasks from the very beginning and teaches children to work with different types of knowledge, fundamental principles, and technological solutions within their interconnection. 


We interviewed one of the ideologists and authors of the CDS Nina Gromyko concerning the history of establishment created during the period of the project.


– Nina Vyacheslavovna, please tell us how did Chief Designer’s School begin?


In 2005 the authorities of education of the North-West District of Moscow contacted us and proposed the creation of a development program for the educational system in their district. We had already examined the district’s scientific history. It appeared that it had a great history of scientific work–this was from the Kurchatovsky institute and aircraft industry institutions. However, the large scale poll that we had done in the district of Moscow showed that only 4% of pupils believe that it is possible to do science in Russia. The rest of them are ready to do ballet, management, and jurisprudence – anything rather than science. That was the basic situation. So one of the crucial tasks was to work on the ideology.

We`ve decided that we could start from the reestablishment of full scale change and create a program of a strategic types of occupation for the youths. The idea of Chief Designer’s School had not yet been created, so we just begun to work with school collectives. During that period we realized that we needed to develop a new form of work allowing the involvement of children in the problematic of scientific discovery and the development of scientific knowledge. We were also solving the sociocultural task – how can children interact with adults, demonstrate their interests, understand what adults are doing and how much will that activity be of interest to them.

Further, we started interacting with various institutions. It didn’t work out at the beginning – many of the institutes appeared to have been destroyed. The Kurchatovsky institute appeared to be a closed department. But, despite that, we managed to build a close connection with Institute of hydrogen energy and plasma technologies RSC «Kurchatovsky Institute».

One of the first fields was microelectronics. When we tried to build more serious contact with the director of the Institute of Microtechnologies, it appeared that everything was highly secretive and the authorities of the institution were not aiming to advance to the next technoindustrial mode in that field. The director said: “Guys, this is not your business. The Government tells us what to do, we would then tell the institutes, and they would tell you. Just sit and wait”.

We started to work on the different levels by ourselves – with teachers, scientists, representatives of innovative industries. We attracted some remaining chief designers and those who were acquainted with them. We launched energy, microelectronics, aviation, and waste treatment divisions in CDS.

From the point of view of teaching technology, we began to develop a more complex positioning matrix: it was not a teacher and pupil relationship anymore; it started to be the holder of the science or innovative-industrial knowledge, with his or her team, consisting of methodologists to ensure the understanding of that material, teacher and a pupil. The huge abyss between the science and education appeared to exist. The teachers were conservative with no abilities to update educational processes, and the science was monological. The need for new educational technologies in such situations was obvious. We developed educational programs and methodology handbooks of the appropriate type.

We chose the network structure type of work. It allowed for combining resources of different schools: personnel, financial and intellectual ones. Teachers and children from different schools studied at one workshop.


– Which purposes did you try to achieve with every specific child you work with?


On the one hand, we reestablished the value of theoretical thinking. Each pupil has an opportunity to obtain a high quality theoretical education. It is important to work both in the mass education system and in the elite one.

The second point – ideology contour. It is obvious – if children are not taught to overcome the existing institutional forms and create of their own new ones, the transformation in society will not happen. And now we are trying to model the educational techniques that will allow teaching them to do that.

The third point – communicative action. That is not the main purpose but still it is very important. The workshop sessions regularly takes place. They can be organized within one workshop or can be held for all the divisions simultaneously uniting the whole school. Now, when it is very difficult to work within the innovative education system of Moscow we take any chance to consolidate workshops. As we have the network type of work, children may have no idea about the processes used at the other workshops. And as the work is multilevel, they have to work on their fundamental principles and to know about the other workshops (divisions) moving in the same direction (as thoroughly as they do).


– Were there any difficulties when you started working?


We faced severe resistance first; we were examined all the time. Then the obtained results were impossible to ignore. Children started to show completely different levels of quality of education: to speak better than teachers can speak, to pose problems teachers can’t pose, to enter universities with ease. If they were managed to combine all that with meta-subject technologies – the set of competences sharply increased.

