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Soviet Union

Philosophy and Aims

The philosophical underpinnings and ultimate goals of Soviet education were closely interwoven and could be expressed through two Russian words: vospitanie (upbringing or rearing) and obrazovanie (formal education). Marxist-Leninist ideology, the philosophical foundation of Soviet education, stressed the proper upbringing of youth to create the "new Soviet man" (see Glossary). To this end, the school system bore the lion's share of forming character by instilling and reinforcing Marxist-Leninist morals and ethics, beginning with preschool and kindergarten and continuing throughout the entire schooling process. Lenin stressed the moral goal of education, declaring after the Bolshevik Revolution: "The entire purpose of training, educating, and teaching the youth . . . should be to imbue them with communist ethics." The schools taught children key socialist (see Glossary) virtues, such as love of labor, the atheist (scientific-materialist) view of life, Soviet patriotism and devotion to the homeland, and the primacy of the collective, namely, the need to place the interests of society before those of the individual.

The extent to which Soviet education bore the responsibility for the rearing, or socialization, of youth set it apart from contemporary Western education systems and led many Western observers to see a similarity between modern Soviet schools and American parochial schools of the past. Another uniquely Soviet feature was the close integration of the schools with other major areas of society--cultural, political, economic, and mass media-- all of which served to reinforce the political indoctrination process.

The role of the family in child-rearing was not ignored, however, and beginning in the 1980s Soviet leaders renewed emphasis on the family's central role in character formation. Parents were encouraged to create a nurturing and loving environment at home and to cooperate actively with the schools, which generally led the way, in fostering in their children the personal qualities considered essential to a communist morality: "Soviet patriotism, devotion to socially useful labor, and a feeling of being part of a social group."

The task of molding the "builders of communism" was advanced as well through extracurricular activities centered on youth organizations that had close ties to the CPSU. Almost all schoolchildren belonged to these groups: the Young Octobrists, for ages six to nine, and the Pioneers, ages ten to fifteen. Most of the students in the upper classes of secondary school belonged to the Komsomol (see Glossary) for ages fourteen to twenty-eight, which was specifically tasked with providing active assistance to the CPSU in building a communist society. To this end, Komsomol members supervised and guided the two younger groups in a wide range of activities, including labor projects, sports and cultural events, field trips, summer camp programs, and parades and ceremonies commemorating national holidays (for example, May Day and Lenin's birthday), to develop in them proper socialist behavior and values and to attract them, even at these early stages, to "socially beneficial" work.

In addition to molding socialist morality, Soviet schools provided formal academic education, transmitting the knowledge and skills to provide the nation's economy with a qualified and highly skilled labor force needed to sustain the country in a modern technological age. The dual concept of rearing and educating was brought together as well in the notion of "polytechnical education," which stressed the inclusion of practical training at all levels of schooling. The polytechnical approach to education, which had waxed and waned since the era of Khrushchev, was receiving renewed emphasis in the late 1980s under Gorbachev. Polytechnical schooling had three key components: cognitive--gaining knowledge about production sectors and industrial processes and organization, production tools and machinery, and energy and power sources; moral--developing respect for, and dedication to, both intellectual and physical endeavor and eradicating the distinction between mental and manual labor; and practical--acquiring sound work habits through direct involvement in the production or creation of goods and services. A polytechnical approach was important not only to provide the dedicated, highly technically trained, and productive workers needed to realize Gorbachev's program of economic restructuring and modernization but also to adhere to a central, publicly stated, aim of higher education, namely, the creation of a classless society.

Data as of May 1989


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