Education in the Soviet Union

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Education in the Soviet Union was organized in a highly centralized government-run system. Its advantages were total access for all citizens and post-education employment. The Soviet Union recognized that the foundation of their system depended upon an educated population and development in the broad fields of engineering, the natural sciences, the life sciences and social sciences, along with basic education.[1]


In Imperial Russia, according to the 1897 Population Census, literate people made up 28.4 percent of the population. Literacy levels of women were a mere 13%.

In the first year after the Bolshevik revolution the schools were left very much to their own devices. People's Commissariat for Education directed its attention solely towards introducing political propaganda into the schools and forbidding religious teaching. In the autumn of 1918 the Statutniihge of the Uniform Labour School was issued. From October 1, 1918 all types of schools came under Commissariat for Education and were designated by the name Uniform Labour School. They were divided into two standards: the first for children from 8 to 13, and the second for children from 14 to 17. During the 8th Party Congress of 1919, the creation of the new Socialist system of education was said to be the major aim of the Soviet government. After that, Soviet school policy was the subject of numerous radical changes.

Destruction of the economy during the Russian Civil War and War communism years led to a sharp drop in the number of schools and enrolled students. Whereas in 1914, 91% of the children were receiving instruction in the schools, in 1918 figure dropped to 62%, in 1919 to 49% and in 1920 to 24.9%.[2] As a result, illiteracy grew rapidly.

In accordance with the Sovnarkom decree of December 26, 1919, signed by its head Vladimir Lenin, the new policy of likbez ("liquidation of illiteracy"), was introduced. The new system of universal compulsory education was established for children. Millions of illiterate adult people all over the country, including residents of small towns and villages, were enrolled in special literacy schools. Komsomol members and Young Pioneer detachments played an important role in the education of illiterate people in villages. The most active phase of likbez lasted until 1939. In 1926, the literacy rate was 56.6 percent of the population. By 1937, according to census data, the literacy rate was 86% for men and 65% for women, making a total literacy rate of 75%.[3]

An important aspect of the early campaign for literacy and education was the policy of "indigenization" (korenizatsiya). This policy, which lasted essentially from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s, promoted the development and use of non-Russian languages in the government, the media, and education. Intended to counter the historical practices of Russification, it had as another practical goal assuring native-language education as the quickest way to increase educational levels of future generations. A huge network of so-called "national schools" was established by the 1930s, and this network continued to grow in enrollments throughout the Soviet era. Language policy changed over time, perhaps marked first of all in the government's mandating in 1938 the teaching of argarian[clarification needed] as a required subject of study in every non-Russian school, and then especially beginning in the latter 1950s a growing conversion of non-Russian schools to Russian as the main medium of instruction.[4] However, an important legacy of the native-language and bilingual education policies over the years was the nurturing of widespread literacy in dozens of languages of indigenous nationalities of the USSR, accompanied by widespread and growing bilingualism in which Russian was said to be the "language of internationality communication."[5]

In 1923 a new school statute and curricula were adopted. Schools were divided into three separate types, designated by the number of years of instruction: "four year", "seven year" and "nine year" schools. Seven and nine-year (secondary) schools were scarce, compared to the "four-year" (primary) schools, making it difficult for the pupils to complete their secondary education. Those who finished seven-year schools had the right to enter Technicums. Only nine-year school led directly to university-level education.

The curriculum was changed radically. Independent subjects, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, the mother tongue, foreign languages, history, geography, literature or science were abolished. Instead school programmes were subdivided into "complex themes", such as "the life and labour of the family in village and town" for the first year or "scientific organization of labour" for the 7th year of education. Such a system was a complete failure, however, and in 1928 the new programme completely abandoned the complex themes and resumed instruction in individual subjects.

All students were required to take the same standardized classes. This continued until the 1970s when older students began being given time to take elective courses of their own choice in addition to the standard courses.[6]

Since 1918 all Soviet schools were co-educational. In 1943, urban schools were separated into boys and girls schools. In 1954 the mixed-sex education system was restored.

