Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The School Dilemma

Private schools have existed in Russia for several years; currently, there are 165 officially licensed schools in Moscow alone. I have had the chance to visit a number of them and to speak to their directors, teachers and pupils. To this day, though, one exchange stands out in my memory: I heard it back in the days when private schools were just starting.


"Igor, please! Stop turning around and stop talking. You are disturbing the whole class!"


Talkative little Igor stood up and said: "My Daddy pays you so much to take care of me that you shouldn't speak to me like that. Try to be more patient."


After hearing such a comment, one is convinced that private schools really are fated to create fundamentally new relationships between teachers and pupils. Much has happened in the ensuing years. The cost of several private schools has now reached $12,000 per year and more. Parents, though, do have the more affordable choice of sending their children to a school run by the Orthodox Church.


The widespread belief that the more one pays, the more a child will learn has turned out, however, to be false. Just as in the pre-perestroika period, intelligence and knowledge are not for sale. High tuition fees are based more on matters such as the amount of time the student spends in school, how many meals per day the school provides and of what standard, and whether the school has a swimming pool. Security is also a consideration since children of rich parents are at risk of being kidnapped.


Many unexperienced parents have made mistakes in choosing schools for their children. Some schools have later been found to have no license, which means that they do not have the right to issue documents saying that their students have been studying there. Some schools have tried to increase substantially their prices in mid-term, forcing parents to send their children back to state schools. From such bitter experience, Russians have learned to pay more attention to the contract that could one day end up serving as the basis for legal action.


However, many parents continue to follow blindly the fashion of sending their kids to private schools, not even suspecting that of the 165 licensed private schools in Moscow, only 18 are accredited, meaning that they have the right to issue state graduation papers. The others, in reality, have no business educating our children, although new ones continue to appear all the time. Even the Department of Education cannot keep track of them and does not know their exact number.


But what role have private schools come to play in Russia's educational system?


They generally have a bent toward the humanities that has been too long absent from state schools. As a rule, they teach foreign languages, economics and law from the earliest years. In addition, there is a number of schools employing some of the non-traditional educational methods that have been developed in the West. These programs, though, have very strict plans of study and the schools have experienced difficulty adapting to conditions in Russia.


There are occasionally problems when a child, usually because of a change in the family financial situation, must leave a private school and return to the state system. Sometimes these children have difficulty because, although they can quote Homer's "Iliad" from memory, they do not know six times eight.


The Department of Education does, however, make efforts to ensure that private schools cover the same basic material that public schools teach. This is particularly important because many private schools are using textbooks and other materials that are simply unscientific, especially for subjects that did not exist previously in our schools. The commission that is to give expert evaluations of materials used in private schools is only now in the process of being formed.


A number of schools that charge lower fees have great difficulty finding space for their classes, and they must often rent extra space in state schools during the late afternoon. As a result, the teachers and students from these two completely different educational worlds meet in the corridors:


"Your kids are undisciplined, messy and rude. During recess they just run around and play soccer. Look at that soda can they just left lying on the ground!" complain the state school teachers.


"Just look at your kids! They have no energy. They can't even look at their teachers. They are bored to death in school," respond the private school teachers.


It is hard to deny this. The director of one private school told me that she often gets very bright, talented students who have just been worn down by the "collectivism" of the Soviet-style education system that our state schools are having such difficulty getting rid of.


Most state schools subscribe to the notion that the most important ingredient in education is an individual approach to each student. That is why most of these schools have staff counselors who advise teachers and parents how to deal with the children.


There is much to say both for and against these schools, and it is a very serious question. Our schools are still looking for a direction in which to turn. Should they revive pre-revolutionary traditions? Should they adopt Western methods? Should they continue the traditions of Soviet schools? God forbid.


To a large extent, though, the future depends on those who work in these schools, on whether they are interested just in making money or creating a new foundation for education in Russia. If the latter case, they can play a crucial role in dragging state schools into the future as well.





