Education expenditures: 4.1 percent of GDP (2008), country comparison to the world: 110; Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): total population: 99.7 percent; male: 99.7 percent; female: 99.6 percent (2015 est.). School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 15 years; male: 14 years; female: 15 years (2012). [Source: CIA World Factbook =]

Russia traditionally has had a highly educated population. According to the 2002 census, 99.5 percent of the population above age 10 was literate. The constitution guarantees the right to free preschool, basic general, and secondary vocational education. Nine years of basic general education are compulsory, from age six until age 15. The first three years are considered primary, the remaining years secondary. After exclusive state operation of the education system in the Soviet era, many private education institutions appeared in the 1990s. In the early 2000s, incomplete curriculum reform has impeded training in new technical fields. [Source: Library of Congress, October 2006 **]

Beginning in the 1990s, the teaching profession has suffered from low pay and loss of qualified individuals, and textbooks, computers, and laboratories have been in short supply. In the early 2000s, many private institutions of higher learning opened. By 2004 more than 1,000 public and private institutions were in operation, and 6.9 million students were enrolled in higher education programs in 2005. Unlike the Soviet period, about half of higher education students pay fees and/or entrance bribes. The education budget fell drastically in the 1990s, although the Putin administration has restored it somewhat since 2002. In 2004 some 4.9 percent of the national budget was allocated to education.

“Education and Society in the New Russia” , edited by Anthony Jones, includes discussion of education trends as they apply to changes in post-Soviet society.


History of Education in Russia

Until the Soviet era, schooling was largely the jurisdiction of the church. Only the elite, rich had religious had access to education and 80 percent of the population was illiterate.

In the old days, peasant children generally received no education. If they did it was limited to two to four years of instruction. Most children were educated by their families in farm chores and village customs and beliefs. If a kid seemed particularly smart he might be sent to a church school in the largest town.

The Soviet system maintained some traditions from tsarist times, such as the five-point grading scale, formal and regimented classroom environments, and standard school uniforms — dark dresses with white collars for girls, white shirts and black pants for boys. *

Education System After the Break Up of Soviet Union

In the Soviet period, education was highly centralized, and indoctrination in Marxist-Leninist theory was a major element of every school's curriculum. The schools' additional ideological function left a legacy in the post-Soviet system that has proved difficult for educators to overcome. In the 1990s, reform programs are aimed at overhauling the Soviet-era pedagogical philosophy and substantially revising curricula. Inadequate funding has frustrated attainment of these goals, however, and the teaching profession has lost talented individuals because of low pay. [Source: Glenn E. Curtis, Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Education, accorded high value in Soviet society, seems to have lost some of its esteem in a fragmented Russian society where many traditional institutions are viewed with unprecedented skepticism. In the 1990s, the centralized, rigid Soviet education system has given way to a system that gives localities substantial autonomy in shaping curricula and hiring teachers. This opportunity for creativity has been hampered, however, by two conditions: because many Soviet-trained Russian educators do not understand individual initiative and autonomy, many schools have perpetuated the rote memorization methods of the past; and, as in other aspects of Russian social policy, funding for personnel and infrastructure has been woefully inadequate. *

Lack of Funds for Education After the Soviet Union Break Up

Teachers, always underpaid in the Soviet system, have been impoverished by the Russian system, and many have left the profession since 1992. Russia's education system suffered from shortages and lack of support after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. After the collapse of the ruble and an increase of inflation in 1998, teacher salaries and education budgets dwindled to near nothing. [Source: Library of Congress, 1996 *]

In this atmosphere, private schools have begun to offer creative curricula to students who can afford to eschew public schooling. According to Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin, by October 1996 education and culture had received only 65 percent and 30 percent, respectively, of the 1996 budget funds allotted to them. In late 1996 and early 1997, the highest proportion of striking workers were teachers.*

A rise in oil prices and oil tax revenues allowed the government to pay teacher salaries and spend more money on education. Under Putin in the early 2000s, education spending increased form $9 billion a year to $13 billion year, exceeding for the first time the budget of the military. Teacher salaries were increased by 40 percent and some 35,000 public schools got computers.