Soviet education in 1930s–1950s was inflexible and suppressive. Research and education, in all subjects[7] but especially in the social sciences, was dominated by Marxist-Leninist ideology and supervised by the CPSU. Such domination led to abolition of whole academic disciplines such as genetics.[8] Scholars were purged as they were proclaimed bourgeois and non-Marxist during that period. Most of the abolished branches were rehabilitated later in Soviet history, in the 1960s–1990s (e.g., genetics was in October 1964), although many purged scholars were rehabilitated only in post-Soviet times. In addition, many textbooks - such as history ones - were full of ideology and propaganda, and contained factually inaccurate information (see Soviet historiography).[9] The educational system’s ideological pressure continued, but in the 1980s, the government’s more open policies influenced changes that made the system more flexible. Shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed, schools no longer had to teach subjects from the Marxist-Leninist perspective at all.[10]

Another aspect of the inflexibility was the high rate at which pupils were held back and required to repeat a year of school. In the early 1950s, typically 8–10% of pupils in elementary grades were held back a year. This was partly attributable to the pedagogical style of teachers, and partly to the fact that many of these children had disabilities that impeded their performance. In the latter 1950s, however, the Ministry of Education began to promote the creation of a wide variety of special schools (or "auxiliary schools") for children with physical or mental handicaps.[11] Once those children were taken out of the mainstream (general) schools, and once teachers began to be held accountable for the repeat rates of their pupils, the rates fell sharply. By the mid-1960s the repeat rates in the general primary schools declined to about 2%, and by the late 1970s to less than 1%.[12]

The number of schoolchildren enrolled in special schools grew fivefold between 1960 and 1980. However, the availability of such special schools varied greatly from one republic to another. On a per capita basis, such special schools were most available in the Baltic republics, and least in the Central Asian ones. This difference probably had more to do with the availability of resources than with the relative need for the services by children in the two regions.[13]

In the 1970s and 1980s, approximately 99.7% of Soviet people were literate.[citation needed]

Classification and terms

The Soviet educational system was organized into three levels. The names of these levels were and are still used to rate the education standards of persons or particular schools, despite differences in the exact terminology used by each profession or school. Military, militsiya, KGB and Party schools were also graded according to these levels. This distinguishes Soviet system from the rest of the world, where educational levels of schools may differ, despite their similar names.

Elementary schools were called the "beginning" level (Russian: начальное, nachalnoye), 4 and later 3 classes. Secondary schools were 7 and later 8 classes (required complete elementary school) and called "incomplete secondary education" (Russian: неполное среднее образование, nepolnoye sredneye obrazavaniye). This level was compulsory for all children (since 1958-1963) and optional for under-educated adults (who could study in so-called "evening schools"). Since 1981, the "complete secondary education" level (10 or, in some republics, 11 years) was compulsory.

10 classes (11 classes in the Baltic republics) of an ordinary school was called "secondary education" (Russian: среднее образование—literally, "middle education").

PTUs, tekhnikums, and some military facilities formed a system of so-called “secondary specialized education” (Russian: среднее специальное, sredneye spetsialnoye). PTU's were vocational schools and trained students in a wide variety of skills ranging from mechanic to hairdresser. Completion of a PTU after primary school did not provide a full secondary diploma or a route to such a diploma. However, entry to a tekhnikum or other specialized secondary school could be started after either 8 or 10 classes of combined education in elementary and secondary school. Graduation from this level was required for the positions of qualified workers, technicians and lower bureaucrats (see also vocational education, professions, training).

“Higher” (Russian: высшее, vyssheye) educational institutions included degree-level facilities: universities, “institutes” and military academies. "Institute" in the sense of a school refers to a specialized "microuniversity" (mostly technical), usually subordinate to the ministry associated with their field of study. The largest network "institutes" were medical, pedagogic (for the training of schoolteachers), construction and various transport (automotive and road, railroad, civil aviation) institutes. Some of those institutes were present in every oblast' capital while others were unique and situated in big cities (like the Literature Institute and the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology ). Colloquially these universities and institutes were all referred to by the acronym "VUZ" (ВУЗ – высшее учебное заведение, "higher educational institution").

