Billionaire tries to spark revolution in Russian education


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An education revolution could happen in Russia. His scene: the fields and forests on the outskirts of the country’s capital.

In 2012, the Russian government incorporated large tracts of land in Moscow, almost doubling the city’s already vast land area. Called New Moscow, the new space was quickly auctioned off as part of a mandate to develop it as an urban utopia of mixed housing, public transport and leisure space.

Russian agriculture and real estate tycoon Vadim Moshkovich won the tender. Two years earlier, he had designed Russia’s ideal private school to be located just outside the capital. The new Moscow would serve as the perfect playground for his vision.

Moshkovich, whose net worth was estimated at $ 2.3 billion according to Forbes 2017, created a $ 200 million trust for his dream project, The Letovo School. The endowment will cover student tuition fees – $ 20,000 per year – a tempting carrot for most Russian families.

Rendered by Atelier PRO on the Letovo campus depicts it as a rural idyll surrounded by a field, river and forest / Letovo

Recruitment efforts are already advancing: administrators aim to have an enrollment of 150 students between grades 7, 8 and 9 for a start date in August 2018. By 2020, they hope to enroll 1,000 students taught by some 150 educators .

“We take the best from the world,” Moshkovich told the Moscow Times. “We are ready to give every student everything they need. “

Training the future leaders of Russia

Although the Soviet Union collapsed over 25 years ago, it has retained a lasting influence on Russian primary education, despite textbook reforms in the 1990s.

The education system still emphasizes discipline and memorization, and teachers guide students through standardized tests in core subjects. The approach leaves little room for creativity or independent research.

For the past three years, Moshkovich and a small team of teachers have functioned as a think tank on education for the 21st century.

While hoping to revolutionize the Soviet approach, Moshkovich’s team will not deviate entirely from the traditional model: they have opted for a curriculum that marries the rigor of Soviet learning with the humanistic demands of the International Baccalaureate curriculum ( IB).

“The goal of our school is to nurture an accomplished person in terms of skills,” says Madlena Shaginyan, Academic Director of Letovo School. “We believe that the ideal student will be a balanced, active, responsible person who cares about himself and his local community.

“They will be a leader,” she added.

An ideal home for the ideal student

The Dutch architectural firm Moshkovich responsible for designing the school produced a place specifically to foster holistic human development – a large building in which students can transition from academics to sports and the arts. Atelier PRO architect director Dorte Kristensen told The Moscow Times that the design is directly inspired by the American model school.

Primarily, the design aims to foster three types of learning through three types of spaces: teacher-to-student conferences in traditional classrooms; reflection in designated quiet spaces; and collaborative group work in open corridors. The school will also house huge sports facilities, an auditorium for dance performances and an arts and music wing.

To ensure students are focused on their education, the Letovo School campus – like many American and British prep schools – is as rural as a campus within the city limits of Moscow can afford. The setting borders on the bucolic: Located on a 60 hectare site in New Moscow, it is surrounded by woods, wheat fields and a winding river.

Frances Newbery, Alexei Belov, Anton Zakharov, Alina Korbut, Vasiliy Gorbatchev, Polina Maltseva, Mikhail Mokrinskiy

Frances Newbery, Alexei Belov, Anton Zakharov, Alina Korbut, Vasiliy Gorbatchev, Polina Maltseva, Mikhail Mokrinskiy

Because the location is remote, Moshkovich and his team will eventually provide boarding for up to 500 students. For most Russians, however, the concept of boarding school is unfamiliar, and the idea of ​​sending children away might be more worrying to parents than the school’s untested curriculum. To allay concerns, Polina Matseva, the school’s director of operations, relied on the famous Hogwarts boarding school from the Harry Potter series to explain the Letovo school model.

Parents, however, might put their worries aside when they consider education free – a golden ticket for provincial families struggling to meet basic expenses. So far, this selling point has proven to be true: more than 1,500 applications have already been submitted for a place in the school.

Stay anchored

If Moshkovich’s dream school is successful, it could become a model for curriculum reform in Russia.

As a pioneering institution with extensive private funding – just like the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center, and the Calvert 22 Foundation – the Letovo school can test reforms that would be much more difficult for them. a state sponsored institution.

Alexei Belov, professor of physics, therefore set his goals high. “Our model has a mission for all of Russia,” he says.

School leadership, however, is focused on staying grounded.

“I don’t hope to change the whole world and we cannot change the whole country,” said Shaginyan, the academic director.

“We are not a political party with promises,” he adds. “We are just creative and passionate teachers.

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Sylvester L. Goldfarb

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