Post-Soviet Education Goals and Philosophy

The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the transition toward democracy had a profound effect on national education policy. In 1992 a reform philosophy was set forth in the Law on Education. The fundamental principle of that law was the removal of state control from education policy. In regions with non-Russian populations, that meant that educational institutions could base their curricula and teaching methods on national and historical traditions. In all regions, enactment of the law meant significant autonomy for local authorities to choose education strategies most appropriate to the time and place. Post-Soviet education reform also stressed teaching objectively, thus discarding all forms of the narrow, institutional views that had dominated the previous era and preparing young people to deal with all aspects of the society they would encounter by presenting a broader interpretation of the world. *

Post-Soviet educational philosophy also has sought to integrate education with the production and economic processes into which graduates will pass in adult life. Envisioning a program of continuous education lasting throughout the lifetime of an individual, this concept has as its goal converting the education process from an economic burden on the state to an engine of economic progress. Especially important in this program is the reorientation of vocational training to complement the economic reforms of the 1990s. New systems of education for farmers and various types of on-the-job training for adults have been introduced, and new curricula in economics stress understanding of market economies. *

Education and Society in Russia

Education plays a crucial role in determining social status in Russia. People who leave school after eight years generally can find only unskilled jobs. Even those who complete secondary education may rise no higher than skilled labor or low-level white-collar work. A college or university education is necessary for most professional and bureaucratic positions and appears to be highly desirable for a position of political power. For example, a very high percentage of the members of Russia's parliament are university graduates. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Access to higher education is roughly proportionate to the social and financial situation of an individual's family. Children whose parents have money and status usually have an advantage in gaining admission to an institution of higher education. The reasons lie not only with the parents' possible influence and connections but increasingly with the better quality of primary and secondary education that has become available to such children, enhancing their ability to pass difficult university entrance examinations. Moreover, such families can afford to hire tutors for their children in preparation for the examinations and can more readily afford to pay university tuition in case the children do not receive stipends. *

By the mid-1990s, the new phenomenon of individual commercial success began influencing the attitude of Russian society toward education and its goals. At the same time, the last generation of Soviet-educated Russians was finding itself ill prepared to deal with a new set of conditions for social and economic survival. In the new order, acquisition of money is much more important for both self-respect and practical survival, and career prestige by itself is of relatively less worth than it was in the Soviet system, where every career label ensured a known level of comfort. Significantly, in post-Soviet years, the phrase delat' den'gi (to make money) has passed into common usage in colloquial Russian. Together with the employment insecurity felt in the 1990s by well-educated Russians, the new values have dampened the educational ambitions of many, particularly with regard to higher education. Although most older Russians resent those who achieve commercial success in the new "system," the generation now in school shows increasing interest in advancement in the private sector of the economy. At the same time, polls show that education ranks ninth among the most pressing concerns of Russians.

Literacy and Academic Performance in Russia

Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): total population: 99.7 percent; male: 99.7 percent; female: 99.6 percent (2015 est.). The literacy rate in Russia is nearly 100 percent except in some areas dominated by ethnic minorities, where the rate may be considerably lower. According to the 2002 census, 99.5 percent of the population above age 10 was literate.

The standard of education is high particularly in math and science. Russian high school and university students often have a deeper understanding of Western literature and history than their American counterparts. Ranking in math among 8th grade students in 38 countries: 12th. Ranking in science among 8th grade students in 38 countries. 16th. [Source: International Study Center, Boston College, 2001]

Education Structure in Russia

Article 43 of the 1993 constitution affirms each citizen's right to education. It stipulates that "basic general education is compulsory" and that parents or guardians are responsible for ensuring that children obtain schooling. "General access to free preschool, basic general, and secondary vocational education in state or municipal educational establishments and in enterprises is guaranteed," according to the constitution. Although such access continued to exist in principle in the mid-1990s, various components of the system were increasingly inadequate. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In 1993 some 35.2 million students were enrolled in Russian schools at all levels, including 20.5 million in general primary and secondary schools, 1.8 million in professional and technical schools, 2.1 million in special secondary schools, and 2.6 million in institutions of higher learning. A total of 70,200 general primary and secondary schools and 82,100 preschools were in operation at that time. Of the former category, 48,800 were in rural areas and 21,000 in urban areas. *

In 1995 the projected budgetary expenditure for education was about 3.6 percent of the total state budget, a level Russian experts agreed could not maintain the system as it was, to say nothing of implementing the changes called for by post-Soviet legislation. The financing system made educational institutions fully dependent on state funds; outside sources of funding did not exist because no tax advantages accrued from investing in education. *

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated May 2016

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