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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tour Touts Western Academics

Thirteen Western social scientists left Moscow for six cities across Russia on Tuesday on a project to introduce new academic concepts and methods to Russian higher education.

Jonathan Becker, European director for the Civic Education Project, said the 13, mostly young Americans and Western Europeans who recently got their doctorates, would be teaching university courses in political science, history, economics, law and sociology.

They hope to convince professors and students to move away from lectures and exams toward discussion and research projects, from fact-oriented learning to analysis and comparison, Becker said.

"We are not imposing anything, we are exposing them to different perspectives," said Becker. "The critical thinking element is what's so important, and people here aren't trained that way."

In addition to teaching, the 13 lecturers are expected to help faculties develop course loads, create new disciplines and obtain Western readings.

Becker, who taught at Yale and Wesleyan universities in the United States, admits that the ideal teaching methods he is urging Russian professors to adopt are rarely applied fully in the West.

"Especially in the United States, the focus on grades over learning makes it depressing to teach there," he said. By contrast, he added, the Ukrainian students he taught last year were much more motivated.

"They are not afraid to ask anything. It's intellectually very stimulating," Becker said.

The four-year-old Civic Education Project, using close to $3 million in U.S. government funding and a grant from a Czech branch of the Soros Foundation, is sending 130 lecturers to 12 countries in Central and Eastern Europe this year, Becker said.