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. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

Because the Soviet Union had not built enough schools to accommodate increasing enrollment, Russia inherited a system of very large, overcrowded schools with a decaying infrastructure. By the late 1980s, 21 percent of students were attending schools with no central heating, and 30 percent were learning in buildings with no running water. *

In 1992 Russia had nearly 67,000 primary and secondary schools, which provided an average per-pupil space of 2.6 square meters, one-third the official standard. About one-quarter of schools housed 900 or more students. In 1993 Russia was forced to close about 20,000 of its schools because of physical inadequacy, and an estimated one-third of the national school capacity was in need of large-scale repair. In 1994 one of every two students attended a school operating on two or three shifts. Rural schools, which make up about 75 percent of the national total, were in especially bad condition. *

Schooling in Russia

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 15 years; male: 14 years; female: 15 years (2012). =The average number of school days is 211.The teacher to student ratio is 19 to 1.

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 **]

Most schools are coeducational. Children in Russian begin school early. 80 percent of the children between 2 and 6 are enrolled in kindergarten or nursery school. Kindergartens also served as day care centers, caring for infants and children up to age seven.

In the mid-1990s, Russia had five types of secondary school: regular schools featuring a core curriculum; schools offering elective subjects; schools offering intensive study in elective subjects; schools designed to prepare students for entrance examinations to an institution of higher education (vyssheye uchebnoye zavedeniye — VUZ; pl., VUZy); and alternative schools with experimental programs. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

After completing years of compulsory education student can work, attend a two-year trade school or continue to the 11th grade (the last year of high school) and attend a technical college, specialty institute or university. Most children of primary school age and secondary school age are currently in school. Boys who flunk out of high school are sometimes required to go straight to the military for two years of service.

Although the 1992 Law on Education lowered the upper age of the compulsory education range from seventeen to fifteen, in the mid-1990s more than 60 percent of students remained in school for the previously required ten years. Among Russia's educational reforms is a regulation authorizing school officials to expel students fourteen years of age or older who are failing their courses. By the end of 1992, about 200,000 students had been expelled, and two to three times that number had dropped out.

State of Schools in Russia

There are about 70,000 schools and 20 million students in Russia. Some rural schools have a single room and single teacher. Some students have to travel long distances to school and find their own transportation since no buses are available. Some urban school have 800 students jammed in a former hospital built for 500 patients.

Schools usually have names like School No. 1 and School No. 2, with the schools in a particular area or region grouped by number. In the Moscow area you get School No. 775 and No. 776. Middle schools are called basic schools. High schools are sometimes called gymnasiums. The best schools are called lyceums. Schools can award diplomas only in three languages—Russian, Tatar, and Bashkir—a requirement that puts many of the country's more than 100 ethnic groups at a disadvantage.

Most children attended public schools. The private schools have traditionally not had many students because they were so expensive and many of the students that went to them had behavioral or commination problems. The best and the brightest kids have gone to prestigious pubic schools. Rich parents send their kids abroad. Some wealthy Russians who sent their children to school abroad have brought them home, convinced that the Russian education system is superior.

Schools suffer form shortages of textbooks and supplies. Chemistry class often don’t have basic equipment. Some schools don’t have heat in the frigid winters. Most schools don’t have computers. Schools suffer from unreliable funding. Some get by on donations of books, paper, pencils and money from parents.

Some schools are relatively small and the teachers and students have known each other for years. Teachers with children often have their own children in their school.

Russian parents have the option of sending their children to preschool until age seven, when enrollment in elementary school becomes mandatory. Because the overwhelming majority of mothers still have full-time employment, many preschool facilities are colocated with enterprises. As businesses become increasingly profit oriented, however, many have ceased or reduced their support of such facilities. The number of child-care facilities for working parents declined significantly after 1991, mainly because many such facilities lacked the funding to continue operation without state support. Of about 82,100 preschools in operation in 1993, more than one-third were housed in inadequate facilities. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

School Life in Russia

The average number of school days in Russia is 211. The school year is more or less the same as one in the United States. The summer vacation begins in June and lasts for about three months. There is a two week break around New Year. The main difference between Russia and the U.S. is that the days off for Christmas and Easter in Russia are determined by the Orthodox church calendar.

