Golden Opportunities: Kids’ Clubs in Russia Today

Golden Opportunities: Kids’ Clubs in Russia Today

Published: June 1, 2011 (Issue # 1658)

Denis Grishkin / Vedomosti

Representatives of local children’s groups and sports clubs say they could use more help from the authorities.

As the Russian Federation celebrates Children’s Day on Wednesday, June 1, there is no shortage of heated discussion about education and services provided to children in contemporary Russia.

“Children are our everything” was a widespread slogan during the Soviet Union. Now, in the age of Russian capitalism when parents face lengthy waiting lists to enrol their child in kindergarten and almost always end up paying — whether officially or unofficially — for education, there exists a nostalgia about the Soviet past, when almost every kind of schooling and extracurricular activities were free of charge.

In reality, however, the situation in the Soviet Union was not ideal, say representatives of the education system. While it may be true that all children, irrespective of the financial and social status of their family, could attend different hobby and sports groups, the choice of activities was more limited than it is today. And if schools or sports clubs didn’t have financial support from patrons such as major factories or well known sports teams, their resources were generally very poor.

But one of the main problems of the Soviet education system was that prestigious schools and groups were scarce, and it was hard to get into them. The most prestigious schools were so-called “English” schools with intensive English lessons, but even if a pupil was a talented, it didn’t necessarily mean that they could study there.

Nowadays, if parents have enough money, they can send their children to any school or paid extra-curricular lessons and groups. But if in the Soviet Union it was difficult to get into popular educational and sports institutions, now it can be difficult to find good lessons and groups.

According to Sergei Medvedev, an administrator at the Medvedev rowing school, some trainers working at state schools where studies are theoretically free may still ask parents to fund sports equipment and other objects or services. It is very important, said Medvedev, to find a school with professional trainers who are primarily there because they like working with children.

Sixty-year-old Olga Medvedeva, a trainer of young children at the same school, said she doesn’t like to compare the Soviet past with the modern era. She said she simply likes working with children, and that she and her husband Leonid — who both hold the title Honored Trainer of Russia — buy sports equipment using their own money. Although the Medvedev rowing school is not a state-run organization, studies there are free. The school receives financial support from the Kolpino district sports committee and Kolpino sports school, and students of the school take part in international sports contests.

The Admiralteisky district of St. Petersburg also sets a positive example of state leisure facilities for children, offering a range of free clubs and groups. The Domostroi club offers free classes in skills such as clothes design and music.

Vladimir Filonov / The St. Petersburg Times

Many sports clubs for children are free-of-charge.

Marina Berkuta, a teacher at the club, said there is a chance that work by her pupils may be presented at international fashion shows for children in the future.

“But international connections are a future issue,” she said. “Right now it is important that we get a salary and financial support from the district administration.”

The Limpik children’s corporation only offers paid activities for children, but according to Anna Amosova, director of Limpik and the Olymp and ALEXfitness sports clubs, the corporation’s primary task is to make sports and development programs accessible to different social groups.

“We work on a system of bonuses, discounts and special offers,” said Amosova. “We have good resources and that allows us to increase the quality of the studies we offer. In addition, we organize modern sports centers for family activities and different sports contests. Our corporation includes the National Basketball Academy, the Ballet Academy and other sectors.”

One of the problems of a big city is the large distances between home, school and hobby groups, said Amosova. “To resolve this problem, we try to set up groups in different areas of St. Petersburg,” she said.

“I think that today, children have more opportunities for development than in the U.S.S.R.”

Modern parents try to help their children as early as possible, Amosova said.

“We have special sports and educational programs for babies aged from six months old,” she added.

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