Volume: 2, Issue: 3

1/11/2010

How Does a Russian Rural School Live Today?
Байбородова Л. В. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: rural schools, remote rural schools, typical features of remote rural schools, the effect of socio-economic changes on rural schools, typical features of rural schoolchildren, schools of a small size, new tendencies of development, rural educational associations, Internet programs.
SYNOPSIS: The author, one of the famous Russian specialists in the field of rural schools, makes an effort to introduce the readers to critical problems of modern Russian rural schools and to the ways of how to solve these problems.

Rural Russian Schools Today

Introduction

Rural schools constitute about 70% of all public schools in Russia today.  There are regions and territories where the number of such schools is even 80%, e.g., in the Vologodskaya Region. 40% of all school age children study there.

In comparison with urban schools, rural, and especially remote rural schools are very different. Some of them are stable, productive, and provide quality education; others are desperate in their constant search for material supplies and professional teachers. This can be explained by their secluded location, poor economic state of the local community, and a decreasing number of students. Such factors have a serious impact on the status of the school, its financial and staff stability, on the organization of the teaching process as well as on the children themselves and their personality formation.

Many rural schools are very remotely located, and even in the European part of Russia the distance to the closest city could be up to 100 km; as for the northern parts of the country, this could be much more. Due to their location, some rural schools are truly tiny with less than ten students in a class group, and in some groups – from one to five students. As for elementary rural schools some of them have less than ten students in total.

The remoteness from cultural centers, lack of any developed social life, autonomy, territorial and spiritual isolation of villages make the interaction of school and community especially active, and their mutual influence extremely important and profound. This explains the necessity to seriously involve and consider all possible local social-economic factors in arranging proper teaching and extracurricular activities in such schools.

Remote rural schools: a short overview

We will now briefly describe some typical and most consistent characteristics of remote rural schools (2, 7-34):

1. In comparison with cities, the social and cultural rural environment is more conservative, steady, and traditional. As a result, the parents and the local community in general have a stronger influence on social education of village children.

2. In comparison with city-dwellers, people, living in rural areas, have preserved the integrity of national self-consciousness, rich spirituality, and a caring attitude towards their country and nature. The moral atmosphere of rural communities is relatively stable, and it creates favorable conditions for developing, at an earlier age, such traits as respect for seniors and family traditions, overall respect for adults, and a high level of mutual support.

3. Rural schoolchildren can have a very limited experience of communication with other people, as they are very restricted in numbers. At the same time, since adults and children know each other very well, their personal contacts are usually profound and emotional. The older generation’s knowledge of life is passed on through concrete examples. Caring for seniors is typical for village children.

4. Children are not exposed to professional theatrical or musical performances, and as a result, they embrace folk arts quite intensely. Rural schools usually represent a center of culture in their local communities, since people who work there have more professional education and knowledge than many other villagers. As a result, schools become true local cultural centers.

5. Since the overall educational level of people in rural communities is often lower than in urban areas, it affects children’s general development and lowers educational expectations of the students.

6. There are fewer opportunities for self-education and continuing education in the countryside: library supplies are minimal, the number of TV channels is reduced, and there are very few if any, organized children’s clubs. Visiting theaters or going to museums is usually a problem too. This affects not only the children but also their teachers who loose opportunities for professional, personal, and cultural growth. This is less of a problem today as rural areas have been computerized and given access to the Internet.

7. Rural environment and practically everything that surrounds children from the moment of their birth, is natural and more people-friendly. Village children experience nature daily and accept it likewise – in a very natural way. Therefore it is so important for them to become ecologically literate and acquire principles of ecology.

Socio-economic changes and rural schools

Socio-economic changes in Russia, that have taken place over the last twenty years, have dramatically affected all social spheres. Problems and difficulties of the perestroika and post-perestroika periods in rural areas were aggravated by closing many enterprises and reducing the number of available positions that raised the level of unemployment, decreased rural population, and stimulated the development of alcoholism, increase of divorces, and disappearance of firm moral and spiritual principles.

