Is there really much of a difference between Russian education and American education? Let me tell you a story about a typical 9-year-old Russian boy. Here, we will call him Ivan (not his real name, to protect his identity).
Russian Education of a Boy
While I have been on the Crimean coast, I have spent time speaking with a 9-year-old boy. Ivan spends the summer with his grandparents in Crimea. He is a typical boy who likes soccer, eating ice cream, playing ball, dogs, mobile phones, his iPad, and making noise.
Ivan studies at a typical State run school in the Ural region of Russia. He has classes in math, Russian grammar, reading, composition, social studies, and physical education. Ivan studies French as a second language at school.
In his spare time, Ivan studies dance and English. He has studied English in a group with other children of his age for 3 years, as a hobby.
Conversing in English
Ivan was afraid to speak with a native English speaker at first. His babushka (grandma) asked if I would speak with him. With a little coaxing, we finally got to the point of exchanging “Hello” and “my name is” between us.
Since then, Ivan has come over to our apartment at least once a day. We spend 30 to 45 minutes together chatting about “boy things,” and I help him with pronunciation and putting sentences together properly. For example: “I am a student” versus “we are students.” We have discussed boys, girls, time, and clothing items.
Ivan also has workbooks that he brings, and we read texts out loud to each other. He translates them to Russian for me (we both use the services of my wife, a native Russian and English speaker, when needed.)
It has interested me, I have picked up a little Russian from him, and he has expanded on his English pronunciation quite a bit through practice.
Multilingual Russian Education
I guess the thing that strikes me about Russian education is that it is purposefully multi-lingual. Ivan is native in Russian, fluent in French, and very proficient in English. Not only does the school require multiple languages, but parents and grandparents encourage more languages as well. Available languages are English, French, German, and several Asian languages among others.
I compare this to the United States, where a foreign language often is not offered until middle or high school. The number of available languages in American schools are few. I was actually surprised that my daughter’s high school offered French and Russian, while most offer Spanish and French.
Other Strengths of Russian Education
The basic math, science, and (Russian) language aspects of the Russian education system are quite well founded. We can compare that to the United States mathematics, where “new math” and calculators have become king of numeric.
And have you seen a Facebook posting by a teenager lately? It seems US schools quit teaching about capitalization and punctuation.
I have looked at several surveys on educational systems in the world. You can find as many rankings as you can find surveys online. One thing that shows up in most of them is that Russia typically ranks higher in educational excellence than the United States. They spend fewer dollars per head (roughly 3.9% GDP per student in Russia, vs. 5.9% GDP per student in the US.)
I think we should consider areas we can change our educational system, and take some ideas from the Russian system. There are differences, though I disagree with the “rote memorization” characterization. I know most Russian children can calculate circles around me, and I am good at math.
I think we can learn from each other.