Russian History


The Soviet Heritage

The Soviet government operated virtually all the schools in Russia. The underlying philosophy of Soviet schools was that the teacher's job was to transmit standardized materials to the students, and the student's job was to memorize those materials, all of which were put in the context of socialist ethics. That set of ethics stressed the primacy of the collective over the interests of the individual. Therefore, for both teachers and students, creativity and individualism were discouraged. The Soviet system also maintained some traditions from tsarist times, such as the five-point grading scale, formal and regimented classroom environments, and standard school uniforms--dark dresses with white collars for girls, white shirts and black pants for boys.

As in other areas of Soviet life, the need for reform in education was felt in the 1980s. Reform programs in that period called for new curricula, textbooks, and teaching methods. The chief aim of those programs was to create a "new school" that would better equip Soviet citizens to deal with the modern, technologically advanced nation that Soviet leaders foresaw in the future. Nevertheless, in the 1980s facilities generally were inadequate, overcrowding was common, and equipment and materials were in short supply. The schools and universities failed to supply adequately skilled labor to almost every sector of the economy, and overgrown bureaucracy further compromised education's contribution to society. At the same time, young Russians became increasingly cynical about the Marxist-Leninist philosophy they were forced to absorb, as well as the stifling of self-expression and individual responsibility. In the last years of the Soviet Union, funding was inadequate for the large-scale establishment of "new schools," and requirements of ideological purity continued to smother the new pedagogical creativity that was heralded in official pronouncements.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the transition toward democracy had a profound effect on national education policy. In 1992 a reform philosophy was set forth in the Law on Education. The fundamental principle of that law was the removal of state control from education policy. In regions with non-Russian populations, that meant that educational institutions could base their curricula and teaching methods on national and historical traditions. In all regions, enactment of the law meant significant autonomy for local authorities to choose education strategies most appropriate to the time and place. Post-Soviet education reform also stressed teaching objectively, thus discarding all forms of the narrow, institutional views that had dominated the previous era and preparing young people to deal with all aspects of the society they would encounter by presenting a broader interpretation of the world.

Post-Soviet educational philosophy also has sought to integrate education with the production and economic processes into which graduates will pass in adult life. Envisioning a program of continuous education lasting throughout the lifetime of an individual, this concept has as its goal converting the education process from an economic burden on the state to an engine of economic progress. Especially important in this program is the reorientation of vocational training to complement the economic reforms of the 1990s. New systems of education for farmers and various types of on-the-job training for adults have been introduced, and new curricula in economics stress understanding of market economies.