The school year begins in early September, often September 1st. The first day of school is called the Holiday of the First Bell. It usually begins with a large assembly in the school courtyard with parents in attendance as well as students and teachers. There is music and speeches. Students often give their teachers bouquets of flowers. In some places students wear sashes that identify their grade level. Often the highlight and the most touching moment is when the fresh crop of first graders are introduced.

The teacher to student ratio is 19 to 1. Students are given 5s and 4s, the equivalent of As and Bs. High school seniors that do exceptionally well on their final examinations are given gold and silver medals.

Most classes are pretty structured. The students sit in rows of desks and the teacher lectures. Students are expected to repeat what the teacher has taught them and not question it. Discipline is expected to be maintained. Students who are rude or make even a small mistake sometimes are harshly scolded.

There are student dances and field trips to places like Lenin’s tomb. Students participate in cleaning up the school and the school grounds. Sometimes students are still sometimes required to participate in the month-long potato harvest in the fall.

School Curriculum in Russia

In Russian schools there were classes in math, science, geography and often sewing and cooking. All subjects are taught in Russian even in areas where the another language is the first language of the local people. English and German are offered as electives typically two hours a week in lower grades and one hour a week in higher grades. Where applicable, classes in the local language are often conducted around three times a week. Since many students speak their local language at home the classes have tended to concentrate mainly on writing, grammar and reading .

Elementary school children study Russian grammar, reading, writing, arithmetic, drawing, singing, history, geography, natural science and physical education. Students learn to read with a series centered around the cartoon character Crocodile Gena. Children have traditionally learned ballroom dancing form the 1st through the 4th grade in elementary school.

Russian students begin to study biology, physics, chemistry and foreign language in elemtary school. Most Russian students routinely study physics and algebra for five years, chemistry and biology for four and calculus for two. Russia, France, West Germany and all require four years of chemistry, biology and physics. Students need more training in computers, economics and foreign languages

The end of the communist system has led to extensive curriculum revision. A new paradigm has been developed to guide education, and more attention has gone to the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The 1992 Law on Education stressed the humanistic nature of education, common values, freedom of human development, and citizenship. Curriculum changes were laid out in another document, the Basic Curriculum of the General Secondary School; the overall curriculum reform program is to be put in place over a five-year period ending in 1998. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In the mid-1990s, many public schools have designed special curricula, some returning to the classical studies prevalent in the early 1900s. Local development of curricula and materials became legal in 1992, although financial constraints have limited experimentation and the Soviet era left educators with a strong bias toward standardized instruction and rote memorization. In contrast to the Soviet era, the quality and content of curricula vary greatly among public schools. A major factor encouraging local initiative is the disarray of federal education agencies, which often leave oblast, regional, and municipal authorities to their own devices. Nevertheless, only about one-third of primary and secondary schools have taken advantage of the opportunity to develop their own curricula; many administrations have been unwilling to make such large-scale decisions independently.*

History and English Curriculum in Russian Schools

In 1994, Russian schoolchildren were issued new textbooks that replaced the ones based on Marxist-Leninist propaganda used in the past. Books with chapters about "Grampa Lenin," dialectic theory and class theory were replaced by chapters about business, human rights, saying from the Bible and the Koran, and regional histories. History textbooks now present the Russian Revolution with critical eye and detail the brutality of the Bolsheviks.

“History of Russia and the World in the 20th Century”, the textbook used by high school seniors, has been criticized for ignoring the dark side of the Soviet Union. There is little mention of the gulag system or the forced deportation of ethnic groups. An alternative book, “National History: 20th Century, “that raised the discussion topic om whether or not Putin was authoritarian, was stripped of its Russian Education Ministry Licence Putin said: “textbooks should provide historical facts and they must cultivate a sense of pride among youth in their history and country.”

New textbooks omit some of the atrocities of the Stalinist era and dismiss others with a paragraph. However there is reasomable coverage of things not mentioned in the Soviet era such as the pre-World-War-II pact between Hitler and Staling and the American Lend-lease program that provided the Soviets with valuable supplies in World War II. The Washington Post reported in one student who was shocked when he learned that the Americans helped out the Soviets to such a degree. He told his mother who didn’t believe him. “It was 90 percent because of the heroism of Soviet soldiers,” she said.

Among the books considered for a reading list for high school students after the break up of the Soviet Union were Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago, a savage indictment of the Bolsheviks; Variam Shalamov’s “Kolma Tales”, a once banned book about life in a frigid Far Eastern gulag; and works by Anna Akhmatova, a famous Soviet-era female dissident poet.

