The News & Advance (Lynchburg VA), VA)
Posted on September 28, 2002
By Kelly Hannon
Finding qualified teachers isn't a problem confined to the United States. Russia is having a hard time finding teachers, too.
A delegation of Russian educators, mostly professors at universities that train teachers, described a growing teacher shortage in Russia over lunch Friday at Randolph-Macon Woman's College.
"They said a lot of them start out in the program but very few of them teach after," said Darya Barmina, a senior at R-MWC from Perm, Russia.
Barmina was one of several Russian students who acted as impromptu translators during the visit.
Wealthy, urban areas in Russia pay teachers high salaries and quickly fill vacancies, said Marina Petrova, a psychology professor at Irkutsk State Pedagogical University. Rural regions struggle to give teachers a living wage, she said, and consequently cannot recruit on equal footing.
Delegation members outlined other similarities, and stark differences, on the state of education in both countries.
Invited by R-MWC to spend a day on campus talking with students and faculty, the five-person delegation wrapped up a week of visits to public and private schools in Lynchburg.
Living with host families in the city, the delegates' trip was sponsored by the Center for Russian Leadership Development at the Library of Congress and Rotary International. The Rotary Club of Lynchburg hosted the delegation and developed the itinerary.
The trip's purpose was to give educators a chance to see how the United States is accomplishing education reform, since Russia is also undergoing changes to its secondary and university systems.
Delegation members said they were most intrigued by small differences.
Sitting in on a political science class at R-MWC, Petrova said she was surprised to learn about course evaluation forms. At American colleges, students get the chance to comment on the course and the professor in a confidential form at the end of the semester. The form is seen by administrators and only given to professors after final grades are submitted.
In Russia, there is no course evaluation form.
"She wanted to get a form to take back with them," said Naomi Amos, director of corporate and foundation relations at R-MWC.
The delegation visited Central Virginia Community College, Lynchburg City Schools, Lynchburg College, New Covenant Schools and Virginia Episcopal School earlier in the week. They will return to Russia on Sunday.
Secondary education is held in one school in Russia. Lyubov Tonkacheva, an English teacher at a university in Nizhny Novgorod, said students could attend kindergarten through the equivalent of 12th grade in the same building.
About 60 percent of the population attends college, Tonkacheva said, although the process of applying is very different than in the United States. There is no equivalent to the SAT exam. Students must take a separate battery of tests for every institution they want to attend.
Barmina, who transferred to R-MWC after attending college in Russia, remembers the arduous application process.
"To apply to one is hard but to apply to two is …," Barmina said, sighing and widening her eyes.
College lasts for five years in Russia, not four. Students must commit to a major before enrolling and have few open spaces for electives.
"There's no such thing as being undecided," Amos said.
Although traveling with Tonkacheva, who could translate, four of the delegation members did not speak much English. R-MWC students and faculty easily filled the language barrier. In addition to having students from 47 countries, the college has a thriving Russian studies program with more than 60 students taking courses.
Klawa Thresher, assistant professor of Russian studies at R-MWC, said she was glad her students had the opportunity to meet with delegates and see the "real world" application of their class work.
Thresher said enrollment in Russian courses has risen over the past year. Enrollment had been in decline since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
© 2002 Media General. Used with permission.
[Reprinted with Permission]