Soviet Union Table of Contents
In 1986 the Soviet Union operated approximately 142,700 preschool institutions on a year-round basis, with an enrollment of over 16.5 million; this represented 57 percent of all preschool-age children and was 1.6 million below demand. To eliminate this shortage, as well as to encourage women with infants or toddlers to return to the work force, the government planned to make available new preschool facilities for another 4.4 million youngsters during the Twelfth Five-Year Plan (1986-90).
Preschool institutions included nurseries (iasli) and kindergartens (detskie sady), often housed in the same buildings and located in urban and suburban neighborhoods, as well as at factory sites and on collective farms. Nurseries accepted children between the ages of six months and three years, but the percentage of youngsters under two years of age was typically low. Many mothers preferred to stay home with their infant children through the first year (working women were granted a full year of maternity leave), and frequently a grandmother or another family member or friend provided child care to toddlers. (In 1979, for example, 8 to 9 million preschool children were cared for by grandmothers.) The more common practice was to enroll children of about three years of age in preschool. The government subsidized 80 percent of preschool tuition, requiring parents to pay fairly low fees of 12 rubles (for value of the ruble--see Glossary) a month for nursery care and about 9 rubles a month for kindergarten; in certain cases--for example, for children from large families-- enrollment was free. By freeing women for the work force, the preschool system was economically beneficial both to the state and to the family, which generally needed two incomes. Kindergarten combined extended day care (as a rule, from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M.) with some academic preparation for entry into the first grade (the starting age was gradually lowered to six years of age in the mid-1980s).
In addition to providing children with a head start for regular school, preschools began the important process of instilling societal values and molding socialist character. The children's daily activities, which included story-telling, drawing, music, games, and outdoor play, were highly structured and consistently conducted in groups, fostering a sense of belonging to the collective, the primacy of the needs of the group over those of the individual, and the preference for competition among groups rather than individuals. Political indoctrination at this level consisted of songs and slogans, celebration of national holidays, and stories about Lenin and other heroes of the Bolshevik Revolution. Preschoolers were also taught respect for authority, patriotism, obedience, discipline, and order. Children were provided hot meals and snacks, child-size beds for nap time, and basic health care.
Western visitors to Soviet preschools in the 1970s and early 1980s reported seeing children who were happy, healthy, and well cared for. But this positive image was sharply contradicted in 1988 with the publication in a Soviet newspaper of an article titled "Attention: Children in Trouble!" The article was endorsed by a group of specialists (including R. Bure, doctor of pedagogical sciences and head of the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences Preschool Scientific Research Laboratory) who participated in a seminar called "Kindergarten in the Year 2000." According to the newspaper piece, a crisis in preschool education was emerging: the ratio of twenty-five children per teacher was far too high; teachers and other staff were poorly trained; and children's health was suffering because of inadequate medical care. Children were entering first grade unprepared intellectually and physically. More than 50 percent were "neurotic," two-thirds suffered from allergies, 60 percent had poor posture, and 80 percent suffered from upper-respiratory infections. The large majority had not mastered the most basic norms of conduct and social interaction.
Data as of May 1989
Soviet Union Table of Contents