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Russia

A look at schooling in Siberia

A look at schooling in Siberia

November 12, 2007|By ALAN WHITE

(Editor's Note: In our last issue, Elegant Living contributor Alan White told how he and fellow United Kingdom educators were chosen for a study trip to an unexpected destination - Siberia. He further detailed how delayed flights and quirky Russian officialdom resulted in an unplanned stopover in Moscow. In this issue, Alan offers some observations on his Siberian experiences.)




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Following a particularly eventful journey to Siberia, and chance meetings with stereotypical, officious Russian personnel it was with some relief that we finally arrived at our hotel in Krasnoyarsk. At 6 a.m. on a freezing cold Siberian morning any hotel would have been a welcome sight, but the International was the first in a series of unexpectedly warm welcomes.

The hotel was magnificent; a thoughtful blend of glass, stainless steel and space that was as pleasing to the eye as it was welcome to the weary torso. A solitary old man was clearing a path through the recently fallen snow to the large revolving doors as we arrived. His homemade wooden plow was surprisingly effective, and a single sweep left the way clear to our sanctuary.

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As we were so far behind in our schedule there was only time for a quick shower before donning professional attire and returning, crestfallen, to the hotel entrance for our first appointment, an official welcome by the regional director of education.

We had come to look at the Russian approach to personalized learning, and a punishing schedule had been arranged by the British Council, which would afford us the opportunity to see firsthand the practices and effectiveness of a variety of schools. It was a disappointing start. We valiantly fought the effects of the journey, but as speaker after speaker from the host schools tried hard to inspire us to choose their establishment for the commencement of our studies, we found it harder and harder to stay awake. Our interpreters saved the day and our embarrassment by recounting the story of our problematic arrival, and common sense prevailed as we were sent back to our hotel for some much-needed R and R.

We awoke the next morning refreshed, and with renewed vigor for our chosen purpose we divided into groups and went to our chosen schools. Ours was imaginatively called Lyceum No. 2. Schools in Russia are divided into 3 groups, separated, I believe, by prestige. The first group are known simply as schools and are similarly numbered. One of our groups had an especially excellent time in School No. 147, where the headteacher had been fined a third of her salary for adopting a philosophy she had witnessed following visits to schools in London. There was artwork on the walls, there were children accessing work through child-centered approaches to learning and through drama. This was definitely not toeing the "party line," but was allowed (and closely monitored) by the local board. The second group of schools are Gymnasiums and the third, Lyceums. Schools gain status (and funding) from entering and winning local, regional and national competitions. Our school was preparing children to take part in the mathematics competitions in Krasnoyarsk Krai (the Krai part being most akin to an English county or a U.S. state). Competitions are also held in English, Russian and, of course, sports and the arts.

All establishments take children from the age of 7, who achieve the age of 17 before they are able to leave. Children come to school literate and numerate, and although some will have been to kindergarten before school, much pre-school work is done by parents. At the age of 17 they are offered further study at school before either entering university for academic study or taking on more practical training in further education establishments.

Lyceum No. 2 was uninspiring from the outside. A triple-entry door system made from steel at the front elevation of an austere and unwelcoming gray-and-pink building did not announce a stimulating environment. It was in a neighborhood of apartment blocks with grassed areas in front (under the snow, which was two feet deep even in March), which housed curious small chimney-like features, more of which later.

On entering the building we were hit immediately by the warmth. Cheery faces and plenty of English "Hellos" made us feel very much at home, and we took off our winter coats and were whisked away to the Director's office for tea and cakes. Things had suddenly taken a turn for the better.

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