Opportunities Abound as Russia Modernizes School Technology

Ever since Russian President Vladimir Putin gave the order to make the modernization of the country’s secondary school classrooms a priority, ed tech manufacturers have been looking for ways to get their products into the receptive, lucrative Russian market. Even digital tools that have become common in other countries around Europe and North America are still novelties in a country where only 16.4% of schools are equipped with something as common as an interactive whiteboard.

Those who are looking for openings to expand their business in Russia say that they expect the adoption of technology to be much slower than elsewhere. According to Eugene Viscovic, president of the international markets at Promethean — which has sold nearly 9,000 interactive systems to Moscow schools — while a high degree of penetration took about a decade in the United Kingdom, due to Russia’s large size and tendency to bureaucratic morass, he’s banking on even slower adoption.

At the moment, the race is on to become the chief supplier of tech to the 6,700 schools that were selected to be the first recipients of the funding spurred by Putin’s 2011 mandate to bring the country’s schools up to date.

“Now there is no going back,” said Svetlana Titova, vice dean at Moscow State University’s Department of Foreign Languages and Area Studies. “There are new standards, so whether the teachers want to or not, they have to study and move forward.”

Yelena Novikova is responsible for placing the first ever interactive white board into a Russian classroom in 1998, which she accomplished in her capacity as the general director of Polymedia.  After Putin’s announcement, her company forged a partnership with Promethean that she hopes will put Polymedia in a commanding position to become a major supplier of education equipment in the country. Like Titova, Novikova thinks that Russia represents a huge potential market that can be tapped much easier now that the government seems willing to invest in school upgrades.

There is a lot of room for growth, too. Even though the capital – Moscow – boasts the most cutting edge schools in the country, only about 50% of the city’s schools have interactive whiteboards. While still good compared to the less than one in five ratio found outside the city limits, it is not an impressive showing when stacked up against cities elsewhere in Europe.

Other companies are also rushing to sell new technologies to Russian schools.

Panasonic has equipped 11,000 classrooms in Russia with interactive boards since it started addressing this market segment four years ago, said Irina Smirnova, coordinator of education programs at Panasonic. The company also recently started selling sound systems that facilitate the use of more audio materials during lessons.