Freeloaders deny pupil gold medal

Nick Holdsworth

RUSSIA

A RUSSIAN mother's stand against educational corruption has caused a scandal in a remote provincial town - and has cost her son a prized gold school-leaving medal.

Ludmilla Burakhina, the deputy director of a technical further education institute in Rtishchevo, a small railway town 120 miles west of Saratov in central Russia's Volga region, objected to demands by teachers at her son's school that she pay for a lavish luncheon for exam invigilators and regional educational officials.

Her son, Dmitri, a gifted student of maths and physics who had won several intra-regional science competitions and was paid a rare discretionary allowance by the town's mayor's office in recognition of this, was expected to graduate from School No 3 with a gold medal - awarded to students with an unbroken set of top marks.

When Mrs Burakhina baulked at paying for the luncheon, an increasingly common unofficial practice in Russian schools, the school's head, Valentina Kholyapina, told her Dmitri would not get his medal.

Shocked and angered, Mrs Burakhina told her son to be prepared for a rough ride in his leaving exams, knowing the regional officials would be aware of her refusal to wine and dine them.

In a letter to regional daily newspaper Saratovskiye Vesti, she said:

"After refusing, it was clear that my son may not be successful in his leaving exams. My son and I were very upset: he hardly slept for three nights, he had a temperature and was tortured by headaches."

Dmitri sat the leaving exams and the school's own markers gave him top scores in all papers. But, when regional officials double-checked the papers, the score was overruled and his composition paper was marked down for poor syntax, repetition and weak logic.

Tatiana Prikhodko, head of the regional education committee, said the composition was not up to the standard expected for a top mark and denied that the alteration was connected to Mrs Burakhina's stand.

Mrs Burakhina could have appealed to a regional tribunal but saw little point, as all its members are subordinate to the regional education committee, and her son did graduate with a silver medal. However, town officials demanded that she pay for the bouquet of flowers the mayor would hand him during the graduation ceremony.

"The whole episode has caused us a lot of pain and upset," Mrs Burakhina said. But Dmitri can now put the episode behind him: tutors at Saratov State University's physics faculty who learned of the scandal offered him a place without taking the usual entrance exams, as one of the brightest physics students in the region.

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Nick Holdsworth

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