Russia has an enviably high literacy rate of nearly 100%. The influences of the Soviet era are still very much present although, to keep up with the modern world, these are now changing. But what about the overall quality of education? What do Russians themselves think of their education system?
The New Humanitarian School in Moscow was one of the first private schools to open in Russia after the end of the Soviet era, and its teaching is radically different.
Vasily Bogin, the head teacher and founder of the New Humanitarian School, said: “We educate children in a broad sense. The education we give them includes developing their personal potential. A smart villain is worse than a stupid one. So it is primordial to make a good person first, and then a clever one.”
Lessons include “anti-manipulation classes” – interpreting hidden messages in the media. The aim is to make each child capable of independent thought.
One American family, who moved to Moscow 18 months ago, decided to try this school rather than an international school where all classes are taught in English.
Cassandra Cavernaugh said: “In coming here we wanted to find an school that would keep the best traditions of Soviet education, the rigor of the curriculum, the seriousness of the curriculum, and combine that with methods and approaches which would be more child-centred.”
The lessons are videotaped so that teachers can analyse the results. All the pupils are closely monitored, and they all have a non-teaching mentor who helps with their progress. The school is not typical of Russian schools, however, where learning by rote is often still the norm.
Fees for the New Humanitarian School are around 10,000 dollars a year.
Teachers as partners
Some three quarters of Russians between 25 and 35 years old have had a higher education, but not a single Russian institution is included in the world’s top 200.
Alexei Sevenov, the Dean of the Moscow Institute of Open Education, puts this down to economic politics:
“The economy does not work as a whole. The high-tech economy reflects the intellectual potential of the nation, but that’s an economy which is based on oil. This is a problem in the country. We still hope that Russia will once again excel at technology. And to do that we need higher education. But the state has not created a proper system of long-term investments in top- level technology, investments which could define a higher education strategy.”
*Bolshoi: prestige and tradition *
These days the Bolshoi Ballet School is called the Moscow State Academy of Choreography. It is almost sacred to ballet dancers and is known to maintain strict teaching traditions. The graduates who survive the seven years of gruelling training are often considered the best classical dancers in the world.
Daniel Dolan is British, and is only the third British boy to be accepted at the school. His fees, of around 15,000 euros, are paid by an anonymous benefactor. Without this generosity, he would not have been able to take up his place at the school.
Dolan said: “It was a very big culture shock. It was very different from my life in England. The technique they study here is exactly what I needed. It was the way I wanted it to be, it was the way I wanted to grow as a dancer.”