Sunday, July 17, 2016

Russian Education Reform

By Stephen Wilson

Moscow, Russia --  "Sixty-five percent of children don't demand education and only thirty-five percent enter further education  and a specific speciality in the future.

               We have specialities which don't require a higher education. For example, a systems administrator doesn't demand a higher education,' stated the current Deputy Prime-minister, Olga Golodets, in response to a question about how the state seeks to go ahead with its 'optimisation plans'. The Government intends to carry out a huge check on the quality of Further Education colleges according to ratings based on criteria such as how well students do after graduating.

               Colleges which fail to meet the laid down criteria will be closed down.

               Those comments reinforces old fears that the Russian state, in common with many western governments, is seeking to strengthen a two-tier system of education where those who fail the Unitary State Exam will take up some trades or skills, and those who pass well, enter further education.

               But the Deputy Prime-Minister herself has failed to do her homework.

               The actual proportion of students in Further Education amounts not to 35% but 24% according to 2010 surveys. This itself represents a drop from the figure  from 1981-1985, which was 37%. Compare this share with Denmark , 45% and Norway, 52%.

               The Russian Education system has long  been moving to a system based on the free market where the most important role of education is not to inspire curiosity or creative thought, but dumbed-down consumers prepared to
take the lowest paid  unskilled jobs. The commerialisation of the Russian school system is indicated by the fact that according to some educational experts, more than 60% of students preparing for the Unitary State exam rely on private tutors. The average cost of an English lesson is 2200-3000 rubles , a Russian lesson ,1800 -2000 rubles  and maths,
1700-3000 rubles.  The things which annoys some parents, is that the tutors who are providing those lessons are hard up state teachers who teach in state schools. "So why do we need a free school education system in the first place ? " This has fostered some resentment in the parents of children who also feel they are being cheated! Over the past months you can read a series of article published by the Journal Ogonek where journalists complain that those tutors are 'unaccountable', because if their children fail , nobody punishes them. As in countries, like America, and Britain, we see a recent spate of 'teacher bashing'.

                Tutors are scolded for 'not caring', being 'mercenary', and 'ineffective'.  (My son or daughter failed to enter the most prestigious university because of this tutor.)

                 This drive to 'optimisation' and commercialisation' happily coincides with the Russian translation of 'A short Introduction  to Education, by Gary Thomas,' an English lecturer at the London School of Economics. The Russian edition of Expert, provided a very sharp and pleasant review
of the book, with an article by Aleksander Mekhanik titled: 'Reforms which destroy education.' Mekhanik suggests that Tomas's work is very relevant to what is happening in Russia which amounts to the destruction of the best features of the education system by running it as if it is business inspired by a flawed western model.

                 Unlike many academic books, Tomas's book is not a dry and dull read but witty, sharp and to gets to the heart of the matter.

                  One of the reasons for writing this work is because he found that most of the public in Britain appeared unaware of the main intellectual and social ideas which shaped the purpose and nature of education in Britain. So you can read about the influence of Socrates, Piaget, Skinner and the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. The crux of the
matter is the on-going debate on what is the purpose of education and  how should it be taught. The final chapter represents a devastating indictment of not only the American and British system but the reforms in Russia. Tomas claims that schools are being run on inappropriate military lines and that despite pouring an enormous amount of money into them, they are still unsuccessful. He describes the achievement-orientated education system as 'barren ' and can't imagine why other countries such as Russia are seeking to emulate them.

                 In Britain, an estimated 40% of pupils in the schools are leaving without exam passes in English and maths at grades A- to C. This failure deprives many of the students of entering  professions such as nursing, or even some secretarial courses.

                 Tomas contrasts the example of Finland, which unlike Britain and Russia, offers teachers  decent pay, highly respects teachers and actively encourages them to upgrade their skills. In Britain, hardly a week goes by without reading an article of teacher bashing in the press. Research indicates that almost 50% of teachers are dreaming of leaving their
profession and the turn-over is quite high. There are even job agencies in London which specialise in finding alternative jobs for burnt out British teachers.

                 Tomas argues that the purpose of education is not just to pass tests, but to encourage children to think for themselves and explore the the world in an adventurous way. Tomas ends his book by hoping that goverments will see how harmful excessive testing and bookkeeping  is to any education system. Unfortunately, judging by the latest speech of the Russian Deputy of Education, teachers will have to do more than 'hope' or keep their fingers crossed. They'll be forced to fight for the very survival of the ideas they cherish!

                  Гэри Томас, Образование Очень Краткое Введеие  М  Изд Дом Высшей школы экономики,  2016

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