Monday, July 25, 2016

End Russian Ed Reforms!

3.5 Million Signatures to End Russian Education Reforms!
By Stephen Wilson

Moscow, Russia -- "UURAH!", screamed a euphoric 17 year old student when she learnt she had attained 100% for her mark in the Russian language and literature exam! This mark must have surpassed her greatest expectations. Within the space of a few days she was attending a special ceremony where the head of Moscow council of Education awarded her a gold medal. Anna also attained 95 % in the English exam and 81% in history. The last topic she dreaded most of all. 

                I soon learnt why. Everywhere I wandered in the apartment I was confronted by posters showing the dates of the reigns of kings and Queens from early Medieval times to 1917! One poster was in the toilet, another on two wardrobes in the sitting room. It seemed that the  history exam was simply a test on the dates and years of events rather than questioning why events happened. I asked myself how students could remember all this.

                The answer I usually got was: "We do not".

                In recent weeks following the sitting of the State Unitary exams, two crucial
issues  facing students such as Anna  are firstly : 'How fair and difficult are the exams?' and 'What exactly do you need to enter university?'

                When Anna and her mother went to the universities to apply for sitting the
entrance exam they were alarmed to find a queue of over a thousand people! It was a staggering sight! The demand for entering universities is so high that the universities are tightening up their entrance exams in such away that only the best students will get in. For example, to enter the Faculty of Philology at Moscow State University, students
were asked to write an essay on 'Describe Razumhin as a special social personage or type in Russian literature along with a character from a Chekhov short story?' This appeared to be beyond the abilities of most Russian school students. Many did not quite grasp the question and simply wrote descriptions of the kind and helpful Razumhin from 'Crime and Punishment'  who eventually marries Raskolnikov's sister.

                Both the Unitary State Exams and entry exams to the best universities have become more daunting! This is starkly indicated by a recent petition signed by 60,000 parents calling for the government to simplify the U.S.E. math exams. "Several tasks were neither in textbooks with variants, nor in any trial exams . They were not even in the school program!', complained the mother of one daughter, Yelena Smirnova  who signed the petition.

                Thousands of children were really traumatised by an exam they were         unprepared for and so failed to attain the required points for entering institutes of Further Education.

                 So one of the biggest failings of the Unitary State Exam is that the tasks in school textbooks and preparatory exams don't coincide with what students do in exams. It is as if they have been handed out the wrong textbooks.

                 I got an idea of how tense the atmosphere was when  I, and Oksana, dropped into a local supermarket. We overheard one two students saying: 

                 " The math and physics exams were very very difficult'. 'What about trying to do the Olympiad exams?" 'That is also impossible because there is a lot of corruption going on where the rich can just bribe examiners'.

                 More critical voices demand  completely abandoning the Unitary State 
Exam system and returning to the old Soviet System . 'Let us return to the free and accessible Education system as we had in the U.S.S.R', thunders one article in an opposition paper, 'Domovoi', organised by Sergei Mironov of Just Russia. (June, 2016, 7/94) An article laments that 'Our children are learning not to think. In Russia for over the past twenty years we have been experiencing a monstrous experiment. One of the authors of this experiment , the Ministry of Education, Livanov stated:

                 'We don't need to prepare specialists of technology but specialists who can adapt to the latest technology.'  It is enough simply to say that 'adapt' means to buy alien technology at crazy prices '. The article mentions how 25,000 schools in the countryside have been closed down and how the unitary state exam discourages creative and original thought from students.

                'Social surveys indicate that as many as 70% of school teachers want to
leave their profession,' and 'teachers are forced to undertake 25-28 hours a week instead of the statutory 18 '. The newspaper calls for the sacking of the Ministry of Education and claim to have gathered a petition of 3.5 million signatures calling for the end of reforms in education.

                Nevertheless, it is fair to state that the Unitary State exam has some 
proponents amongst teachers and parents. One teacher who had heard of the petition scoffed: 'How on earth can we return to the Soviet system where officials have been formulating and reformulating those Unitary State exams ? Are they going to just abandon this and yet draw up even more drastic changes. It just sounds so impractical.

                They forget that there was a lot of subjective bias against students taking oral exams. If a teacher did not like you, you could get a bad mark. 

                Now those  new exams remove the danger of this bias.

                Another advantage is that school students have more choice in selecting
 universities they can choose. They don't have to sit different entrance exams
for every institute of Philology but just one standard entry exam which cover 
them all.'

                Despite much outspoken protest it is unlikely that the State will abandon its plans to continue with the Unitary State Exam System. At best, they might try and ensure a fairer and less corrupt system . In practically every school where they sit exams, ominous video cameras observe students while mobile phones are strictly forbidden to ensure no cheating. Medical staff are also on stand by because of numerous incidents of fainting which occurred last year.

                One poor student who forgot to leave behind his mobile phone was  forbidden from taking the exam on the spot. This is despite the fact it was clearly an accident rather than any intent to cheat. The student did not even try to conceal the fact he had accidently taken his phone into the class and handed it over.

                Unfortunately, the officials were not impressed by this honesty. They 
thought, 'The rules are the Rules', and the student was forced to wait another year to take the exam. So sometimes officials can be needlessly severe!

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