Natalia Donskaya: Ilyumzhinov opened Kalmykia to the world

Parents from all over Moscow tend to enrol their children into private lyceum kindergarten school Nadezhda (‘Hope’ in Russian, Ed.)". Perhaps because all graduates of this school are guaranteed to enter prestigious universities not only in Russia, but also abroad. And perhaps because children are encouraged to study so much there that they are happy to go to school and spend whole days there.  

At the end of November, head of FIDE Kirsan Ilyumzhinov visited Lyceum Nadezhda. The reason for visit was to review chess tournament dedicated to the 25th anniversary of school. Kirsan Nikolayevich played chess with students, answered their questions and took part in the opening of the sports complex. Today, website editorial staff is talking with school's director Natalya Donskaya about the secret of entertaining studies, why you should not be afraid of modern gadgets and what Ilyumzhinov can teach.
- Natalia Alexandrovna, let's start with quite expectable from our website question: what role does chess play in "Hope"?
Lyceum "Nadezhda" is an educational complex with a kindergarten for children less than one and a half year of age, a full-time school from the first to the eleventh grades and a centre of additional education. We have already started to teach children chess at preschool level. The current curriculum is designed for a five-year age category, but we are developing curriculums for an earlier age. Chess is included in the list of compulsory subjects in primary schools and it is one of the subjects of supplementary education in senior schools. So we are very active in promoting chess.
- And what results do you get?
I work as director of Lyceum "Hope" for the fourth year. One of my first innovations was extensive introduction of chess into educational process. So, during this time we understood that the ancient game gives a good opportunity to develop logical thinking in children, ability to interact and respect each other. Kids learn how to see different approaches to solving interesting problems and identify cause-effect relationships.   We noticed this phenomenon and our task now is to maximize it.
- Now everyone is talking about four-year old chess player Misha Osipov. What is, in your opinion, more important for success: natural giftedness or systematic studies?
I am deeply convinced that all children are talented, each in its own way. Therefore, my task, as the head of the school, is to attract such teachers, who will be able to see a potential in the child and help it to open up. Therefore, we pay no less attention to the system of additional education than to the basic curriculum. There are very talented children and we have a magnificent creative workshop for them. Children are engaged in decoupage, felting, and drawing.  They create interesting dolls; in a word, they master various techniques.
By the way, chess often gives stimulus to creativity. One of our know-how is to approach chess through children’s creativity. That is, children do not only get acquainted with the rules of the game, but also learn how to make chess pieces, chess boards and even a working chess clock out of various materials. We noticed that this approach changes their attitude towards the game.
Of course, our system of additional education is not limited by this. For those who are passionate about music there is a vocal studio, four vocal-instrumental ensembles, where children play different musical instruments. There is a theatrical studio "Workshop of the Soul". There is a language club, in which students study customs and culture of people who speak English, German, Spanish and French. The sports area includes a football club, martial arts studio, table tennis, a modern and sports ballroom dances studio and a golf club.
- It sounds attractive but, as you know, hobbies do not provide either a broad outlook or communication skills. It is believed that only reading can provide it. However, modern children (this is a common complaint) read little and reluctantly. How do you cope with this problem?
I do not like to use the word "problem": it means something external, which is beyond our efforts and abilities. It is better to use the word "task": there is a task – it can and should be solved. And concerning the task you mentioned, we, in my opinion, are doing quite well. Back in 2001, Lyceum Nadezhda entered the interregional project of the Russian Reading Association and received a well-deserved status of a "School where literacy flourishes" in 2004. Within the framework of the project, readers' conferences are held two or three times a year. All teachers and children starting with first graders participate in it.
It looks like this: first, everyone presents his favourite book in mini-groups. The most interesting book is determined by voting in each group. Thus, we form the "Golden Regiment" of our favourite books separately for younger classes and for senior ones. The most interesting readers and storytellers become "leaders of reading". During the year, leaders of reading conduct classes in the lower grades. Fourth grade students conduct classes in our gymnasium. Additionally, the ‘Book of the Year’ is chosen. This year, the book of the year in primary school was " Barankin, be a man" by Valery Medvedev. This novel has just celebrated its 55th anniversary last year. High school students chose "Scarlet Sails" by Alexander Green. Reading is fashionable in our lyceum.