Natalya Gamayunova is a reporter for Vek. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.By Natalya Gamayunova


Private schools have existed in Russia for several years; currently, there are 165 officially licensed schools in Moscow alone. I have had the chance to visit a number of them and to speak to their directors, teachers and pupils. To this day, though, one exchange stands out in my memory: I heard it back in the days when private schools were just starting.


"Igor, please! Stop turning around and stop talking. You are disturbing the whole class!"


Talkative little Igor stood up and said: "My Daddy pays you so much to take care of me that you shouldn't speak to me like that. Try to be more patient."


After hearing such a comment, one is convinced that private schools really are fated to create fundamentally new relationships between teachers and pupils. Much has happened in the ensuing years. The cost of several private schools has now reached $12,000 per year and more. Parents, though, do have the more affordable choice of sending their children to a school run by the Orthodox Church.


The widespread belief that the more one pays, the more a child will learn has turned out, however, to be false. Just as in the pre-perestroika period, intelligence and knowledge are not for sale. High tuition fees are based more on matters such as the amount of time the student spends in school, how many meals per day the school provides and of what standard, and whether the school has a swimming pool. Security is also a consideration since children of rich parents are at risk of being kidnapped.


Many unexperienced parents have made mistakes in choosing schools for their children. Some schools have later been found to have no license, which means that they do not have the right to issue documents saying that their students have been studying there. Some schools have tried to increase substantially their prices in mid-term, forcing parents to send their children back to state schools. From such bitter experience, Russians have learned to pay more attention to the contract that could one day end up serving as the basis for legal action.


However, many parents continue to follow blindly the fashion of sending their kids to private schools, not even suspecting that of the 165 licensed private schools in Moscow, only 18 are accredited, meaning that they have the right to issue state graduation papers. The others, in reality, have no business educating our children, although new ones continue to appear all the time. Even the Department of Education cannot keep track of them and does not know their exact number.


But what role have private schools come to play in Russia's educational system?


They generally have a bent toward the humanities that has been too long absent from state schools. As a rule, they teach foreign languages, economics and law from the earliest years. In addition, there is a number of schools employing some of the non-traditional educational methods that have been developed in the West. These programs, though, have very strict plans of study and the schools have experienced difficulty adapting to conditions in Russia.


There are occasionally problems when a child, usually because of a change in the family financial situation, must leave a private school and return to the state system. Sometimes these children have difficulty because, although they can quote Homer's "Iliad" from memory, they do not know six times eight.


The Department of Education does, however, make efforts to ensure that private schools cover the same basic material that public schools teach. This is particularly important because many private schools are using textbooks and other materials that are simply unscientific, especially for subjects that did not exist previously in our schools. The commission that is to give expert evaluations of materials used in private schools is only now in the process of being formed.


A number of schools that charge lower fees have great difficulty finding space for their classes, and they must often rent extra space in state schools during the late afternoon. As a result, the teachers and students from these two completely different educational worlds meet in the corridors:


"Your kids are undisciplined, messy and rude. During recess they just run around and play soccer. Look at that soda can they just left lying on the ground!" complain the state school teachers.


"Just look at your kids! They have no energy. They can't even look at their teachers. They are bored to death in school," respond the private school teachers.


It is hard to deny this. The director of one private school told me that she often gets very bright, talented students who have just been worn down by the "collectivism" of the Soviet-style education system that our state schools are having such difficulty getting rid of.


Most state schools subscribe to the notion that the most important ingredient in education is an individual approach to each student. That is why most of these schools have staff counselors who advise teachers and parents how to deal with the children.


There is much to say both for and against these schools, and it is a very serious question. Our schools are still looking for a direction in which to turn. Should they revive pre-revolutionary traditions? Should they adopt Western methods? Should they continue the traditions of Soviet schools? God forbid.


To a large extent, though, the future depends on those who work in these schools, on whether they are interested just in making money or creating a new foundation for education in Russia. If the latter case, they can play a crucial role in dragging state schools into the future as well.





Natalya Gamayunova is a reporter for Vek. She contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.