This situation in Russia, and primarily its general urbanization, has resulted in the formation of new types of communities, the so-called pseudo-urban or quasi-urban (as some researchers call them, see: A.A. Andreyev) that means that rural citizens are desperately trying to embrace urban culture and lifestyles.  This is especially true for the communities situated close to large cities. You won’t find anything even distantly reminding you of folk art or handicrafts in such places. More so, the primary position of a peasant has changed tremendously –formerly an owner, he has now become an employee. Even the typical “rural language” has disappeared from such places, together with forgotten village holidays and rituals. We are sad witnesses to the rise of a new personality type, previously uncommon for villagers –– unreliable, amoral, and self-destructive (1,13).

Such processes heavily impact all spheres of rural life. They also affect village schools which are inseparably connected with their social environment where national and spiritual traditions find their original roots. Due to a number of socio-economic problems, every rural school suffers as much as its local community, though still producing a serious affect on the process of solving many social issues. In any situation schools try to play a role of the carrier, generator, and transformer of the best, progressive ideas and traditions.

Characteristics of rural schoolchildren

The social peculiarities of the environment seriously affect the formation of a child’s personality. Rural children are quite different from urban ones. As some researchers report, rural children usually possess the following positive qualities: diligence, readiness to work hard, responsibility, kindness, gratitude, moral stability together with unquestionable acceptance of family ties, community-orientation, patriotism, communality, and a desire to preserve national spiritual traditions. At the same time a large number of rural children can be described as uncertain in themselves with low self-esteem and high levels of conformity, low motivation for learning, dependence on others in any decision-making process, difficulties in establishing personal contacts with new people and in adapting to new circumstances (2, 18-30).

The above mentioned features of rural school students are not accidental and can be accounted for social and pedagogical conditions in which these children gain their experience and education. But regardless of any social or other conditions, schools should help children mastering new forms of social and personal communication, rural life, and working styles. Schools should do their best to provide rural children with equal opportunities for quality education found in most urban schools.

Small size of rural schools and its consequences

We have already mentioned that rural schools are usually very small, and this in itself has both positive and negative aspects. Let us name just a few of them. In a small group the process of establishing interpersonal teacher-students’ relationships is more intensive, both teachers and students have more chances to communicate with one another on a more personal basis, to come to mutual understanding in an easier way, and to express themselves faster and more openly. In a small school everybody is always in public, and this by itself stimulates teacher-students’ activities. A small rural school provides especially favorable conditions for cooperation, joint activities and for establishing a true dialogue, for stimulating creativity of teachers and students, and uniting the whole school since there is no sharp differentiation between different age groups (they know each other well). This knowledge of the students’ and teachers’ personal traits, peculiarities of their households and families contributes to the establishment of benevolent and confidential teacher-students’ relationships. Under certain conditions a small school can develop a true family-like atmosphere.

At the same time the small size of rural schools creates certain problems in teaching and educating children. It is difficult to use a number of different methods and approaches when a class group consists of just a few students. The small number of students also hinders the level and quality of communication for children; it also blocks the development of their communicative and social skills and their ability to easily establish contacts with new people. More over, due to the monotonous communication with the same restricted group, students’ motivation for learning is quite low. Students also feel that they are under the constant control of their teachers.

To overcome these difficulties and solve the problems of communication, rural schools usually arrange for students from different class groups to study and have extracurricular activities together. It is quite common to unite children from all elementary grades (1-4) into one group, depending of course on their numbers. In this case a single teacher works with children of different ages on the basis of different age-related teaching programs in the same classroom. Let us be realistic – at the beginning this type of teaching considerably complicates the activities of the teacher (especially if she/he doesn’t have certain teaching experience) but it creates more favorable conditions for the schoolchildren. By now many Russian regions have accumulated numerous and diverse methods and programs of working with multi-age groups, and their teaching experience has been analyzed and published.

