Homeschooling in Russia
By Katya Melnikova
Greetings from the Melnikov family, from Russia! We are Evgeniy, Ekaterina (Katya), and our two daughters: Anya (7½) and Liza (almost 4). We homeschool our girls, which is a rare thing in Russia.
We are evangelical Christians. My husband is an engineer; I am an ESL teacher and a translator. (I did that before we started having kids.) We live in Ufa, one of the twelve biggest cities in Russia, with a population of about 1.3 million people and located about two hours by plane from Moscow. In this city, I know of five other homeschooling families, besides us. I am sure there are more people doing that, but they do not show up.
Why Did We Decide to Homeschool?
I heard about homeschooling from several American missionaries I interpreted for. Back then, I did not like the idea, because I was afraid that homeschooled children suffered socially.
Even though most children in Russia start attending daycare at the age of 3, we decided that I should stay at home with the kids, because we did not feel like trusting a stranger with educating and upbringing our own children. We did not want a group of twenty to thirty 3-year-olds to “educate” our children either.
By the age of 5, the benefits of keeping children at home become obvious. “Home kids” are more peaceful, better educated, better behaving, and a lot healthier than “daycare kids.”
Anya was about 4 or 5 when we started looking for a school. We found out that schools in this city were either low standard or gave children too much hard work or (in most cases) both. Somehow, it just did not seem that any of it was aimed at doing children any good. So, I remembered about homeschooling. My husband liked the idea immediately. There were certain questions we did not worry about. For example, being an evangelical Christian in Russia teaches you that being different from everybody else will not kill you. We knew we could do that, because some American friends homeschooled their children successfully. But there were matters to consider: Is it legal? What about social life?
Homeschooling Laws in Russia
I googled something like “home education,” and the first link was the website of the biggest, oldest, and most significant homeschooling association in Russia! This is what the website said:
• The education law allowing for various forms of education was issued in 1992. There are at least three forms of education that look like homeschooling.
• Home education is not really homeschooling. It is meant for children who have to stay at home because of serious illnesses. Schoolteachers come and teach them at home. This is free.
• Family education is when the child is enrolled at a local school. He is educated by his parents. The student can come to school for help, and he is allowed to participate in laboratory work and extracurricular activities and may use the school library. The family and the school sign a contract regulating their relationship, including tests and exams in every subject. The district pays the family some money.
• Externship is very much like family education. The relationship between the school and the family is regulated by the principal’s order. Students have twelve exams a year or less. They can move ahead faster than the other students. The family is not paid any money.
• Whatever form of education a student chooses, he takes regular final exams and gets a regular secondary school diploma.1
We tried for family education first, but the district did not give us this opportunity, because they would have to pay us money. So, Anya is an externship student. In December 2009, she successfully passed her first five tests; she will take five more tests in April and May. She is officially in the first form (grade), but we started last year, so now we are doing second grade, and we do not expect much trouble during tests. These will not be real tests anyway—grades are not given in the first year of school. The school just wants to make sure we are studying.
What Is It Like to Homeschool in Russia?
Homeschooling is very popular in Moscow, especially among high school students. In other parts of Russia, homeschooling is very rare but growing. Picture yourselves (or your parents) homeschooling in America thirty or forty years ago. It is very strange to do this. Everybody is asking questions. No co-ops, no homeschool curricula, no conventions. Other than that it is the same as in America, I guess—sinful parents teaching and loving their sinful children. Homeschooling is mostly secular in Russia, but we have a merciful, gracious God to guide us.
The leader of the homeschooling movement in Russia is Igor M. Chapkovskij, who managed to teach his children at home in the 1980s. He is the head of this very “free development” association. This is a Moscow association, but the website is very helpful in solving many questions, from practical teaching to legal matters to finding homeschoolers in a particular part of Russia. This is a secular association.2
Homeschoolers from different parts of Russia have complained about the school administration being very unfriendly, but the law is on the parents’ side. I was very scared to go to the school for the first time, but the principal and the teacher were friendly. However, they had never worked with homeschoolers before, and I found myself in the midst of a legal nightmare that lasted for about two months.
How Do We Homeschool?
After we do our morning routine and eat breakfast, we have math and writing. In the afternoon, we go to the park. Anya is a voracious reader, so reading is taken care of. After 3 p.m., Anya has some out-of-home activities, or we do some fun lessons like science or English. And before bedtime, we read the Bible and discuss it.
We like studying at home. It is relaxed and more effective to study individually. Every now and then, Anya says she wants to go to school to be with all the kids. But she has gymnastics practice and art studio and Sunday School and people visiting, and we also spend a lot of time at the park. However, sometimes she tires of having to explain to everybody that she studies at home.
What Is Our Goal?
We are thankful for the opportunity to teach our girls. Our biggest goal is to raise these little girls for the Lord and equip them to be successful in their lives. I would really like to start a blog for Christian homeschoolers in Russia, to participate in the local homeschooling community, and to give other people information about this form of education.
Ekaterina (Katya) Melnikova was born in Communist Russia and was a teenager when Communism fell. Ekaterina lives in Ufa, Russia, with her wonderful husband and their two daughters. She is a stay-at-home mom and a homeschooler. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, and she also enjoys reading, roller-blading, and photography.
© 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (Spring 2010).
Note from Ed: These websites are Russian websites, obviously, and are therefore not written in English. But some browsers will provide the option of translating into English.