Nick Holdsworth reports on how a teacher-trainer has become a daytime phone-in star. RUSSIA. The title might not be snappy enough for British viewers, but Pedagogika dlya Syekh (Pedagogy for Everyone), a phone-in television programme, is fast gaining popularity in the Moscow region with its frank approach to teenage problems and relationships between children and their parents and teachers.
The weekly 45-minute daytime show, which has a potential audience of 20 million, is broadcast live on the second state channel, RTR (Radio-Television Russia). It features a presenter and a panel of invited education and psychology specialists from RIPKRO, Russia's leading teacher-training agency.
Pedagogika is now the only remaining live show on Russian television (live broadcasting was the norm in the days when taping was an expensive luxury). And its success dates from February, when its makers introduced a lively new format in an attempt to make the programme more relevant to viewers' lives.
Gone are the erudite monologues by experts pontificating on dry pedagogical theory. In are heated studio debates sparked by questions from the 40 to 50 viewers who manage to reach the studio telephonists during the show.
With such questions as "Why do children lie to their parents?" (which elicits the controversial response that it has much more to do with parental attitudes than youthful malevolence), "How do our children know we love them?" and "Why do traditional teaching methods and school systems stifle children's creativity?", the show is the closest thing Russian TV has to America's Oprah Winfrey Show or British TV's Kilroy.
Professor Julia Tourchaninova, RIPKRO's vice-chancellor, is one of the show's stars. With her uncompromising stand that love is the key in education and relationships, she is rapidly becoming RTR's daytime agony aunt.
"Love really is the key to all our educational and family problems," she says. "Unless you love and care about yourself and others, there really is little hope that you will find a successful solution to difficult questions, whether these are to do with relationships, between children and parents or pupils and teachers, or deeper educational matters.
A child who has verbal fluency, for example, but cannot master reading or writing, needs love and care first of all, before there can be any hope of teaching techniques working."
A small, intellectual-looking woman with short, dark hair and glasses, Tourchaninova is passionate about education and brings a fresh, direct, personal approach to all professional issues. Describing herself as "a hooligan for love", her radical approach to restoring the human and joyful to Russian education is felt not only through the medium of Pedagogika.
Her institute also runs a national retraining programme for teacher-trainers. The regular two-week residential seminars mix sessions on educational psychology with encounter groups, and are designed to help people deconstruct out-moded Soviet-era views on school relationships and, instead, to allow their hearts and souls to shine through in their work.
It may sound very Sixties "touchy-feely", but graduates of the programme are winning career promotion throughout Russia as institute chancellors recognise the creativity that the approach unleashes. Pedagogika viewers, meanwhile, jam the programme's switchboard to ask what action they can take about rigidly disciplinarian teachers, or how they can tackle schools that dump slow learners in controversial "corrective" classes, a practice that dates back to communist times.
Challenging authority and questioning the status quo are still new concepts for most Russians - the years since glasnost and perestroika notwithstanding - and Tourchaninova's approach, which at times extends to counselling distraught teenagers and parents on the phone at home, has touched an unmet demand.
Irina Kucher, the presenter of Pedagogika and an experienced education journalist, says: "People all over the world are discussing the pros and cons of educational reform.
However, there are still many people in Russia who think our system remains the best in the world. I would have to disagree with that, because we are still tackling our major issue, which is how to give our children more scope for creativity both at home and at school."
Pedagogika's makers say that the vast majority of callers to the show are positive and in favour of its radical approach to discussing education and tackling difficult issues. But some viewers are not impressed.
One Moscow head says: "These people are teacher-trainers - and yet they're preaching that it's quite normal for children to grow apart from their families, to become like aliens to them. In one show they were saying children should become independent and leave their parents as soon as possible.
"Russian society has always been family-based, and I rang the studio to register my disagreement in the strongest possible terms."