In a town of 40,000 souls, a school has managed to keep up standards on a shoe string, while in Moscow, a trailblazing principal ploughs along with his alternative approach to learning, attracting both criticism and curiosity
Tatiana Sergeyevna Korobovtseva works hard to keep her spirits up despite the constant and chronic challenges of teaching in the small railway-junction town of Rtishchevo in the region of Saratov, 650 kilometres away from Moscow.
At 40, she is the deputy director of Secondary School No. 2 and looks back over a career that spans the entire recent epoch of upheaval and change in Russia. Mikhail Gorbachev had only just come to power when she started teaching and the Communist Party line still dictated much of the curriculum. Gorbachev's policies of glasnost (freedom) and perestroika (rebuilding) hastened the collapse of communism in 1991 and a new flush of educational freedom swept through Russia. But the chaos of Boris Yeltsin's liberal experiment brought poverty, uncertainty and a collapse of central authority that eroded many of the new liberties offered. Tatiana Sergeyevna saw her standard of living plummet along with the real value of her wages when they were paid on time and a host of problems arise she could never have foreseen back in the Soviet Union's twilight years of the mid-1980s. Vladimir Putin's surprise ascendancy to the Kremlin a year ago has changed nothing, she says.
Today, Tatiana Sergeyevna, her director Vyatcheslav Sashenkov and the other 38 members of staff, do the best they can with the bare minimum of resources to maintain educational standards at a school considered one of the best in the town of 40,000 people.
Per capita funding for the school's 690 pupils is a paltry two roubles a day, about $50 a day for the entire school. Her monthly salary is 1,500 roubles ($56), the school director's a dollar more. …