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Soviet Union

Pedagogy and Planning

Under the administrative oversight of the Academy of Sciences (see Glossary) and the Ministry of Education, the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences was responsible for conducting research and development in education. The Academy of Pedagogical Sciences had thirteen institutes, several experimental schools, and other facilities. Each institute focused on a specific area of research, such as curriculum and teaching methods, general and pedagogical psychology, visual teaching aids and school equipment, labor training, and professional orientation. The academy's research efforts also included special education (for the physically and mentally impaired), teacher training, testing methodology, and textbook preparation.

The academy brought together the country's leading researchers in the pedagogical sciences, prominent teachers, and a small number of foreign (mostly East European) education specialists. The efforts of these pedagogues and educators were guided by the academy's dual mission: first, developing a socialist mentality by inculcating a Marxist-Leninist worldview; and second, providing highly qualified and committed workers for the nation's economy.

The first component--developing a Marxist-Leninist worldview and communist ethics--was geared to general character training as well, impressing upon youth basic ideas of good and bad, honesty, modesty, kindness, friendship, self-discipline, love of studies and conscientiousness, and "correct social behavior." Although the political content of school subjects had to be ideologically correct, the materials were not necessarily overwhelmingly politicized, as indicated by a Western study of reading topics in secondary schools that found less than one-third of them dealt with clear-cut sociopolitical themes.

The second chief concern of Soviet pedagogy was upgrading vocational education and labor training in the general secondary school. A related central goal was inculcating in youngsters a respect for blue-collar work. This remained a difficult if not insurmountable challenge because of Soviet society's traditional view of manual labor as intrinsically inferior to work that involved purely mental or intellectual effort.

The most important Soviet pedagogue historically was Anton S. Makarenko (1888-1939), whose theories on child-rearing and education, which rejected corporal punishment and stressed persuasion and example, served as the foundation of contemporary education and parenting. His methodology also emphasized development of good work habits, love of work, self-discipline, and collective cooperation. Makarenko's approach to discipline remained the norm in Soviet schools in the 1980s. Physical punishment was forbidden; disciplinary measures included oral reprimands by teachers, collective pressure (peer disapproval), bad marks in record books (demerits), consultations with parents, and, only as a last resort, expulsion from school.

Change in pedagogy's predominantly conservative approach came very slowly. Old-fashioned teaching methods, a regimented and formal classroom environment, and the rote method of learning-- holdovers from tsarist Russia that became firmly entrenched in the Stalin era--were still the norm in the Soviet schools of the 1980s. But during the second half of the 1980s, theories and practices of a number of progressive educators were being advanced in conjunction with efforts to reform schooling. One of the important figures in this area was Leonid V. Zankov, an education theorist who had been influenced by the writings and philosophy of American educator John Dewey and who had advocated in the 1960s the elimination of the rote-learning approach. The leading figures in the 1980s among those striving to develop the philosophy and methodology for a "new school" were sociologist Vladimir N. Shubkin, mathematician Mikhail M. Postnikov, and innovative teacher M. Shchetinin.

The State Planning Committee (Godudarstvennyi planovyi komitet- - Gosplan; see Glossary), part of the Council of Ministers, played a major role in Soviet education by influencing the training and distribution of specialists in institutions of higher learning. Its task was to ensure graduation of sufficient numbers of people trained in certain specialties to meet the work force requirements of the nation's economy. By directing the higher schools to admit only a limited number of students in each specialty, Gosplan in effect established a quota for student admissions.

But despite extensive planning efforts, Gosplan consistently did more to cause than to alleviate the country's manpower problems, primarily because planning was based on immediate rather than long-term needs. The situation was particularly serious in the 1980s, when the push to modernize the economy with high technology and automation was seriously hampered by the lack of skilled engineering and technical workers. Although the schools graduated a large number of engineers, their training was often too theoretical, narrow in scope, and limited in practical experience. Broader training and multiple-skill capability were needed. The short-sightedness of the planning apparatus was exacerbated by a continuing contradiction between student preferences and economic and social demands, as well as by an inability to attract enough young people into lower level technical fields.

Data as of May 1989

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