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"We want to change the educational culture"

On a late summer day, 25-year-old Julia Ignatiewa packed her bags and moved away from Moscow. She drove from the capital to the provinces.

On the way to Julia's new home, the thousand-soul village of Worsino, you pass a large industrial plant. Then it becomes more rural. Golden fields line the street, small Soviet prefabricated buildings, summer gardens and single-family houses surrounded by green corrugated iron fences pass by.

The village school has stood right next to an overgrown church ruin since 1975. A Russian flag hangs listlessly on its facade, as if waiting for a gust of wind.

Children's voices can be heard in the corridors of the school. Julia stands at the blackboard behind the door of the "Classroom for Foreign Languages". Smiling, she asks her students: "How are you feeling today?" Some of the eighth graders stare at their desk in silence, others giggle and respond with a loud "Goood!"

Shake up the system from below

Julia is no ordinary teacher. She has a mission. As a graduate of an elite Moscow university, she spent two years at a neglected school in the Russian province. She is a participant in the "Teachers for Russia" program.

In 1975 the village school opened in Worsino. The Russian state invests little money in education

"We want to change the educational culture in schools," says Julia. A few years ago she graduated from law school. "After that, I did a boring job for two years. It was at a government agency. I wanted to get away from the stress of the big city." Julia was looking for a way to get involved in society.

The "Teachers for Russia" program has existed for a number of years. It was initiated by two young women who themselves enjoyed the privilege of studying in different countries. They want to make more young people aware of their possibilities. The Russian education system is to be shaken from below with their program.

Today the program is very popular. More than 2000 people apply each year, of which only about ten percent are selected. The "Teachers for Russia" come from a wide variety of disciplines and are then sent to difficult schools for two years.

Brought to school by chauffeur

At the schools, the "Teachers for Russia" are confronted with challenging conditions. Julia feels transported back in time at the school in Worsino. "Not only the building, but also the teaching methods are antiquated," says Julia. Instead of relying on the strict teaching style that is otherwise common in Russia, she tries to change something with fresh methods and her own motivation. "We are working to make everything different."

The program aims to reduce inequalities in education. "The differences in Russia are huge." Because in Russia most of the big cities have very good educational institutions. But the further it goes into the periphery, the fewer teachers, resources and knowledge there are.

Julia says that she doesn't come from a rich family herself. "Nevertheless, I made it to a very prestigious school. Most of the children there were brought by a chauffeur." They all knew why they were studying English at the school. "After graduation, many went to the US or the UK."

Everything is reversed in Worsino. "The children don't understand why they should learn English. They never even think of going abroad." Most of them only speak Russian and have "never been abroad with their parents".

"Why didn't we learn to teach like this?"

Larissa Pavlovna Bober sits one floor below in her small office. "25 years ago I came to the village school as a chemistry teacher, today I lead it," she says. The principal is happy that Julia came to her school. "I like their innovative approach to teaching.

School recorder Larissa Bober in the school museum: "The teaching profession needs more appreciation"

At that time we learned to teach according to a strict scheme. "The headmistress says she almost becomes jealous when the children meet her in the corridor and rave about Julia's lessons." Why didn't we learn to teach the children like that? " she thoughtfully added.

The people of Russian society hardly appreciate the efforts of the teachers, laments Bober. "The parents come to school and expect us to provide them with education like a product from the factory." But it's not that simple. "We are not salespeople, we educate future generations."

For this to continue, more motivated teachers are needed. "We are happy about every new teacher who comes. That happens rarely enough."

Lack of teachers due to poor working conditions

Because education policy is not a priority in Russia. The Russian state spends around 220 euros per student each year, while Norway, the pioneer in education, provides twenty times that amount.

It is rare for a young woman like Julia to go to school in Russia. Talented school leavers rarely choose the teaching profession. Because teachers are paid very poorly in Russia. In some regions, the equivalent of around 130 euros is barely enough to survive. Even unskilled salespeople often earn better than teachers.

Julia in English class - the average Russian teacher is over 50 years old

As a result, the average age of teachers in Russia is more than 50 years. As more teachers retire, the teacher shortage will increase. The "Teachers for Russia" program therefore pays its participants a financial contribution to the regular teacher's salary.

"Students want respect too"

Julia's students also think that the too many teachers at their school are too old. "Some teachers are older than my grandma," says one girl, her classmates giggling. "If we had more young teachers, the lessons would also be more fun. Then I'll take part too."

Despite some reforms, the Russian school system is still based on Soviet heritage. Critical questioning is hardly required of the curriculum and the teachers. For this, the students have to learn a lot by heart. The older teachers often see themselves as the only unrestricted authority in the classroom.

Julia's students also talk about this: "The other teachers hit the table with their hands, yell at us and make us feel stupid. They are so mean that we are sometimes afraid to breathe," says one student.

The students appeal to justice. "Not only should students respect their teachers, but vice versa. We are human too," they say.

The school bell rings. The students hastily pack up their things, say goodbye and run out of the classroom. Julia looks after them. "It's true that schools are slow to change," she says. Still, she believes in changes from below that start with people. "Even with small steps, we can do great things."