Russian education and cultural institutions and activities, highly constrained and monitored, as well as financed, by the Soviet state for nearly seven decades, were granted much greater freedom during the late 1980s, under the policy of glasnost (Russian, “openness”) of the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Liberalization accelerated with the collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the USSR. Ideological training has disappeared; new teaching methodologies have been developed and promoted in public schools, including a new approach to Soviet and Russian history; private schools have been established; and the bans on a variety of forms of artistic expression have been lifted. However, although now free of ideological and political interference, Russia’s educational system and cultural institutions have been severely affected by the impact of the liberalization of the country’s economy generally, and by the collapse of government finances in particular. State funding has been cut or, in many cases, ended and even where theoretically still provided has often failed to materialize.
Russia inherited a well-developed, comprehensive system of education that was probably one of the greatest achievements of the Soviet period. The Soviet authorities established an extensive network of pre-school, elementary, secondary, and higher-education institutions that transformed national educational levels. Literacy levels were brought up to almost 100 per cent, compared with a predominantly illiterate population in 1917, secondary-level education became the norm, with a sizeable minority going on to higher education, and the country became a world leader in many areas of research. It also provided free continuing education for adults. At the age of six or seven, children in the USSR entered primary school for an intensive course from grades one to four. Intermediate education began with grade five and continued until grade nine. After that, children entered upper-level schools, specialized institutions, or vocational-technical programmes, which included on-the-job training.
Nurseries, kindergartens, and other early-education facilities were particularly well developed in Russia during the Soviet period. In 1989 nearly 70 per cent of pre-school-age children attended a state-run facility—one of the highest proportions among the former Soviet republics. The system of specialized secondary and vocational-technical education was also well developed. In 1989 Russia had 2,595 specialist secondary institutions, or 57 per cent of the total in the former Soviet republics. Such schools were set up to train skilled and semi-professional workers such as technicians, nurses, and elementary-school teachers, who generally function as assistants to professional graduates of higher educational institutions. Vocational-technical schools offer students a chance to complete a general secondary education while obtaining occupational training.
Russia has some 70,000 primary and secondary schools, including some 447 non-state schools (1994). More than 21 million pupils were enrolled in 1994, equivalent to about 95 per cent of the total school-age population; 40,000 of the total were in private schools. Although primary and secondary education are still free in the state sector, schools are facing increasing shortages of equipment and books, and school buildings are generally in a poor state of repair; many schools lack basic facilities such as running water or sewerage. There is also a growing problem of staff shortages. Teachers’ salaries are very low (equivalent to about 73 per cent of the average national wage in 1994) and the status of the profession, which is dominated by women, has fallen considerably in recent years. Many teachers, particularly those with marketable skills like foreign languages, have left to take up jobs in the expanding and more lucrative private sector, while the number of entrants to the profession is falling. The problem of low wages has been compounded by the government’s financial problems, which have led to a large backlog of unpaid wages in the public sector generally. Schoolteachers have been in the forefront of strikes to protest against the backlog.
The impact of economic liberalization and government financial shortages on the pre-school sector has been even more profound. The state nursery sector, set up originally to support the Soviet Union’s large number of working women, by caring for children aged 6 months to 3 years, had virtually ceased to exist by the end of 1995. To help compensate for this loss, the government in 1994 increased maternity-leave provision from 1 to 3 years, and many women have taken advantage of this, although the additional leave is unpaid. Private crèches have been set up, but the cost of their fees mean that they are out of the reach of most parents. Kindergarten provision for children aged 3 to 6 years has continued. However, many of the free workplace facilities of the Soviet era have been closed down by privatized state industries, while nurseries still in the state sector have lost their subsidies, forcing them to charge fees.
The number of higher educational institutions has expanded since the collapse of the USSR, rising from 514 in 1990 to 553 in 1994 and nearly 700 by 2002. The increase reflects mainly the rapid growth of non-state higher educational institutions during the 1990s. However, the number of students enrolled in higher education has fallen, from 2.8 million in 1990, to just over 2.5 million in 1994, of whom 4 per cent were in the non-state sector. The fall in numbers has been due partly to Russia’s changing demographic structure, but mainly to the introduction of tuition charges for students. Although the fees are generally low, except in the most prestigious universities, by the end of 1996 the only university still providing completely free access was Kazan State University in Tatarstan republic. Founded in 1804, Kazan State University is the third oldest university in Russia, and also one of the most prestigious. The others included Moscow State University (founded 1755), St Petersburg State University (1819), and Novosibirsk State University (1959). Other important universities are located in Rostov, Nizhniy Novgorod, Tomsk, Vladivostok, and Voronezh. The number of universities has increased since 1991, created from numerous small institutes in cities of republics across the federation. Notwithstanding this, universities still comprise only a small proportion of higher educational establishments; the vast majority are institutes that specialize in vocational training."Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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