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Russia

Worlds apart but with a common chosen profession, student teachers from the United States, Brazil, France and Russia talk about their training, the challenges they face and what the future holds

Trainee teachers in Russia divide into two main groups: the optimists and the realists. Faced with the discouraging prospect of graduating into a job market characterised by chronic salary arrears and strikes - only weeks ago a teacher died on hunger strike over appalling employment conditions - students could easily give up in despair.

But the optimists, driven by an urge to teach, hope Russia will overcome its economic and social troubles and the realists regard a teaching degree as being valuable as any other discipline. A coffee bar discussion by first-year students at the Moscow Lenin State Pedagogical University, a top teacher training institute, reveals a faith in education which triumphs over the country's current ills.

Daniil Finogeev, 17, a physics major, says the only school he would consider teaching in is the one he left last summer, a special teacher-training gymnasium in the north-east suburbs of the city. He says the school taught him that empowering relations between teachers and pupils are possible and that inspirational teachers can make a real difference.

Dina Kosichenkova, from a small town in the Tula region south of Moscow, has always dreamed of teaching and hopes that in five years, when she graduates, life in Russia's schools won't be so hard. "Of course I have worries about the future - the death of the hunger striker was very unpleasant - but this won't push me away from my chosen path," Dina says.

She concedes that she probably won't be able to pursue a career in teaching unless she marries a man with a salary capable of supporting her. But, she asks, if people like her don't want to teach, what will become of Russia's children?

The first-year workload at the university is a good introduction to the dedication expected of teachers. The physics faculty timetable loads 27 hours of lectures, seminars and laboratory practicals on students each week.

Dina lives in an obschezhitiye (hall of residence) about 40 minutes' Metro ride from the university. As a "budget", or grant-aided, student she pays only 610 roubles a year (pound;20), but her father had to come and spend a weekend to help redecorate her room, fixing furniture and cleaning years of encrusted filth. Like most students on a monthly grant of just 80 roubles (pound;2.40) she is supported by her parents and occasional jobs.

Daniil picks up work where he can: recently he earned 200 roubles a day (pound;6) pasting up political posters for local city elections.

In many respects, life for trainee teachers in Russia is little different from that of other students. Teaching practice does not start until the third year of the five-year degree course and is limited to a month here and there. But a teaching degree remains highly respected in Russia and opens doors to many more jobs than teaching alone.

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