Russia may be a big country but it will be a very busy place this Saturday. 1 September (1 Сентября), is the traditional Первый звонок (“First Bell/Call”) and День Знании (“Day of Knowledge”) to begin the school year, and as Saturday is considered a work day on the calendar the first day of school across the former Soviet Union will be September 1 as per tradition.
From Russia to Ukraine to Georgia and all across the region, the first day of school is widely celebrated as a holiday in the Russian speaking world and traditionally celebrated on the first of September, except Sundays.
The children get to bring parents to school on this day and one of the first things you’ll notice are flowers, tons of flowers, as giving flowers to teachers is a time honoured tradition. Of course will be a speech given by the school director/principal and some light skits, singing of songs and recitations of poetry.
On of the most revered traditions of the ” first bell/first call” tradition is the outside school courtyard event in which a young first grade student, typically a girl, is hoisted up onto the shoulders of an older male pupil and all the kids fall in line to ring in the first day of school. In the classroom seats are assigned, parents meet teachers and all in all the first day is more fun than study.
Students in many schools wear uniforms and everyone dresses up for the first day of school. Little boys in ties and little girls with bows and ribbons make it a delightful day. Russian students generally attend the same school for all 11 years as most schools are smaller with just a few hundred students and designed as neighborhood schools as opposed to the mega school district concepts in the West.
Academics are generally rigorous and include required numbers of science, math and language units before graduation. A national test is administered at the end of each school year and successful passage is required in order to move to the next grade level or graduate.
Generally the first day isn’t for intense academics, rather a celebration of the idea that education is important and it changes lives. Russians have an adage, “Азбука – наука, а ребятам бука!” (Alphabet is a science, but a bogyman for children!)
This year the first day will be very short for some students. Moscow is celebrating her annual city day or “Day of Moscow” and being the 865th birthday, a hearty celebration is in order! School officials have planned very short activities for Moscow students so that they and parents can spend the bulk of the weekend celebrating Moscow’s birthday. (http://www.educom.ru/ru/official/detail/?ID=38457)
Shortened school festivities are also planned in Novosibirsk where citywide celebrations with educational themes are being observed. More on the calendar of events in Novosibirsk at this link: http://www.novo-sibirsk.ru/articles/novosibirsk/den-znanij-2012/
In northern Russia, school children will have a full day in the Arkhangelsk (Архангельск) region. For that schedule, see this link: http://www.arhcity.ru/?page=0/22427
Universities in Russia and most of Europe and Asia begin on the first of September as well. Study in a University setting is naturally more rigorous and the Russians have a saying for that too, “Корень ученья горек, да плод его сладок” (The roots of learning are bitter, but the fruit is sweet)
1September also marks the official end of summer and the beginning of autumn.