September 01, 2020

Day of Knowledge and the Start of School



Day of Knowledge and the Start of School
Children going to school for the first time bring flowers for their teachers. Image by Schekinov Alexey Victorovich via Wikimedia Commons

Schools in the US begin classes sometime from the end of August to the beginning of September, depending on local government decisions. Regardless of when school starts in the US, there may often be mixed feelings about returning to classes or beginning school for the first time. In Russia, however, as in several post-Soviet countries, the beginning of school is greeted not with trepidation, but with celebration.

In Russia, all schools, no matter the regional politics, begin on September first. The only exception is when this date falls on a Sunday, in which case school starts on September second. The first day of school is not filled with boring discussions of syllabi or class rules, but rather greeted as a holiday— Day of Knowledge (День знаний, den znany). This holiday was officially established in 1984; before that, September 1 was a traditional academic day. Now, it is a day to celebrate teachers, students, professors, and the parents involved in their children’s education.

Anyone in Russia on September 1 will see smartly-dressed school children holding bouquets of flowers for their teachers. This is one tradition of the Day of Knowledge – showing respect and admiration for one's teachers and professors. Most schools also have assemblies to mark the auspicious day, although universities may only hold assemblies for incoming freshmen, while upper classmen go to their classrooms. This holiday is most of all dedicated to those who will be attending school for the first time (first-graders), or those beginning university (freshmen). Some schools even organize large parties for this holiday.

This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, Day of Knowledge will look a bit different. President Putin is taking part in a video conference to mark the beginning of classes. Many regions are still holding school-wide assemblies, but with some restrictions. In Tomsk, for example, authorities are asking that entire families not attend the celebrations, but rather that each child be supported by no more than two family members. The assemblies will be held outside and not last longer than 20 minutes. Some schools are doing assemblies in shifts, to help promote social distancing.

Regardless of the format, this special holiday will still be a day to celebrate and remember the importance of wisdom and knowledge, and will mark the start of the academic year. In Russia, schools are returning to in-person instruction, with protective measures in place, such as taking students’ temperatures each morning and ensuring disinfections between class shifts.

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