Our first school visit!
What a delight to meet and speak with Russian students--got to visit an English Literature class, English Grammar, 7th grade biology, and mingled over lunchtime. Yes, Russian students are found cramming in homework problems over meals!
A few fast facts:
The students all immediately stood when we entered their classroom. They were all smiles and willing to share their experiences. A few had just returned from the USA recently, having entered a Science Fair competition in San Jose, CA and performing in a Shakespearian festival in San Diego. They were enthralled with California (who isn't?) and were so eager to tell us about it. The following is a link to a San Diego TV station interview of one of the students we heard from, as well as one of the English teachers whose class we were privileged to visit.
Simply open the link, and don't be freaked out by the Cyrillic. The video is in a comprehensible San Diego dialect of American English. Scroll down a smidge and view the first video. You won't be disappointed.
The Marina school has competitive admission, with 350 students in grades 1-11. Yes, schools go to grade 11. Why not to grade 12? Russian males have compulsory military service at age 18 UNLESS they are enrolled in university. Thus, secondary school ends at age 17 so students may enroll in university before their 18th birthday Then, after graduation under this waiver, males can choose whether or not to go into the military. At that point, it is no longer compulsory.
Russian students at this school graduate speaking an impressive 4 languages. Russian, English (compulsory), and 2 other foreign languages of choice. Many also speak another language of the home, such as Ukrainian or Armenian. The principal at the school, who studied at UNC Chapel Hill, is mystified why the US doesn't start language instruction until middle and high school. "Why waste the early years when it is so easily assimilated?" she asked, speaking from personal and instructional experience. The Marina school at times admits students speaking no Russian. "In two months", she points out, "they are not only speaking and understanding Russian, but reading and writing and taking content instruction." Instruction at school is in Russian, except for Literature and English classes.
Two months. If American students started compulsory Spanish instruction in 1st grade, as the Russians do English, they would be fluent and able to better affirm and assist English language learner peers, bringing greater success to ELL programs. Their English vocabulary would be greatly enhanced with Spanish's inclusion of Latin root stems also used in English. The brain science advocating the benefits of being bilingual is indisputable. Knowing Spanish increases social and employment opportunities, as the US is currently the 4th largest 'Spanish speaking' country in the world according to sheer numbers. The reasons for doing this go on and on and on...I, like her, am mystified.
Re: my ESSENTIAL QUESTION for this program; namely, 'How is success defined in Russian education?' A 10th grade girl in English class responded to my question, "Why are you studying English?" Her reply, "I want to be a journalist. English will take me anywhere in the world I want to go." I couldn't agree more.
Also today, a detailed briefing from Victor Kruglayakov, a member of the Moscow duma, or city council. He was one of the deputies in charge of education, overseeing 280,000 teachers serving 2,000,000 children in 4,500 educational establishments. Of the 4,500, 1,500 are schools serving grades 1-11 and 3,000 are early childhood centers and kindergartens serving children up to age 6. He detailed out Moscow's system of education. We were surprised that all funding for schooling in Moscow is from the city itself. No federal funding. Parents can research schools online and choose from among schools in the 124 districts. PTA groups serve as governing councils for the schools, participating in selecting the superintendent. I found that refreshing! We also learned that all school administrators must teach weekly, though they are limited to 12 hours of instruction per week. What a difference that could potentially make in US classrooms!
After 9th grade, students choose whether to continue their secondary education as college or vocational-bound. We were told approximately 70% of students in Moscow, (50% nationwide) choose the university route. Both groups take the courses needed to graduate after 11th grade, but vocational students also learn a trade and are eligible for employment in construction, auto repair, etc. at age 18. If they change their mind, they can still attend university if they can pass the compulsory written exam, (similar to the SAT or ACT). Scoring on this ending/beginning exam determines whether or not the student's education will cost. High scores will earn a free university education. Low scores can gain admittance, but parents must pay on a graduated scale.
I can't help but think this tracked system has motivational benefits. Students not ready for, or not desiring college in their future can have a vision for themselves with the vocational track. Then perhaps after working and/or serving in the military, they can decide that college would be a better choice for them. Or not.
The evening ended with a lovely dinner with Russian teachers who had spent time in the US also in IREX's program. It was very meaningful for us to visit with each other as educators who have similar concerns and challenges, and just to converse with and enjoy their company, showing pix of children, pets, and hobbies. Both sides lamented that our respective leaders cannot seem to do likewise.