Parents encourage their kids to learn English. Many university demand fluency in it. Explaining how English is taught on the schools, a headmaster at a school in St. Petersburg told the Daily Yomiuri, “the number of hours varies from two to three hours a week in middle schools to six in high schools. The lessons are taught in English, though in middle schools some explanations are provided in Russian.” A retired teach from Yaroslav said, “The best teachers concentrate on talking, the worst limit themselves to reading and translating textbooks.” A high school student said, “When we came to class, we in some way ‘forget’ Russian and speak only English.” Giving private English lessons used to be illegal.

Students in Russia

Classes often begin with the students standing up and saying hello to the teacher and then sitting down. Many high schools allow smoking outside and have no detention. Russian students that attend schools in other countries complain they don't have enough freedom.

Describing the students at a high school in the outskirts of Moscow in the early 2000s, Susan Glasser wrote in the Washington Post: “Nearly all the 29 students in the class hoped to major in economic or computers in college. The girls wore clothes as fashionable as they could afford and flipped through Cosmopolitan when they were bored. The boys affected poses of disinterest and blared music from a boom box during breaks. They all had cell phones.”

In a short story about a young Russian high school teacher published in The New Yorker, Lara Vapnyar wrote: “Everything about them was terrifying...all 39 of them...their pimpled foreheads and red fingers, their blue uniforms, darkened under the arms, the boys cracking voice and enormous feet, the girl’s’ awkward make up. They could eat me alive.”

Entrance to university is determined by performance on a university entrance exam. Many high school students study with tutors and forgo dating so they can do well on the college-entrance exams. The equality of the education system is being undermined by the tutor system. Parents with money hire underpaid university professors to prepare their children for university exams. Sometimes the tutors provide their students with samples of tests question. Families without money can not afford tutors for children. This has created a two-tier system than favor the rich.

Teachers in Russia

The teacher to student ratio is 19 to 1. A school with 1,000 students typically has 65 teachers. After the fall of Communism, between 1991 to 1994, many teachers continued to use the old Soviet-era textbooks. Some teachers improvised and used other sources. Others continue to teach the outdated Communist party line. Describing a history teacher at a high school in the outskirts of Moscow, Susan Glasser wrote in the Washington Post: “She believed her job was crucial, preparing students teetering between democracy and the leftovers of dictatorship. She planned not to bother them with tests or essays and blamed herself if they were passing notes or dozing off.”

In short story about such a young Russian teacher published in The New Yorker, Lara Vapnyar wrote: “I usually started math classes by writing some difficult equation on the blackboard and demanded that it be solved in ten minutes. I called it ‘warm up,’ but my real goal was to intimidate students...Math was my only weapon because I knew it and they didn’t. I wrote one equation after another, without a break. I gave tests every couple of days, and assigned excruciating homework. I was very strict about grading exams. Not a mistake went unnoticed. Needless to say, I never smiled during my lessons. Behind my back, my students called me...the Hound. I didn’t mind the name. It meant that I had them under control.”

In the Soviet era teachers were fairly well paid and had high esteem. They received good health care and were able to take long vacations on the Black Sea. In the post-Soviet era, teachers suddenly became poorly paid, I some cases going months without getting paid at all. In the early 2000s, many teachers were earning less than $25 a month, one forth of that of an average worker. (with this salary a new winter coat can eat up a seven month's month and six months of pig feed—a common purchase in many places—can take up three). Many teachers got paid so little they became dependent on their children—in some cases teenagers—to take care of them. Things improved under Putin. By the mid 2000s, teachers in Moscow were earning $200 a month.

The teaching profession has also suffered from loss of qualified individuals, and textbooks, computers, and laboratories have been in short supply. The fact that Russian school have remained functioning is a testimony of the commitment of teachers and principals who have continued to work hard and look out for the welfare of students even though they receive little or no money for it.

Teachers Shortages and Outside Income Sources in Russia

The Soviet Union suffered a shortage of teachers for decades before the 1990s. Although society held the profession in high regard, teacher salaries were among the lowest of all professions, at least partly because women dominated the field at the primary and secondary levels. Many teachers have left their profession to pursue more lucrative careers. The emerging market economy of the 1990s improved the pay and career opportunities outside teaching for many who would have remained in education under the more rigid Soviet system; thus, the shortage was exacerbated. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

In the 1992-93 school year, Russian schools had about 29,000 teacher vacancies, and in the following year 25 percent of all foreign-language teaching positions were unfilled. Although low pay has damaged morale among Russian teachers, they are more disillusioned by the end of the idealistic first post-Soviet years of innovation and freedom of speech and the continued decline of their material environment. In the mid-1990s, rural schools experienced particular difficulty retaining teachers, as qualified young adults sought opportunities in larger communities. Some schools were so desperate for math teaches they hired 18-year-olds in their second year of university.

