Interview with RELOD President, Svetlana Ulasevich

October 2018 will see 25 years of partnership between RELOD and the ELT (English Language Teaching) division of Oxford University’s publishing house, the Oxford University Press. RELOD (Russian and English Languages Open Doors), an RBCC member since 2010, are the exclusive distributor of the Oxford University Press’ ELT products. They are also sole distributor for French publishing house CLE International in Russia and Belarus. RELOD President, Svetlana Ulasevich, speaks to us about how the company operates, what it has achieved and how they market authentic British textbooks to the Russian and Belarusian education sectors.

Today the world is so connected that knowledge of English language is crucial to success, both professionally and in private life. Russia’s Education Minister has repeatedly mentioned its importance. How would you describe RELOD’s contribution to learning in your country? What are you especially proud of?

I completely agree with Olga Yurevna Vasilyeva. Moreover, from a personal perspective, I can certainly say that the English language is an instrument capable of opening many doors. There’s a reason the name of our company encapsulates this idea. But this, of course, is self-explanatory. As for RELOD’s contribution to language education in Russia, I can also with confidence claim that this is self-evident. For over 25 years we have worked in the education sector. We were one of the first to bring authentic British textbooks to Russia, and over the years the phrase “learning English from Oxford textbooks” has become our brand. That is what I’m proud of first and foremost.

25 years working with Oxford University Press – that’s a quarter of a century. The company itself has been around a little longer. What has changed in this time? How is this period characterized for you personally?

For me personally, this period has been and continues to be one of intense and varied work, which I have enjoyed greatly. Seeing the results of my, that is, our, efforts come to fruition has been a key factor. Firstly, practical, scientific work has become an important and perhaps even fundamental milestone. Notably, we have seen innovative, experimental work carried out with the support of the Moscow Government and the former deputy of the Moscow City Duma, Tatiana Potyaeva, who is now the city’s Human Rights Commissioner. Our goal was to develop a novel approach to English language education in Russia. This concept was successfully introduced to schools in Moscow as the ‘Oxford Standard’, and was later adopted by the whole of Russia under the new name OxBridge®. It combines a competency-based approach to foreign language learning along with the requirements that are central to the education process today. Such requirements are what might be deemed ‘21st Century Learning Skills’, or the ‘4 Cs’: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity. In addition, the introduction of RELOD’s own products has played an important role. Under the OxBridge® brand, we are able to offer learning materials from the RELOD publishing house, Standardized English Language Tests (SELT®) to prepare for exams or for self-testing, as well as training at the School of Pedagogical Excellence to enable teachers to develop their skills and gain new qualifications. We are also developing a project called ‘United in Difference’, a foreign language essay competition. All of these elements are constantly being developed and improved.

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In Russia the educational services market has grown in recent years, extracurricular learning has increased in popularity and the decision was made to introduce compulsory USE (Unified State Exam in Russia to enter University or College) in foreign languages. How are these developments reflected in Relod’s activities?

We strive to meet all the challenges that modern reality presents us with. Our project with Oxbridge is one of the answers to these challenges. It is a complex solution for teaching and learning foreign language, which offers everything our customers need on a turn-key basis. This work goes in accordance with our goals, which have been set in the national education project. We can recall our time studying languages and so we understand really well that today there is a distinct lack of workers who are qualified in foreign languages. Minister Vasil’eva actually recently noted this as one of the most acute problems. Our task is not simply to supply educational institutions with books, which are the best of their kind, but to also teach how best to work with our resources and to provide the necessary tools. Therefore ensuring that teachers are able to get the most out of this academic and methodological literature.

What you have been saying is really important. Teaching is a tough profession, namely in the fact that teachers are moulding the future generation. Does RELOD work directly with Children and Students?