The thing is, when we started the implementation of our educational project it became clear that the educational programs had to be changed. And the new variants of educational programs were created by my colleagues. We realized that it has brought us to work with units of content “fundamental principle – technological decision”. And we are completely in line also with the legislation: so now it is obligatory that meta-subject results are implemented.

We had just started to work on the development of meta-subject technologies 15 years before. Although meta-subject results need to be shown within all education institutions, usually no one does understand how to achieve this goal, while actually, we really do.


– What is special about meta-subject technologies you implement?


Practice shows, that pupils at the 7th grade could understand the program of 11th grade after days of work. It means, that meta-subject technologies allow for speeding up the program as children got involved in the program with a specific “unit of content”. Unit of content is not a curriculum unit; the curriculum is remodeled to be mastered faster. All work is focused on the unit of content. On the one hand children start understanding the problem, and on the other hand – understanding intellectual situations gives them motivation. Moreover, we have formed a unique system of tasks. As the meta-subject technology is unique, the transition to the different educational disciplines appears. It leads to the doubling of the working efficiency and children are motivated further.

We need to create common education pedagogy under the new didactic principles with the focus on unit of content while organizing the educational environment around the school. Secondly – there is a strong need for changing school the curriculum as it is necessary to add “project hours” after ordinary classes where CDS forms of work can serve as a model. Lastly, there is a need to bring in platforms of knowledge implementation: child-adult science-educational industries with ties also to universities.


Igor Chausov, researcher at Scientific-Research Institute Innovative strategies for general education development


The basic scheme of work in CDS: teaching the connection between fundamental scientific principles (scientific discovery that was carried out by some scientific-research institution) and technological principles on that basis which usually takes the form of the brand new technology that is brought into practice. This connection integrated in a specific system of activity that we call branch of industry, cluster, infrastructure.

Thus, we teach pupils to bind three crucial moments: to understand which scientific discoveries are principally new, which are not; to define how to implement new scientific knowledge within the organizational framework, or technique of the new technological decision; analyze how the realization of the opportunities of that technological decision changes the branch itself.

Concerning the fundamental scientific principle and innovation, I have a simple example: you’ll never get a glow-lamp from a petroleum-lamp however you improve it. That is a question of a change of scientific principle. And it is completely useless to implement glow-lamps in the industry of petroleum lamps with no change of the acting schemes – with no electricity to homes, no discovery of new productions. In that case, implementation of the technology of the new type fails to appear with no change of the branch however clever the technology is.

Thus, the basic scheme of CDS helps to answer the question if the project is a breakthrough according to the following criteria: does it create a new technical opportunity, does it improve performance – at least ten times more? We teach pupils to understand how modernization differs from breakthrough project through innovation.

The integration of science, industry and education is a must subject for a talk to children and to work on breakthrough projects, not just talking about interesting things happening within branches of science. To achieve that, we interact with industry corporations, scientific institutions and schools. It is important to work with those who have had experience of project realization – general designers of the projects, project managers responsible for the various parts of the work.



To answer the question of which type of train is needed for Russia, it is impossible to go on without answering the question as to why Russia needs it? During the study of providence with railway transport in Russia, members of the CDS were interested in the problem of saving the unity of the country: Russia is seriously facing the threat of losing contact with the Far East. 
Firstly, children could only formulate the ideas about the importance of that territory in the form of statements as such: “This is ours”, “It is such a pity to give it away– there are so many minerals up there”. The perception is that without a modern transparent communication to the Far East, Russia has a tiny chance to retain its integrity as became apparent after few lessons. Pupils unwittingly wondered how to make the transport infrastructure not only to “pump out” resources from the region, but to develop the strategic types of working places, to create the new form of life based around highway transport.
Children face serious tasks: to create a map of strategic projects for Eastern Siberia and Pacific Russia to be connected with new transport infrastructure. It is necessary to study the climate, geological, geographical peculiarities of the region and to form the correspondent technical tasks needed for rolling-stock development. Then, research and development of the technical tasks would allow us to achieve the project of ultra-fast transport. 
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