Extracurricular activities are also organized in multi-age groups, usually uniting students from the first to the eleventh grades together. Teaching and social education in such groups provides favorable conditions for creating a truly comfortable and caring environment for the students, developing their most essential qualities and establishing positive cooperation among children and adults. The necessity to organize such multi-age groups is also confirmed by some socio-economic changes that our country faces today.

Modern tendencies of development

Our analysis shows that there exist certain tendencies in the development of modern rural schools such as:

1. Reduction of rural population, “disappearance” of many villages, dramatic decrease of the birth rate – all due to the poor social and economic conditions in rural communities, which in turn dramatically affects numbers of school students and brings about the closure of many schools. For example, in the Smolensk region in 1995/97 the local authorities closed 30 schools with small numbers of students (4, 31). At the same time in some areas we observe the growth of schools where students study in multi-age groups.  As a result, the number of required teachers is reduced, teachers loose their jobs or have to work part-time.

 2. Growing unemployment and a decline of financial stability of many families force schools to create new and additional services together with teaching and educating children. Now they have to also provide for economic, social, and moral support of their students. For example, all schools have hot meals programs for children from underprivileged families, and in some schools – for all the students. Schools usually have vegetable gardens where students, under the supervision of their teachers, plant and grow the most essential vegetables that are used by the school cafeterias. Teachers in such schools are also required to arrange children’s extracurricular activities, usually in the form of clubs and creative groups since local communities often do not have theatres, museums, or any other cultural or athletic community centers.

3. Schools have a growing impact on their local communities and on the process of preserving and developing villages; at the same time the impact of local manufacturing on rural schools is also growing. As we have said previously, in many rural areas schools remain the only intellectual-cultural centers that affect many spheres of rural life in general.  This leads to an increase in the interactions and inter-dependence of local community administration and school management. School principals in rural areas try to establish close connections with local agricultural enterprises and associations of farmers. 4. Today the dependence of rural schools’ activities on their financial and economic stability is critical. Many Russian regions have introduced a new principle of financial distribution to local schools – it solely depends on the number of students. Russians call it, «money follows the student». This principle has essentially affected the “destiny” of rural, particularly small schools. From now on, local municipal administrators and school principals have to do a lot of “planning and predicting,” and searching out the most advantageous ways for their schools’ survival.5. The demographic situation in rural areas has brought about the necessity to optimize the number and quality of educational establishments and their interconnections, and the equality of providing good education in both, big cities and small villages. A General Concept for restructuring educational establishments in rural areas has been worked out and officially adopted by the Russian Government on December 17, 2001. This document suggests a number of different variants of schools and educational opportunities in rural areas due to social and economic effectiveness:financial and professional support for such rural schools, (including the smallest ones), which have the potential for their own development and which create the basis and potential for development of the village;restructuring small rural schools into local offices of larger schools that will provide them with more effective use of local personnel, teaching and material resources, and will also better a financial situation of  such schools;formation of rural educational associations which will be composed of: general or complete secondary school, small and incomplete schools within a proximity to students’ homes, united social-psychological service, and institutions of supplementary education;creation of rural school-complexes (school-kindergarten-preschool, school-technical community colleges, etc.);closing the economically and socially ineffective small rural schools, providing students with school buses to bring them from remote areas to larger schools nearby;creation of boarding schools in small and larger communities to provide students with lodging and meals during the school year.

Rural educational associations

Long ago many rural areas realized that quality education can be arranged if small rural schools were united into associations. This is typical for such regions as Vologodskaya, Kirovskaya, Ivanovskaya, Kostromskaya, Yaroslavskaya, and some others. Associations usually consist of preschools, schools, and colleges, some cultural centers, and health care establishments – all being located in the same area. The primary goal of such associations is usually the creation of a united educational environment that provides every local student with quality education. Experience shows that a local secondary school is often a dominant element in such an association as it has more funds and provides education for larger numbers of students. It’s also logical that the secondary school principal becomes the head of such an association. Such a secondary school, serving as a certain basis for other smaller schools and institutions, creates a library of teaching and methodological materials, and also unites students in different creative clubs. It also initiates the creation of parents’ and teachers’ informal groups.