Directly, no and we do not offer tuition in English. Our market is educational institutions and libraries. Yet, I will remark that RELOD supplies books and textbooks to educational institutions, owing to the upward trend in learning foreign languages. We provide resources and offer support to those who learn and teach languages. But anyway to answer the question, I must not exclude to mention the creative work, in which school children and students take part in through RELOD, namely our project - ‘Unity in Diversity’ a foreign language essay competition. The essays are dedicated to Russian and British history, culture and traditions. This year we opened the 11th season of the project. Throughout the years HRH Prince Michael of Kent has spoken at the events as the project’s patron from the British side along with the Russian Human Right’s Commissioner, Tat’iana Potiaeva. The competition is held with the blessing of the Chairman of the Department of Foreign church connections of the Patriach Hilarion of Moscow cosmopolitan. Our partners on these projects are companies, which outline to participants the theme for research and they supervise the process. As you probably know, one of our partners is the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce. The standard we expect is quite high, which gives school children and students a great opportunity, mainly to prove their talents, the chance to embrace the interconnection of cultures and to nurture tolerance and patriotism.

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So how do you line up work with educational establishments? It is known that schools and universities are permanent partners of RELOD and participate in joint science events, conferences and seminars.


Yes, we work closely with schools and universities. This includes Moscow State University, Russian University Friendship of Nations, Moscow City Pedagogical University and many others, including those in the regions. Joint science conferences and projects allow us not only to see the tendencies of development of modern education, but also to guess the direction of these trends. As far as schools are concerned, they are an example of where I am able to lead projects, one of which RELOD are realising together with Federal Institute of Educational Development. It involves the development and approval of an appropriate model for learning foreign languages as additional and informal learning. The essence of it lies in the establishment of systems of language learning for those studying from age 3 to 18 years. The uniqueness of the project is in that it gives the opportunity to go beyond the educational standards and to work with the consideration of contemporary demands and the Council of Europe’s recommendations on education, teaching and The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

You mentioned work with regional institutions. It is know that RELOD has representation in 40 Russian cities and in Minsk. Please tell me, how you developed this network and how this work was established?

Yes, this is correct. There is a high demand for quality teaching in english everywhere. Sometimes we look for partners, sometimes partners look for us - it is a mutual process. Our representatives in the regions work actively to disperse quality language learning: alongside selling books, they will, if they want to, do promotional work- put on events, competitions, work on different educational projects. An important part of this work is inviting lecturers from the OUP to Russian cities, who present at to master classes. This is a regular activity and a big investment in the development of Russia’s foreign language learning.

For 25 years you have worked closely with Oxford University Press. What is particularly good about this collaboration? This is no doubt a warm and friendly partnership?

Yes, of course. But primarily it is a business relationship - honest, mutually beneficial, efficient and clear. In general, we work with many British publishers, but because we started first, we were able to choose our partners. The production process at Oxford University Press for me as for a specialist was always the most interesting. And even in terms of volume: OUP - the largest University publishers in the world, which surpasses leading American university publishers and Cambridge University Press in annual financial turnover. But I was speaking about quality and Oxford University Press’s contribution towards education in languages is colossal. We learn from them and, by adapting their experience to Russian realities and needs, we introduce the best in the practice of educational institutions.

As many are saying, ‘Keep calm and do business in Russia’ but do you feel there are challenges at present?

You understand that the main problem is related to the larger political context. But, I often speak with my foreign colleagues and ask them: ‘Will you continue to do business with Russia?’ and I always receive the answer: ‘Of course! You - you are a reliable and longstanding partner, we will overcome anything!’. Furthermore, no need to forget that our country and our educational system treats Oxford University with deep respect. We have had alternating experiences, including difficult periods to do with the rise and fall of the Russian economy, but during all of this time we guaranteed the availability of good quality learning material and literature in English in the territories of our country. All in all, it is maybe cooperation through education, through ‘reason, kindness and eternal’, will just become that soft power, which will help overcome all crises.


Bulletin Online
Bulletin Online

Date Published:

29 April 2019

Author:

Svetlana Ulasevich interviewed by the RBCC

Category:

Interview