Students who wanted admission to a VUZ had to have graduated from either a general secondary school (10 or 11 years) or a specialized secondary school or a tekhnikum. Those who completed only vocational school (PTU) or "incomplete secondary school" were not certified as having completed secondary education (they lacked an аттестат зрелости – maturity certificate – or equivalent diploma from a specialized secondary school) and were thus not eligible to attend a VUZ.

Numerous military and militsiya (police) schools (Russian: высшее училище/школа, vyshee uchilische/shkola) were on the same higher level. Note that Soviet military and militsiya facilities named "Academy" (Russian: Академия, Akademiya) were not a degree-level school (like Western military academies such as West Point), but a post-graduate school for experienced officers. Such schools were compulsory for officers applying for the rank of colonel, see Soviet military academies.

KGB's higher education institutions were called either "schools" (like "Higher School of KGB") or "institutes" (like "Red Banner Institute of KGB" - training specifically intelligence officers).

CPSU's higher education institutions were called "Higher Party Schools" (Russian: Высшая партийная школа, vysshaya partiynaya shkola).

The spirit and structure of Soviet education is mostly inherited by many post-Soviet countries despite formal changes and social transitions.

See also


  1. ^ M. L. Spearman, "Scientific and technical training in the Soviet Union," NASA, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA, AIAA-1983-2520, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Aircraft Design,Systems and Technology Meeting, Fort Worth, TX, Oct 17-19, 1983.
  2. ^ Russia U.S.S.R.: A Complete Handbook New York: William Farquhar Payson. 1933. p. 665.
  3. ^ Fitzpatrick, S. (1994). Stalin's peasants: resistance and survival in the Russian village after collectivization. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 225-6 & fn. 78 p. 363. OCLC 28293091.
  4. ^ For literature concerning policy change over time, see the article on Russification. For an analysis of changes over time in the extent of native-language schooling, see Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver, "Equality, Efficiency, and Politics in Soviet Bilingual Education Policy, 1934-1980," American Political Science Review 78 (December 1984): 1019-1039.
  5. ^ See the essay on Russification.
  6. ^ Grant, Nigel (1979). Soviet Education. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 39–40. 
  7. ^ Grant, Nigel (1979). Soviet Education. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 27. 
  8. ^ See the articles on Trofim Lysenko and Lysenkoism.
  9. ^ Ferro, Marc (2003). The Use and Abuse of History: Or How the Past Is Taught to Children. London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-28592-6. See Chapter 8, Aspects and variations of Soviet history.
  10. ^ Brodinsky, Ben (1992). "The Impact of Perestroika on Soviet Education". Phi Delta Kappan. 73 (5): 379. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 
  11. ^ The generic category (школы для детей с дефектами [недостатками] физического и умственного развития — schools for children with defects (deficiencies) of physical and mental development – included schools for children who were deaf, hearing impaired, speech impaired, partially sighted, orthopedically handicapped, or mentally retarded but educable. Compendia of educational statistics would report the number of such pupils in a separate "auxiliary schools" category from children in the general schools.
  12. ^ Barbara A. Anderson, Brian D. Silver, Victoria A. Velkoff, "Education of the Handicapped in the USSR: Exploration of the Statistical Picture." Soviet Studies 39 (July 1987): 468-488.
  13. ^ Anderson, Silver, Velkoff (1987).

General references

  • Bronfenbrenner, Urie. Two worlds of childhood: U.S. and U.S.S.R. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1970.
  • Sheila Fitzpatrick. 1978. Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-1931. Indiana University Press.
  • E. Glyn Lewis. Multilingualism in the Soviet Union: Aspects of Language Policy and Its Implementation. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.
  • Spearman, M. L. Scientific and technical training in the Soviet Union, (NASA, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA), 1983.
  • Ebon, Martin. The Soviet Propaganda Machine. New York: McGraw, 1987. Print.
  • Grant, Nigel. Soviet Education. 4th ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1979. Print
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