Incidentally, before meeting with Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the students prepared several questions to ask from him, including the title of his favourite book. In response, FIDE President talked for ten minutes about the novel "How the Steel Was Tempered" by Nikolay Ostrovsky. He, in his turn, asked several questions about this novel, which senior students, unfortunately, could not answer. However, they became interested and, perhaps, the novel by N. Ostrovsky will be chosen as the "The book of the Year" in the following year. So, Kirsan Nikolayevich, in a way, became our honorary leader of reading.
- Good. It looks like you have managed to win over the dislike of reading. And how are you coping with another modern misfortune – gadget slavery in school? Do you have to ban smartphones and tablets?
It's really a problem. But the first antidote to gadget slavery is the constant involvement of the students in the educational and upbringing process. Incidentally, chess serves as a remedy. We try to ensure that children are constantly engaged in various activities. For example, a ‘week of foreign languages’ just ended here.
And we do not leave children alone with gadgets at the intervals between lessons. We have adopted the practice of our friendly Finnish colleagues – no student should be inside the school in any weather during intervals. That’s why we were so excited by the new sports complex with areas for kindergarten pupils and junior schoolchildren and a large sports complex for volleyball, football and basketball.
In the end, is it really necessary to be afraid of gadgets? Gadgets will not be dangerous if we work together with children and create conditions in which children are willing to be constantly engaged in various interesting tasks at school and if children know that we listen to them.
- How successful are your teaching methods?
In general, all hundred percent of our graduates enter universities – not only leading Russian, but also foreign ones. I think this is due primarily to the fact that we approach each child individually; therefore, our students do not need tutors. We cooperate with universities – we have three teachers from the Bauman MSTU. We are very tightly working with the University of Cambridge, Moscow State Pedagogical University and the Higher School of Economics.
In addition, we ourselves are constantly learning. We are trying to create a system of continuous education for teachers within the framework of a permanent methodical seminar. Everyone is studying – both teachers and head teachers. That's why you can meet our graduates both at Bauman MSTU and at Alma Mater of Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – MGIMO.
- Since you remembered Ilyumzhinov, can you tell us if it was the first time that you met him in the end of last November?
Yes, we are countrymen. I come from Elista, where I graduated from Kanukov Teachers College and Kalmyk State University named after Basan Gorodovikov. I first met Kirsan Nikolayevich during my fourth year of college. Besides studying, I led an energetic student’s life and took an active civil position. I participated in the election campaign of Ilyumzhinov in 1993. I will never forget his visits to our college, where we first met.
You have no idea what Kirsan Nikolaevich meant for Kalmykia! He gave us confidence that a person can achieve absolutely everything in life. He taught many people, including me, how to believe in our strength, our dreams and be able to achieve what we wanted.
He was and remains a legend for all who were fortunate enough to know him in those years. All that is most beautiful in Kalmykia and what we are proud of now was built under Kirsan Nikolayevich!
He knows perfectly well how and with what respect and attention to communicate with people – there are no boring interlocutors for him. He knows how to find a kind word for everyone and everyone is interesting to him.  
When I learned from a friend that they will air a show with Kirsan Nikolayevich in Ostankino, I immediately went there. I saw him after recording and invited him to our lyceum. He agreed and kept his word – he came. I cannot tell you how enthusiastic our children were!
- You have not seen him for a long time; many years have passed. Has Kirsan Ilyumzhinov changed since then?
He has not changed at all. He is still the same energetic, surrounded by a special aura person. The most important thing that he did for Kalmykia and its people was that the world discovered us. Thanks to him, the world learned about Kalmykia. By his efforts and on his initiative, magnificent temples began to be built in the republic, including the largest in Europe Buddhist temple, which is constantly spoken about. He built the Chess City, held a chess Olympiad in Elista. The most eminent world grandmasters visited us!   
He is a person who, for many people, embodies wisdom, intellect and philanthropy; the one who communicates with presidents and the Dalai Lama on equal terms. At the same time he is a very simple, very attentive and cordial person, who is always ready to help. His energy and aura makes one believe in oneself and his deeds prove that verbally "Everything is in our hands"! You feel inspired when he is around and you can’t help but ask yourself: "if he could, why cannot I?" Thus, I really wanted to invite him to our anniversary so that the students could talk to him, which was very important for me.
We are very grateful to Kirsan Nikolayevich for finding time to communicate with our kids in his busy schedule.   We are grateful for his congratulations and, on our part, would like to wish him further opening his potential for the benefit of society.