In the early 2000s, some teachers who have remained in the profession made money selling vegetables in their gardens and milk from a cow. Pigs were raised to earn money for their children's university education. One teacher in Siberia told the Washington Post, "We need to find other ways to make money. May be able to keep teaching as a hobby."

Some teachers have sought donations from parents. In some places teachers have staged strikes but as a rule they reject that strategy on the grounds that they lose their pay for those days and their students are left unsupervised at home and go without lunch. In 1998, teachers in the Altai region of southern Siberia were offered toilet paper and coffins instead of the salaries but held out for a better offer, which they finally received: 15 bottles on vodka each.

Corruption and Education in Russia

In the early 2000s, teachers were paid around $50 by parents who wanted good grades for their children. Tutors who charged $50 an hour for university entrance exam preparation sometimes takes the student’s "pen along with his exam so the teacher can correct any mistakes in the same ink."

Principals at the best schools accept a $500 donation to let a child in. Sometimes the money goes into the pockets of the principal and teachers. More often though its used to buy supplies such as musical instruments or computer for the school.

The family of girl who took a special course to prepare for the university entrance exams paid the principal of the school $250. She told the Los Angeles Times, "I had no trouble getting my certificate. Those who bribed the principal were given the answers for the written tests in math, physics and chemistry beforehand."

When expatriate families are interviewed about sending their children to school they are told they have to pay tuition, a security fee and help buy some office equipment. One mother told the International Herald Tribune, “The director was quite up front. he said, ‘This how much the weekly fee is, and oh we meant office furniture. You can buy it or give us the money and we’ll butut it ourselves.” Some parents have said they have received similar request for ways to improve the classroom from teachers. Depending the school the request can be pleas for toilet paper and tea kettles to a demand for a new color printer or computer.

Private Schools in Russia

In the 1990s and early 2000s, many private institutions of higher learning opened. State education is free, but by 1992 several state higher-education institutions had begun charging tuition. At that point, almost half of the students above the secondary level were paying fees of some sort. The 1992 Law on Education provides explicitly for private educational institutions; in the ensuing years, several organizations for private education have appeared, and a variety of private schools and colleges have opened. By 1992 about 300 nonstate schools were being attended by more than 20,000 students. [Source: Library of Congress, July 1996 *]

As public schools debated what to do with their new academic freedom, private schools and preschools became centers of innovation, with programs rediscovering prerevolutionary pedagogy and freely borrowing teaching methods from Western Europe and the United States. Serving largely Western-oriented families intent on making progress up the newly reconstructed social ladder, private schools emphasize learning English and other critical skills. Student-to-teacher ratios are very low, and teacher salaries average about US$170 per month (about three times the average for a public school teacher). Tuition may be as much as US$3,000 per year, but some private schools charge parents according to their means, surviving instead on donations of money and time from wealthy parents. Unlike public schools, all private schools must pay for rent, utilities, and textbooks, and many have struggled to retain adequate building space.

New Schools and Business-Oriented Schools in Russia

The tsarist-era Emperor Alexandr III Cadet Corpus was reopened in 1992 by a group of retired officers. The students wake u[ every morning at 6:30am and make their beds without wrinkles and spend the day learning mathematics, science and history a s well as ballroom dancing, horseback riding and how handle a Kalishnokov and grenades.

In the mid 1990s, a religious school with 450 students opened up in Moscow. There are finishing schools in Moscow and even a school for children aspiring to become supermodels. Pre-schools attended by expatriate families had fees of between $159 and $500 a month in the early 2000s.

The Moscow Economics School is an institution set up locate businessmen for grade school children. Students here pay $500 a month and have access to an indoor swimming pool, a video studio and small zoo with a piranha, alligator and exotic birds.

The Sodruzhestvo Center is small school in the industrial city of Ryazan offers after-hours classes in economics, advertising and marketing, Teenagers play a computer game called "hot dog stand" that teaches them about running their own business. The school charged students only $8 a month in the late 1990s.

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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