We are often asked how long it takes to organise a programme for nine classes, to pass exams and receive a certificate. We are usually lost for answers. Students come to us when they are already adults, either after or during college. Students with different stories and different abilities come to us. They are motivated by a desire to prove to the world and to themselves that they are no different from others; they can conquer Physics, Maths, a novel by Tolstoy and a few foreign-language phrases. They can pass exams on an equal footing with everyone else; they can choose their life on an equal footing with everyone else.

There are no identical paths; some require a three-year programme and others require a five-year programme or longer. Last year, the group that Katya studied in finished their ninth year. Katya dropped out of the race in May, failing to pass Maths and Chemistry. At graduation in June, where students were receiving certificates, Katya already knew that she would have to go through the programme again. We congratulated Katya at graduation because a lot of strength is required to take the same path again.

A person can influence themselves. If a person needs something, then they will do it. What is important is how much they want it. Therefore, I will not stop myself from studying, trying again and breaking down those walls – even if no one likes it. I make decisions for myself and off I go. Complexity is just a part of my journey.

My name is Katya. I am 21 years old

I came to the Step Up Centre four years ago. I came to receive a certificate so that I could go on to study at a state college and get a job. I could become a hairdresser, for example.

You can’t study to be a hairdresser through corrective education. I don’t have a graduation certificate saying I graduated from a corrective school, but I can immediately see something is wrong from my list of subjects.

Corrective education is based on five classes taught at comprehensive school. It is easy to study five subjects and increase that number over nine years. For example, there’s no Chemistry, Physics or English. I think it’s still useful, though, for a person to study Chemistry and Physics. They will know how an electric train works and how a car engine works.

After nine years, I received my graduation certificate and graduated from college as a seamstress. I had a choice: to go and study as a seamstress or work somewhere else – there were choices to work with land or computers. I had to choose something and went with the seamstress job.

At the same time, while I was in college, I started studying at the Step Up Orphan Opportunity Centre. I went through years six, seven and eight. I think the Step Up Centre gives us the opportunity to receive an education, while the state doesn’t. The state gives you a certificate and says: do this, even if you don’t want to.

It’s not hugely complicated to study at the Step Up Centre. Repetition is key. Every day, for one or two hours, we repeat what has happened during the day.

#каждый_день_вверх [a step up every day]

I think a lot of students give up on their Step Up programme because we aren’t used to persevering, working hard and setting goals. At school, we hardly studied so why would we be used to it? As a result, it’s difficult here and so many people quit. Though, I would advise anyone coming here not to give up. Despite the difficulties and the fact this is a tough path, just go further and break down those walls. The most important thing is to not give up.

Where does strength come from?

Going towards a goal. That’s what life is all about. Everyone around me says that I can’t. That’s where the strength comes from – I have to prove to everyone that I can do it. When I first came one evening, my relatives didn’t really understand it. Nobody believed I could do it; they wondered why it was necessary and told me to work because nothing would come of it.

Am I different?

In school, I didn’t understand that I was different from others; that I was following a different programme; that there was a division in the class. Once it was time to graduate, I realised I couldn’t get anywhere with the certificate – I wasn’t needed anywhere. Then it became insulting and incomprehensible thinking about what I could do with it. Learning wasn’t always complicated – we had almost no homework. It’s been a while now since I’ve seen other students form school. I’m not interested in that; I know that everyone who was in the same class as me have no education. One is raising a child now and another is working in a shop somewhere.

Always keep going

Since I began to study, I have become stronger and more stubborn. I can definitely say that. A strong person is a person who can solve their own problems. Therefore, I think I’m an adult now. I don’t have time to work right now because of my studies. But I’m planning to – I want to move out of my parents’ house.

When they tell me I can’t, I try not to listen and I keep going. Next year I will go back to the Step Up Centre; I will redo my ninth year and try and pass my exams. If someone laughs or says something about the fact I’m coming back, I won’t care. I’m stronger than that. Who cares about other people’s opinions?

What for?

I don’t feel alone. I study, I have classes and I come in the evening. I rely on it now; it helps me live. It’s important that I work and feel part of society. It’s important that I do something – I can’t just sit at home. Sometimes what you are doing isn’t important as long as you leave the house, talk to people and see the world.

You need some kind of goal and that will help you go for it. Have a think about what you would like to do and then a hobby can turn into a goal.

If you need to redo year nine, then you need to redo it.

I grew up in a large family. I have brothers, relatives, uncles and aunts. My brother studies at a regular school and I’m the only person to have graduated from high school with a certificate of education.

At home, they didn’t respond well to the fact I didn’t pass my exams this year. They were waiting for me to finish this whole evening school story. They said I should have done more. They weren’t very supportive. Seemingly disappointed, they said I should quit school and go to work. But personally, I think we need to just continue.

Not a school for fools

If I could change anything in the world around me, I would change people’s attitudes towards corrective education so that society doesn’t consider it shameful. I think it would be better for schools to not be divided between general and corrective, as you can find common links between the two programmes. It’s just that one is more adapted and takes longer. I do not like the word “corrective”; it’s like labelling someone “misunderstood”. We were often sent to the corrective class because of behaviour and restraint. Nothing was wrong, but they could easily irritate the director or teacher.

I don’t talk about my education; I always come up with an excuse. But I think I’ll be able to tell you about my past someday. This year I was able to tell my friend and godmother about evening classes. I told them that I don’t have a general education and I’m taking evening classes. I told them that it happens; I am 20 and finishing my ninth year. It happens. They were fine with it. Even my parents tell no one about it; my relatives are just told that I went to school late. You know, people still tell jokes and call corrective schools ШД – that is, a school for fools. How can I tell them, then? Everyone just thinks I’ve been studying for a long time.

Imagine a map

I have no favourite or least favourite subjects. I’m indifferent towards all of them. I just have to learn. When I read books, I often get to the middle and then stop. The last book I read was Remarque’s Three Comrades.

We didn’t learn geography at school. And now, already, when I talk to people, I can better understand who comes from which city and republic. I just imagine the map. Of course, that makes life more interesting. If I could forget about everything else, I’d love to travel and visit other countries.

I believe in the future

I believe I will first finish school, and then college. I will master a profession and find a job. I will get my own home. I believe that I will succeed in life. I think I make a good impression on people. I don’t like to create problems. I just have my goals and I’m working towards them.

I see no difference between myself and other people on the street. It’s just that you need an education to be able to go and study and work. It’s a shame to be deprived of the choice to do so.