Russia: Where teachers are paid in vodka

13th November 1998 at 00:00
"We call our classroom the swimming pool because when it rains we have to sit and study in water. And the heating is only turned on in mid-winter so we just shiver before then."

Anna, 16, lives in a small provincial town in Siberia. Temperatures there will soon hit minus 20 or even lower.

Her teachers often have no chalk and a lot of lessons consist of teacher talk only. "But we've just got some new desks which is great," she says.

Anna is one of four pupils from across the Russian Federation to write a prize-winning essay in a nationwide competition called "I have the right". Her reward is a place on a study tour to the UK and a computer for her school, all funded by the British Embassy in Moscow. Her work has also been published in a national magazine, along with the best of more than 100,000 other entries.

The national weekly newspaper for teachers, Uchitelskaya Gazeta, and the Russian Association for Civic Education organised the competition to celebrate the International Year of Human Rights.

At Anna's school teachers are generally paid at least part of their wages on time. But in some remote regions teachers can go without pay for three or four months.

Newspaper editor-in-chief Peter Polozhevets is accompanying the young competition winners on their first trip abroad. He says: "In one case teachers were paid in vodka instead of money. Others have been handed saucepans, rugs or even gravestones as wages. It all depends on whatever the main regional product is."

Very late payment is more common than no salary at all. Public-sector salaries in Russia have not kept pace with the rampant inflation. An average full teaching salary will pay for basic food - bread and potatoes - for a family for the month, but little more.

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