The Soviet rulers saw comprehensive public education as necessary for purposes of economic and social modernization and political indoctrination. In 1918 they took over all private and parochial schools and colleges, abolished fees, and determined that all children ages 8 to 15 were to attend school full time. Compulsory study was gradually lengthened, so that by the 1980s most children remained in the classroom from ages 7 to 17.
The nine-year common curriculum in elementary and secondary schools stressed language and literature, mathematics, military and physical training, history, manual skills, and natural sciences. The gifted or the sons and daughters of the politically well-connected sometimes studied in special schools dedicated to foreign languages, music, ballet, or art. Outside the school walls, all were exhorted to join youth organizations sanctioned by the CPSU. These included the Young Octobrists for children ages 6 to 9, the Pioneers for ages 10 to 15, and the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) for ages 14 to 28. Pupils were streamed after ninth grade into one of three programs. Students bound for higher education received two years of advanced secondary courses; those bound for industrial trades took “vocational-technical” courses; and those bound for semiprofessional work were sent into “specialized secondary” schooling.
The Soviet Union screened schoolchildren to find talented athletes at an early age, sometimes as young as five or six; those selected for competitive sports were sometimes sent to special schools for that purpose.
Higher education followed two channels in the Soviet Union: universities, teaching the pure sciences and humanities, and specialized institutes with a direct connection to a branch of the economy, usually funded by an industrial ministry. Of the 904 institutions of higher learning in 1989, only 69—with 630,000 out of 5.2 million enrolled students—were universities. The most prestigious were in Moscow, Leningrad, Kazan’, and other large RSFSR cities, and in the capitals of the other union republics.
Soviet education did a good job of inculcating basic knowledge. The literacy rate, which was 44 percent in 1920, climbed to 87 percent by 1939 and to 99.7 percent by 1970. Of the population aged 15 or older in 1989, 49 percent had graduated from a secondary or vocational school and 11 percent had completed a higher education. The narrow proficiency typically acquired, however, dampened creativity and was often out of step with the labor market. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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