For example, Danilovsky district of the Yaroslavskaya region can boast of five associations, each of which consists of two to five schools. One of these associations has existed for fifteen years and unites four schools of very different sizes: Semlovskaya secondary school as a basic school, with about a hundred students,  two elementary schools within four to ten kilometers from it (Kozlovskaya with eight, and Volodarskaya – with six students), and a school of general education (Fedurinskaya with eighteen students).

The decision to create an association should be taken by a meeting with representatives of  teachers, parents, most active students, and public organizations. The managing body has representatives from every school and is called the association's council. The council helps to work out a general program of teaching and extracurricular activities; it also helps to make decisions on how to most effectively use teachers and financial funds of all the association members. The most impressive results happen due to teachers' cooperation, to arranging classes for children from different schools together, to creative joint activities of teachers, students, and their parents. The interconnection of different schools enriches children's lives, communication and social experience, it also makes their lives more exciting and diverse.

Some new initiatives

For several years already a number of Russian regions have been participating in the School Bus Program. Many schools have their own buses for children’s transportation from remote areas. At the same time students from nearby small rural schools receive an opportunity to study in the basic schools using modern technologies which their prospective schools don’t possess; students can also participate in many interesting extracurricular activities with their counterparts from other local schools. Studying some of the subjects in larger schools allows rural students to better understand the general knowledge and to develop all the federally required skills.  Being in a different teaching environment, establishing contacts with numerous groups of children helps students from remote areas to widen their world outlook and to successfully acquire all the necessary social skills.

Lately we have witnessed many attempts to involve rural schools into the virtual world by providing them with access to the Internet. It has become possible due to the presidential program. Russia is in the process of creating a united educational information environment with the goal of providing schools with new electronic devices and teaching materials, and also letting students have access to the most modern computer systems and tools. Originally the idea was to integrate traditional and modern teaching methods and technologies, and to train new professional teachers and technical support who are able to use new technologies in the teaching process. It is amazing that even in the most remote areas of the Yaroslavl region one can find well-equipped computer classrooms, especially in those basic schools where children can use electronic teaching materials and search the Internet for new information.

Conclusions

Russian rural schools represent a unique socio-educational phenomenon that demands special research and methods. Therefore, many regions have started research groups and centers which are studying, stimulating, supporting, and projecting innovative processes in rural schools. More often than not, students from such schools together with their parents and teachers, along with  the wider community population and representatives from local government search for different resources which will allow their schools to survive, develop, and prosper, and in its turn to provide for  the survival of their local villages.

References

1. Andreev, А.А. Peculiarities of the rural life style and the formation of the personality of a rural student. In: The whole system of education of a rural school. Ed. by E. Stepanov. Pskov, 1997, pp. 7-18.
2. Baiborodova, L.V. Social Education and Learning in a Small Rural School. Yaroslavl:YSPU, 2004.
3. Guryanova, M.P. and Alexeev, A.A. The Development of the School in a Rural Area. In: The development of education in the village. Ed. by L. Baiborodova et al. Yaroslavl:YSPU, 2009. Pp. 23-29.
4. Marenkova, T.N. Education in a rural district: an experience of preserving an educational network. In: Rural Small School: Experience, Problems, Perspectives of Preservations and Development. Kaluga: Bochkarjova's Publishing House, 1998. Pp.31-32.

1 Lyudmilla V. Baiborodova, [In Russian: Байбородова Людмила Васильевна], Ph.D., Chair, Department of Management of Educational Technologies, Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University, Head of the Rural School Research Group, Yaroslavl Institute of Educational Development.

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