Budding Educational Reforms in Siberia

I’m feeling much more optimistic today than I was after writing that previous post, which kind of painted Russia in a bleak light.  I’ve gotten to know this fantastic group of people that organize events and a summer camp for nonstandard education.  Their organization is The Institute of Creative Pedagogy, “Orange Wind.”  Their main project is leading an annual summer camp for Russian youth (approx. ages 10-18) that goes beyond the standard summer camp activities, like swimming, crafts, and games (although those are certainly included).  The goal is to talk about social ailments and come up with potential solutions.  This is very nontraditional.  The general view is that these topics are not for children: neither do they have the mental capacity to address such themes, nor should they be burdened with such heavy dilemmas.  Thus, the group has encountered of late a notable amount of disapproval.  However, their position on the matter is that it is precisely the youth that has the energy and creative outlook to tackle these lingering social afflictions!  Through a variety of fun, engaging, creative projects, the youth look at issues ranging from littering to teen pregnancy to alcoholism.  The camp counselors (who are the founders of the organization) are lively, energetic, smart, and encouraging.  The program is sponsored by the state, which awards talented and promising students from the okrug (region) with the opportunity and financial means to attend the camp.  Thus, in addition to funding the camp, this move adds as well to its prestige. 

Throughout the rest of the year, the organizers plan events, similar in purpose and structure to those during the camp, for potential new attendees as well as for returning enthusiasts.  Here, they encounter more difficulties, however, because these events are not state-sponsored.  Parents are less willing to shell out their money, especially when some are already skeptical of the camp’s value, so these events are significantly more difficult to arrange and follow through with.  The founders are in fact planning on expanding their “clientele” to include not just youth, but professionals as well; they’ve noticed how successful тимбилдинг (team building) has been for companies in Moscow and Petersburg, and they are looking to work with the major oil and gas corporations here. 

This organization is incredible for a number of reasons.  First, this is a highly encouraging sign towards the creation/development of a civil society in Russia.  Admittedly, the organization is indeed connected to the state, but it was founded by local students who wanted to take an active role in the development of their region.  It is currently maintained by this same youth, now graduated and invested in the project full-time, who are not tied to the expectations and goals of the state.  Second, this is an optimistic and full of potential venture into long-term improvements that are free from finance-based achievements.  Third, the organizers have big dreams: they are following developments in nonstandard, creative education all over the world (they all love TEDtalks, by the way!) and hope to eventually modify the Russian (or at least, their regional) education systems to foster creative thought, curiosity, and discovery.

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