Talking out of Class: Russian Students Grade Teachers ; Teachers Howl, after Russia's Education Ministry Launches a Hotline and Internet Chat Room for Student Complaints

Article excerpt

The idea was simple: Give students a forum to vent their frustrations. But in practice, it seems more like chipping a hole in the dam that held back a swollen river.

In a widely-advertised reform effort, Russia's Ministry of Education opened a telephone hotline and Internet chat room last week so that pupils could complain about teachers and discuss school problems.

The invitation brought a flood of grievances, some petty, some not. Teachers howled, charging that cyberspace is no place to conduct education reform.

But officials say the exercise is useful, and will continue. "We're not trying to interfere with the relationship between pupils and teachers," says Oleg Solovyov, head of the newly created School Complaints Office. "We are trying to provide kids with information they need to defend their rights, and a forum where they can talk directly and freely about their problems."

Others, however, are skeptical. "The idea that such methods can be used to implement educational reform is a typical bureaucratic illusion," says Alexander Kinsbursky, executive director of Vox Populi, a Moscow-based independent social research center. "Mostly it will be about things that are already very well known.... On the other hand, it will be used by parents and students to ... take revenge on teachers they don't like. Anonymity is a very bad thing to offer to people when discussing such matters."

In its first week, the office has received hundreds of communications, mostly from kids in relatively affluent and Internet-wired Moscow. Many are familiar grievances about too many lessons, humorless teachers, and lack of classroom freedom. "Can a teacher be fired if the majority of the class votes against him?" asks one pupil.

Some of the cash-strapped and socially-troubled Russian school system's deeper problems are also on display. …