Back to school in Russia

Getting a child ready for school can cost parents anything between US$ 345-530, depending on the age of the child. Source: AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel

Getting a child ready for school can cost parents anything between US$ 345-530, depending on the age of the child. Source: AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel

The beginning of September isn’t just about the coming of autumn; for many it means the start of a new academic year.

With August coming to a close, Russian schoolchildren start returning from holidays away at summer camps, dachas or their grandmothers homes in the countryside, and families set about preparing for the new school year. On September 1, children have to be ready for another long academic year; pencils need to be sharpened, book bags purchased and new school shoes polished.

The Supreme Council of the USSR officially designated September 1 as the official ‘Day of Knowledge’ in 1984. Like all celebrations, this one has its own traditions. On this day, schools have a special celebration to mark the start of the year with teachers and pupils assembling to listen to songs, poetry and congratulatory and inspirational speeches made by the schools’ head-teachers, and sometimes by members of the local administration.

It has also become traditional for top politicians, including Russia’s president and prime-minister, to take part in the new-term assemblies at the country’s most prestigious schools. This year an unusual surprise awaits schoolchildren in Moscow, where in some places the Day of Knowledge will be marked by a visit from medal-winners at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Flowers and ribbons form an integral part of the celebrations. Flowers are traditionally given to the teachers, and white ribbons are worn by schoolgirls of all ages, who fasten them into their hair. At the end of the ceremony, a girl in the first grade will sit on the shoulders of one of the boys in the top-grade (aged 17-18), and the little girl is then given a bell which she rings loudly as she is carried past the spectators. Ringing this bell officially starts the school year.

After the children have gathered for the first assembly and have been introduced to the teachers, most schools hold open lessons for guests and parents. This year, many schools will give a “lesson in valour” in remembrance of Russia’s victory in the Patriotic War in 1812. As a rule, September 1 is not a full school day and the children can return home once the celebrations have finished. But the next day the school routine starts in earnest and parents only come back to the school for parent-teacher meetings.  

Budget

Getting a child ready for school can cost parents anything between 11,000 and 17,000 roubles (US$ 345-530), depending on the age of the child. Children need new book bags, pencil cases, pens and pencils along with exercise books, textbooks and other stationary. Parents also need to budget for new clothes, a couple of pairs of shoes, sports gear, and sometimes even skis for lessons in the winter. Few schools in Russia insist on pupils wearing a uniform. A uniform might save money in the long run, but many children and their parents are against the idea because it stifles individuality. Most of the time pupils are allowed to dress as they want.

Another thing to bear in mind when calculating costs is school meals: in many schools, breakfast and lunch need to be paid for. Parents either have to pay a lump sum each month or children can buy something to eat each day in the school canteen. This is why schoolchildren are often given pocket money from quite a young age. At the moment, the Russian Government is pushing for free meals to be given to all schoolchildren.

Psychological preparation

When getting ready for school, psychological preparation is at least as important as the more obvious tasks. Here are some tips psychologists give to young parents:

-There is no need for children to be frightened of school, and you should make school sound as unthreatening as possible. You need to present school as something new and interesting, so that buying new clothes and stationary is an enjoyable (not a traumatic) experience. If the child is scared of school this could express itself in psychosomatic illnesses – skin disorders, flu, or even cardiovascular problems.

- It is a good idea to show children the school before they start on September 1. This gives them a chance to familiarise themselves with the surroundings, and meet their teachers.

- Don’t expect too much from your child – children need to understand that their parents love them for who they are no matter what marks they get at school.

- Don’t get too hung up on results. Experts agree that pushy parenting can actually hamper development of essential life-skills. A much worthier aim is to instill a good work ethic in your child from a young age. It is more important to develop general qualities of self-control, ambition and stability, all of which will help ensure your child’s success in the long term, rather than pushing for high marks in every individual exam.

By nurturing a child’s interests and encouraging him or her to work hard will hopefully keep them motivated throughout their school career (not just for the test next week).

- It is not worth making your child do more than they are capable of and hurrying their development. Too much mental and physical strain at school and pre-school age can have a negative effect a child’s health.

- Make sure your child does some sort of physical exercise every day. This could be a training session at a sports class, a game in the schoolyard, or football with dad – the activity itself is not important, but it is known that physical exercise is a vital part of a child’s overall health.  

- Lead by example. Parents are the most important people in a child’s life and they are also the most effective teachers. Their example will influence how the child chooses to live later life and shape their general values and priorities.   

Most of the time in Russia, children of all ages will stay at the same school throughout their school-life, from first to eleventh grade, with children from the age of 7 to 18 all studying in the same building. Kids spend four years at elementary school, five years in middle-school, and two years in the top class. At the moment, a new curriculum is being developed in Russia, so children will spend a total 12 years in school with six in middle-school. It is hoped that the new programme will give children time to learn core subjects, so that they can then concentrate on professional skills in the final years. It has not yet been decided when schools will switch to the new system. 

On 1 September 2012, 47,823 educational establishments will open their doors in Russia. This year 13,356,000 children will embark on another school year – 260,000 more than in 2011.

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