Still learning, but not at school

Artyom Zhitenev / RIA Novosti

Taking a page from parents abroad, Russian families are beginning to homeschool their children. Although the reputation of the country’s schools in the Soviet era was very strong, changes in recent years have given some parents doubts about the state system and led them to keep their kids at home

Natalya Geda is not an ordinary Russian mother — besides the normal duties involved in raising her family, she has also chosen to take on the responsibility of educating her two children at home. Hers is an unusual choice in Russia, but one that is becoming more widespread. “For me, this was a forced choice,” says Geda, a resident of St. Petersburg, whose son and daughter take frequent assessments at private schools to make sure their education is on track.

When he was in the oldest group in the preschool, my son was diagnosed with asthma. Doctors found that it was psychosomatic and advised me not to send him to school, to choose homeschooling. The understanding of the matter came later, and immersion and the development of my own method came even later than that. I am now a staunch supporter of homeschooling, even if I am convinced that this form of training does not suit all families and all children

According to Geda, the main disadvantage of a conventional school is the large number of random social ties, which in her opinion are unnecessary for a child. “The child is taken out of the natural ecosystem of the family, and, for 11 years, has to spend long hours, in fact, among strange people,” says Geda.

No single methodology

There is no single program of homeschooling. There are as many versions of it as there are families. There are large-scale communities of parents who teach children in organized groups, which are actually more like very small private schools. But many parents prefer to teach their children right at home without any association with others.

Children in Russia who are homeschooled are usually assigned to a local school where they can be assessed for admission into universities, and the methods of assessment differ from school to school. Natalya Geda’s daughter went twice a month to a private school called Express, where she took oral and written tests to assess her progress in various subjects. “It was more like a conversation with a teacher than a normal school test,” Geda says.

Homeschooling allows children to study one subject in depth if they become especially interested in it. They also have a more relaxed schedule with more free time. “Every day we start with a Bible reading and prayer, then we do subjects (for two to three hours) and then groups and free time begin — we do sports and music,” says Daniil Chersunov, describing the daily homeschooling routine of his four children.

‘We want to educate children in the faith’

The Chersunovs have rejected standard schooling in part for religious reasons. “We are religious and we want to educate children in the faith, but also we want to invest in them ourselves, not just to do school homework with them,” says Chersunov.

Mom has the opportunity to work at home and teach the children on her own

In addition, the Chersunovs want to teach their children handicrafts, so that they could earn some money before continuing their education, not just to “distribute flyers at subway entrances,” as the parents put it.

Natalya Geda says that her children have also had the chance to learn marketable skills. By the end of 11th grade, which is the last year of school in Russia, her son was able to program in multiple computer languages and is engaged in web development.

School teaches ‘opportunism’

Many devoted supporters of homeschooling talk about the importance of building character, which according to the parents, is completely ignored in today’s Russian schools. Homeschooling, on the other hand, is inextricably linked with character-building, Natalya Gerda says. “The Soviet school system in the 1950s and 1960s was the world’s best exactly because of the system of upbringing. As long as our school was concerned with the upbringing of a ‘new type of man,’ the Soviet education was the best.” Now, in her opinion, schools care only about exam scores. The Chersunov family takes this one step further. They believe that “school teaches concealment, opportunism and destructive qualities of character.” Families who make the choice to homeschool still value education, however, and even homeschooled students are expected to work hard in their studies. While there is a percentage of underachievers among homeschoolers, it is generally not greater than in the average school.

Pros y cons of homeschooling

According to Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), 8 percent of respondents (15 percent among Moscow residents) like the idea of educating their children at home, citing an individual approach and psychological comfort among the advantages. The results of the Foundation’s surveys show that the greatest willingness to educate their children at home is demonstrated by older-generation parents, those aged between 50 and 60. But not all parents are willing to take this step, as this may deprive the child of communication, they say.

The money issue

Over the past two years, the cost of sending a child to school has doubled, according to parents. The expenses are particularly acute for parents of elementary school children, who are constantly outgrowing their clothes. Ironically, it costs the most to send a child to first grade. Evgenia Dashevskaya from St. Petersburg spent 35,000 rubles ($540) to prepare her daughter for first grade.

“I spent almost my entire salary – 35,000 rubles,” said Dashevskaya. “All this, even though the textbooks are free.” She said that most of the money went towards winter clothes, clothes for physical education and stationery items. The school Dashevskaya’s daughter will attend has a strict uniform code and the school administration tells parents not only what type of clothes to buy, but also where to buy them. “I spent 7,200 rubles ($111) on the clothes – on a couple of blouses, a pinafore, trousers and a jacket. But besides the pinafore, the girls need ribbons and tights,” Dashevskaya said.

Special stationary items are also required: a good backpack costs 3,000 rubles ($46) and the required notebooks altogether on average cost 2,500 rubles ($35).

Anastasia Semenovich
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