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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Private Schools Provide a Pricey Alternative

MTStudents gathering outside the Lomonosov School, one of 450 private schools in Moscow, at the start of this academic year.
It's no secret that Russia's once-vaunted education system is in decline. Many schools lack the proper equipment. Decades-old textbooks are falling to pieces. It's not uncommon for school buildings to go unheated in the winter.

This is a troubling situation for parents who are concerned about their children's education. But fortunately, at least for those families who can afford them, private schools have been making great strides in Moscow in the last few years.

Private schools began to spring up in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union as an alternative approach to the state educational establishment, which fell into disrepair and neglect.

These schools quickly became centers of innovation, with programs that rediscovered pre-revolutionary teaching methods and borrowed technology and curricula from the West. They are marked by their attentiveness to the development of each pupil as well as the rigorous demands they put on students' time and energy.

The Education Ministry does not maintain figures on private education. But according to estimates given by Lyudmila Ivanova, the Lomonosov School's deputy director in charge of public relations, there are currently about 450 private schools in Moscow, and the numbers are growing rapidly. The figure tripled in the last two years.

The Lomonosov School, named after the founder of Moscow State University, was recently ranked by Career Formula magazine as the second-best private school in Russia. Located near Kuntsevo metro station, Lomonosov has modern classrooms and sprawling sports fields. Students are required to study at least two foreign languages, choosing from English, French or German.

Lomonosov doesn't come cheap, at $8,550 per year, but the benefit comes in a specialized approach. The school incorporates three educational tracks, which allow students to develop at their own pace. The first level is equivalent to the requirements of a standard Moscow state school. The upper two levels practically guarantee entrance to a higher educational establishment, preparing students for the rigors of advanced study.

Lomonosov's taxing programs pay off. According to Ivanova, 43 percent of graduates from Lomonosov matriculate at Moscow State University. Graduates have also gone on to study at the London School of Design and New York University. This is just the type of news that many parents are eager to hear.

One of the main advantages of a private education is the individualized approach to each child. There are generally 10 to 12 pupils to a class, compared with up to 45 per class in state schools.

Most private schools have a similar routine, with a schedule that keeps children constantly occupied, sometimes until as late as 8 p.m. Beside regular classes, many schools offer extracurricular programs such as dancing, swimming or horseback riding, striking a balance between intellectual and physical exercise.

Following the globalization trend, the Russian International School bases its educational programs on international standards. British National Curriculum (taught in English), the International Baccalaureate Program (taught in English and Russian) and the Russian National Curriculum (taught in Russian) are all available.

The Russian International School is a boarding school, so the annual tuition fee of $14,500 includes rooming costs. Located in the Domodedovsky district, it is the first international school in Moscow to offer a program for students who want to augment their education with professional training in a sport. A child can choose sports such as golf, rugby, dance and gymnastics.

These days, as more schools are opening their doors, private education in Russia is not as exotic as it was a decade ago, though it appears to offer a chance to prepare students for competition on the international labor market.

The European Gymnasium, located near Sokolniki metro station, was one of Russia's first private schools, having opened in 1992. Native English speakers teach at the school, while university professors teach college-level courses.

Zarina Savvoyeva, the Gymnasium's parental liaison, said such intense schooling spares parents extra hassle when it comes time for their children to take tough university entrance exams.

"Our parents do not need to hire tutors," she said. "The level of education presented in our school is enough."

Most state schools are just not equipped to offer such a range of instruction and activity. Many state schools often wait years to receive just a portion of the visual aids, lab equipment and computers that many private schools possess as a matter of course.

Private schools certainly do not come cheap. Tuition can cost more than $1,500 per month. But there are private schools that offer a high standard of education at an affordable price -- as little as 5,500 rubles ($180) a month -- such as the Una School in Moscow's northeast.

Pupils study two foreign languages, and senior students are taught by university professors. Children have three hours of physical training each week, and can participate in karate, volleyball and gymnastics. Ninety percent of graduates go on to higher education.

While there does not seem to be any quick solution to the woes of Russia's state educational system, there are now at least other options. "Private schools," said Ivanova of the Lomonosov School, "are the face of Russian education."