Sunday, May 26, 2013

By Stephen Wilson
Second City Teacher

(Moscow, Russia) - Over the past few days the Russian Minister of Education has come under severe criticism from members of the Russian Duma.  Even his deputy refuses to vote for his proposals.  They have been calling for his resignation! 

'It is better to do nothing than implement disastrous policies' claimed one critic! The almost amateurish and rash proposals  to close down some of the best institutes has astonished even staunch 'yes-men'! It has left people wandering if the lunatics have taken over the asylum, or more appropriately, have a band of swaggering school hooligans starting to boss teachers about. 

Nevertheless, the Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev won't back down and stubbornly defends the new proposes to  'modernise' and update the education system.

However, the Russian government can take consolation from some welcome news.  Moscow State University reached the 50th place in the ratings of the best 100 universities, according to the British newspaper, 'The Times'.  The top remaining universities tend to be Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge and Oxford.

However, what is disquieting is how sensitive the Russian government is to those foreign rating systems.

 You would think that all the rising anti-American rhetoric would lead them to critically reject, rather than endorse those limited and questionable evaluation ratings! They don't! On the contrary, they are actually restructuring  further education along western lines by making education less accessible to the poorest students, and almost totally private.

For example, if you want to train to be a doctor at Moscow State University, there are only 5 places available which are 'free'!  If you want to be an architect, there are only around a dozen free places at one institute.  Forget about a career open to talent!  Money is much more important than merit.

It is interesting to note that the criteria for evaluating universities is one-sided.  For example, the number of scientific articles published in journals (they have to be written in English!), the number of foreign students a university attracts (this depends on the narrow skill of promotion and not originality or creativity in science) and the number of specialists.   

It is worth recalling that one of the most famous sociologists of the 19th century Herbert Spencer never held a university degree, never mind a doctorate; and one of the most famous archaeologists Heinrich Schliemann had practically no academic credentials and was self-taught! 

However, the history of further education does not embarrass any official or academic.  They either overlook it, or are conveniently unaware of it.

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