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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Neo-Soviet Reading, Writing and Regimentation

The Moscow Times reports that, of course, "President" Putin was lying brazenly when he spoke about increasing the salaries of teachers; now paid horrifying slave wages of less than $200 per month, 1/3 below the national average, Putin claimed that teachers would recieve a 25% increase of about $40, but the MT reports that it has not materialized. Even if it had, Russian teachers would still be earning well less than the national average, and even that average constitutes appalling slave wages, not sufficient for a teacher to rent her own apartment and live an independent life, much less to own a car or to travel.

"President" Putin would not raise teacher salaries significantly even if he could. To do so would risk creating a class of independent, free-thinking educators who could seriously undermine his dictatorship. Far better to keep them servile and dependent.

What qualified young people would dream of entering the profession? None, of course. But that doesn't matter, because Russia's population is falling so rapidly (including especially its population of school-age students, as previously reported on La Russophobe) that the need for new teachers is minimal.

It bears remembering that Russian young people are being tought in the main by a staff of creaking old men and women who are relics of the Soviet past, many of whom regret its passing. How can such teachers teach Russians how to become civilized, democratic people? They can't. And that's just the way Putin wants it.

When President Vladimir Putin vowed to inject billions of rubles into education this school year, teachers across the country held their breath. The education system has languished in the post-Soviet era. Seeking to address declining standards, the government last year identified education, along with public health, housing and agriculture, as one of its top-priority national projects.

Under the plan, teachers are entitled to a 26 percent raise. Those who take on homeroom duties -- assuming primary responsibility for a group of students and acting as a liaison between parents and the school administration -- receive an extra 1,000 rubles ($37) per month. As the new school year got under way Friday, however, many teachers and school administrators -- especially outside of Moscow -- said Putin had yet to make good on his promise.

"The project looks great on paper, but in reality we haven't seen much benefit," said Yelena Vyazovskaya, principal of School No. 6 in Anna, an impoverished town of 20,000 in the Voronezh region. In Vyazovskaya's school of 300 students, only homeroom teachers have received extra money.

"Even that small amount is a significant raise for our teachers," Vyazovskaya said. "But the people in charge of the national education project should be trying to increase the social status of teachers and to revive the prestige of our profession," Vyazovskaya said.

Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko told reporters in the Far East last Wednesday that he was pleased with the implementation of the national education project.

"We have seen how little is needed to get the education system moving forward again," Fursenko said, Interfax reported. "Now we have to make good on the promises we have made.

"The most tangible result of the national project is financial support," Fursenko said in a statement released Thursday. "But the other aspect of the project -- raising the status of teachers, [encouraging them] to take greater responsibility for their work and [to promote] kindness and attention to the children -- is far more important than what you can put in your pocket."

Vyazovskaya had a different opinion. "It's always nice when someone says 'Thank you,' but considering our financial situation, I'd prefer for an envelope with cash in it to accompany the kind words," she said.

Moscow schools are better off than their counterparts in the regions, but their relative health owes more to the policies of the city government than the national education project, educators in the capital said. "I don't know if it's a result of the national project or not, but we get raises on a regular basis," said Irina Khakhamovich, vice principal of elementary education at School No. 1278 in central Moscow, as she greeted first-graders on the first day of school last Friday. City Duma Deputy Yevgeny Bunimovich, who also teaches mathematics at the Moscow Experimental Gymnasium, said educators in the city had benefited less from the national education project than their counterparts in the regions.

"The most productive component of the national project is the additional money for homeroom teachers," Bunimovich said. "And most of these teachers have received the money." At least 10 percent of Moscow's homeroom teachers, however, have not received the salary increase because of bureaucratic snafus, Bunimovich said.

Some 900,000 homeroom teachers nationwide are entitled to the extra money. The Finance Ministry has allocated 7.7 billion rubles specifically for this purpose, yet at least 80,000 homeroom teachers, 7 percent of the total, have not received the money. Most of these teachers are employed in military and correctional schools and so-called lyceums.

Putin publicly chastised Fursenko in April for failing to deliver the much-anticipated raises for homeroom teachers. Yury Karasyov, a history teacher at Lyceum No. 2 in Kazan, is one of the homeroom teachers who did not receive the raise. "We were shocked to find out that we do not quality for the raise -- as if we work less than other teachers," Karasyov said.

"As a homeroom teacher, I was counting on the extra money," he said. "The current payment of 100 rubles isn't enough to compensate for all the effort we put in." Karasyov earns 4,000 rubles ($150) per month, and gives private lessons to make ends meet.

In Moscow, teachers on average earn 13,500 rubles ($505), Bunimovich said.

Under the national project, the government plans to spend 48.6 billion rubles on education in 2007, an increase of 66 percent from this year.

Six billion rubles were allocated this year to install computers in 28,500 schools across the country and to hook them up to the Internet.

The need for more school buses and new equipment, especially for poorer rural schools, is also being addressed.

Next month, the government will award 10,000 teachers 100,000 rubles each in recognition of their outstanding job performance. Three thousand schools will receive 1 million rubles each as a reward for their innovative approaches to teaching.

Karasyov entered his lyceum in the innovative teaching competition, but did not qualify. Last week, however, he learned that he had been chosen to receive the 100,000 ruble award for outstanding teachers.

"Competitions like these bolster me professionally," Karasyov said. "They have given me a better understanding of how my career should develop."

Two of Karasyov's pupils also won prizes for their knowledge of history.

Bunimovich noted, however, that the procedure for entering the competitions was so complicated that many schools had opted not to take part.

Schools in Moscow have received no money under the national education project for new computers or Internet access because the city had already addressed this need, Bunimovich said.

"This money could be spent on new software and teacher training, but the Finance Ministry doesn't seem terribly interested in these things," he said.

Putin and other senior government officials paid traditional visits to schools and universities Friday to welcome students on the first day of the school year.

The president visited the Energy Machine-Building College in Khimki, a town just outside Moscow, a statement posted on the Kremlin's official web site said.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov delivered a lecture on economics and politics at the International University, in which he called for Russia to develop its real economy before entering the World Trade Organization.

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