Saturday, February 21, 2015

Russian School Cuts

By Stephen Wilson

(Moscow, Russia) - While the Russian government is lavishly boosting expenditure on its
armed forces, it plans to drastically cut education services .The full implications of those proposals have not been thoroughly worked out or offered sufficient attention. If those plans are implemented almost 50% of schools and institutions of further education will be closed
down. Not only thousands of teachers will lose their jobs but the  the quality of education  will fall further. Second city Teacher investigated the proposals.

As I walked down the path I felt the ground was caving in. I almost tripped and fell flat on my face. When I looked down and ahead of me I noticed the newly laid paving stones of concrete (were they bricks?) had become shaky and rickety. I wondered how old and infirm people managed to navigate over this terrain. The new pavement was far worse than the previous path. You were not in danger of falling off badly laid paving stones. This result where many fine roads and pavements have been  uprooted and replaced by unsteady bricks was enforced by the local mayor of Moscow who made lucrative contracts with construction companies. But he has not only changed the paving stones of Moscow but the whole face. Whereas one could once easily find a kiosk  to buy some milk or bread now they can be difficult to find. In 2012, because the mayor deemed kiosks were blighting the city of Moscow, he closed down many making 50,000 workers redundant. Some of them have still not found work. He intends to close the rest of the remaining kiosks down making even more people redundant. Experts warn that another 50,000 kiosk workers could lose
their jobs by the end of December. There was hardly a murmur or protest against this mass program of redundancies. Now if 50,000 workers can be made redundant without a protest then so can many teachers whose jobs are threatened! 

A few demonstrations against those changes are not enough. The recent government proposals concerning the so-called 'modernisation' ,'reform' and 'optimisation' of schools should make teachers shudder!  The Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev's has laid out his concept for education from 2016 -2020. According to his plans, 80% of philological institutes and 40% of institutes of education will be closed down. They are to be closed down for being 'ineffective' after a controversial government inspection in 2014 . Hardly any teacher was consulted about this, never mind students.


After inspecting 500 .F.E. institutions in 2014 ,the government claimed to have discovered wide scale violations of licences and even forbade 36 institutes from accepting students and 24 had their licences withdrawn altogether. Controversy arose because many of those institutions deemed 'ineffective' are first class legendary institutions with a solid reputation for excellence. The claims were so illogical that many people suspect the government of more ulterior motives such as an eye on acquiring real estate or simply letting certain favoured government institutions ward off competition from rivals and therefore gain more finance as well as students. Or if you want to put it more succinctly, 'modernisation' is a continuation of corruption by other means (one square metre of real estate can fetch 500,000 rubles). 

If 40 % of further educations institutions are closed then this amounts to the closure of more than 400 colleges and universities.

The intended closure of 80% of philology institutions lacks any logical sense. According to Irina Abankina, only around 40-60 of those institutes are 'phoney ones' without real trained staff or genuine degrees.

Medvedev claims that there are too many institutions and too many students in Russia! So from 2011 the number of school graduates was cut by 70,000, while the number of F.E. institutes rose by 70! The number of students rose to 6 million, whereas ten years ago it was
three times less!

Another claim is that Russia is short of joiners, plumbers and lathe machine operators. If this is so then why is the government also closing down some institutes which actually train people in those trades? An opposition leader claimed that the government wants to create a society full of plumbers and brick-layers rather than highly educated people with bachelor or master degrees. In fact, it is doubtful whether this government intends to build anything solid at all and is busy looting the property of educational institutes. They have the same crude mentality of someone breaking into a safe to attain short-term rewards.


A new Russia is emerging where students read less , think less and appreciate culture less. It is perhaps no accident that the government would like to close down the Institute of Literature, the Gorky institute, as well as a university in architecture. One of the main weaknesses of the Soviet System was it did not inspire much independent thinking.
It could produce great scientists but bad historians and banal philosophers. However, even independent thought was difficult to suppress and many students went on thinking independently regardless of what this or that official said.

President Roosevelt once warned that in times of economic crisis, the state should increase investment in education! The Russian state is doing the opposite! As little as 4.3% of the state budget goes into education, compared to say, 5-10% in Brazil! The Russian government intends to decrease this to 4.1% and then to 3.5% in the coming years. 

Those policies are not without any precedent. They were also imposed during the post -Soviet period with catastrophic results. In the 1990's 25,000 village schools and thousands of evening schools were closed.

When those schools closed down, it killed the soul of the whole village and many villages became deserted as the inhabitants abandoned them. Rural areas in Russia became haunted by ghost towns. Oleg Smolin, a member of the Duma and Communist party, warned that in the events of schools being closed down, 'There will be a massive
exodus of youth without any clear prospects or careers. Officials ignore the growth of crime which will follow lack of employment. It is possible that education offers those places a social lift off. Economising on schools and F.E. institutes means wasting money on building
prisons'. It is easy to forget that a school is not just a place where you learn to read, write or get a certificate, but an institution which offers an alternative road map to the blind alley of crime.

At the same time, the Russian government plans to spend 20 trillion rubles on defence by 2020 to modernise the armed forces. Even a government economist Alexei Kudrin resigned over this because he thought this money would by like throwing money into the wind as corruption would devour much of it.

This is not the only way money is sqaundered. Within the educational system the huge disparity in incomes is stunning! Claiming it is an 'injustice' represents an understatement! While some rectors earn a staggering 15 million rubles a month, a lecturer gets (if he is lucky) 45,000 rubles. You could finance a whole faculty in a university out of a rector's salary alone!

Some economists who work at Moscow State University support mass scale firing of the oldest teachers in schools because they regard them as 'backward', 'conservative' and opposing a commercial culture.

But those teachers they propose firing often turn out to be the most experienced, most educated and the best at controlling classrooms.

There are even cases of headmasters calling those teachers out of retirement to restore order in some schools. It is clear that those economists are out of touch with the situation in schools or are in love with abstract supply and demand curves. Abstract ideas and money matter more to them than skilled teachers.

According to Oleg Smolin, hardly any member of the Duma is opposing those policies. Instead, they are all competing to see who can be the 'favourite ' of President Putin. Politics has degenerated into whether you are for and against Putin rather than constructive debate on what constitutes the right policy to support. Unless teachers waken up and start actively opposing the policies of the government then they will suffer the same fate as workers at kiosks.  And many of those workers still remain unemployed!

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