Saturday, October 17, 2015

Day of Teacher?

DAY of the Teacher - OUT OF TOUCH?
By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) -  The Russian Minister  of Education makes some questionable claims on the 50th Anniversary of 'The Day of Teachers', which was held on the 5th of October.

             The Russian Minister  of Education and Science, Dmitri
Livanov , looking laid back, cheerful and at ease, during an           interview , (with Kommersant, ,5th October, 2015, number 182)
claimed that not only the salaries but the prestige of school     teachers has risen substantially over the past 15 years. He also
attempted to reassure teachers that he would not tamper or alter the Unitary state Exam system over the next three years.

             However, he insisted that 'It might be possible that a         compulsory exam in history would come into effect beginning from 2018.'

             Dmitri Livanov stated that 'We have just recently obtained
information from an international survey of the work on teachers ,TALIS, which covered 30 countries, including the majority of European states, America, Japan, and Australia.

             They explained that the number of Russian teachers with
higher education is much higher than in other countries in the survey. In addition, Russian teachers on average tend to be younger than the teachers in other countries: 13% of our teachers are younger than 35: while in other countries it was approximately 10%. More over, while in Russia the share of young teachers has been growing since 2009, in other countries they have the contrary trend. '

              Livanov further claimed that the prestige of teaching has
increased in Russia and that the doubling of salaries over the space of three years played a large part in this.


              But can those claims really be sustained? Dmitri Livanov's view that teachers are becoming younger and are much better qualified than many of their western colleagues may be
justified, and the prestige of teachers might well be rising in a society weary of vulgar materialistic values which perceive
the values of professions in terms of income, rather than contribution to the common good. Nobody would disagree
with Livanov's suggestions that a teacher has to motivate his
students by making his lessons interesting, inspiring and should infect his own students with a cheerful mood when he enters the classroom. Livanov also expresses a cautious view of how practical it will be to implement the government's plan to make all children from the 5th grade study two foreign languages. He states that although the measure was accepted in 2010, at present only 10% of schools include the teaching of two foreign languages in their programme.

              So he states, 'Therefore, there is no hurry but by 2020 in
every school there must be created conditions for the teaching
of a second foreign language.'  He philosophically muses that
              'It is better to know one foreign language well than two foreign languages badly'.

              The first questionable notion is the claim that teachers' salaries have almost doubled over the past few years. Yes, on the
surface, in terms of rubles ,salaries seem to have risen, to           approximately 30,000 rubles for full time teachers but 40%             devaluation in the ruble, rising inflation as well as arrears in the regions of Russia (An increasing number of teachers are not being paid) and rising redundancies created by huge budget cuts along with mergers undermines this colourful claim. A representative of the trade union, 'Teacher', Leonid Perlov, stated in a recent interview that it was impossible to talk about a substantial increase in teachers' salaries until they rise above the average national rate. In other words, state school teaching still represents one of the underpaid professions compared with plumbers, engineers and train
drivers. Perlov also warned that a general picture of the average
salary is rendered problematic by distinct regional differences
where an oil rich local government might beable to pay more
salaries in one region compared to a poor region in another.

              When a Russian teacher's salary is compared to a teacher from Finland, the news gets grimmer! The Finns earn more than
twice the income of Russian teachers.

              Livanov overlooks or avoids mentioning many issues which are on the minds of teachers, such as threatened redundancies, school closures, increasing red tape and worsening conditions brought about by an enforced austerity programme.

              Russia, while lavishly boosting its military budget , has slashed care in medicine and education. For instance in the Siberian
region of Altai, local utility company cut off the heat in many
kindergartens and schools because of debts. So students are
being allowed to study in freezing conditions (this is Siberia !)

              A recent survey by the Russian Presidential Academy of
National Economy and Public Administration found that as in  25 Russian regions cuts were being implemented in education and 11 regions were experiencing devastating cuts in medical care. All this austerity which is called 'Optimisation', 'Modernisation' , and 'improving effectiveness', is leading to lower not higher salaries as well as a rising ratio between teachers and pupils.


              What is worse, is that anyone opposing  such  policies by
attending a demonstration, going on strike or organising       opposition risks being daubed 'an enemy' or threatened with being hounded, fired and threatened with imprisonment.

              It is suffice to examine just one case where parents attempted to oppose the closure of their local school during a proposed merger. In the Medvezhgorsky region of Russia, the local
government closed down two schools ; one in the village of
Kosmozero, and another in Velikaya Niva. The children were
ordered to attend a new school in Velikoi Gubi. It takes almost
three hours for the children to get to this new school! In one school which came under the process of  'optimisation', at Lamassruchya, the majority of English teachers were fired leaving one English teacher to simultaneously teach 5th, 6th and 9th forms together. Any experienced teacher will tell you that cramming the students of different levels into one classroom is very ineffective. So much for improving efficiency! When one concerned parent proposed organising a protest movement against those changes, Galina
Averyanova was told, 'If there will be a boycott, you will be put
in prison for 15 days'. A local top official , Pankratov, phoned
up the local militia and the security services accusing the parents  of 'extremism'. He made the ludicrous claim that those parents were 'threatening the national security of the country'  as well as violating 'The  Law on Extremism'.

              Pankratov expresses a complete ignorance on how the
existing law defines extremism. He defines extremism as 'disagreement with the activity of government officials.'

              Such a definition would make it a crime to have, never
mind express, a different opinion.  Pankratov also threatened
parents who boycotted the new school they were expected to
attend on with being deprived of their parental 
rights. In other words, their children would be taken into care!

              Here lies a huge problem. The Russian state has inherited a
massively repressive state apparatus which often detained, arrested and hounded any form of opposition. This can still be used to stifle dissent of any kind. Even a form of mild and moderate protest might stir up a hysterical overreaction from some  unbalanced and aggressive officials.

              So the rosy, colourful and bright picture of an improving
education system presented by officials on the Day of Teachers is at most, wishful thinking. A lot of things have changed dramatically in the space of only two years. This is 2015, not 2013!

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