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Soviet Union

Secondary Education

In the late 1980s, the Soviet Union had in place a vast and complex network of secondary schools comprising general secondary schools (grades one through eleven), secondary vocational-technical schools, specialized secondary schools, special education schools, and extramural schools (part-time, evening, and correspondence programs). In 1970 compulsory secondary education was extended to ten years from eight. The 1984 reform of general secondary schools and secondary vocational-technical schools lowered the starting age for first grade from age seven to age six and increased compulsory schooling to eleven years.

In 1987 the Soviet Union operated 138,000 general secondary schools, with a total enrollment of 43.9 million students. There were roughly three phases to the general secondary program of study, reflecting differences in curriculum and total time in class: the primary grades, one through three; intermediate, four through eight; and upper secondary, nine and ten. The 1984 reform added a year at the beginning level, modifying these grade groupings as follows: one through four, five through nine, and ten and eleven. As a rule, secondary schools in urban areas combined all grades, but rural schools were small, with only four or eight grades in the same building.

The school year ran approximately from September 1 (the official Holiday of Learning) to June 1. Classes were held Monday through Saturday, and total class time ranged from about twentyfour hours a week in the primary grades to thirty-six at the upper levels (following the reform, the range of class time was reduced to twenty to thirty-four hours). At all levels, class periods lasted forty-five minutes, with ten-minute breaks and a half-hour for lunch.

The 1986-87 school year marked the wide-scale entry of six-year-olds into secondary schools; by September 1987, an estimated 42 percent of all six-year-olds were enrolled in first grade. In some republics, e.g.,the Georgian, Lithuanian, and Belorussian, the transition was nearly completed; but because of lack of space and school equipment (a chronic problem), many schools had to operate on double and even triple shifts to accommodate the additional new entrants.

The primary curriculum emphasized reading, writing, and arithmetic. Children spent from ten to twelve periods a week learning to read and write in Russian or the native language and six periods a week on mathematics. The curriculum was rounded out with art and music classes, physical education, and vocational training. Children attending non-Russian schools--representing a total of forty-four different Soviet nationalities in 1987--began learning Russian, the lingua franca in the Soviet Union, in the second grade, resulting in an even heavier academic load for them (see Nationalities of the Soviet Union , ch. 4).

Foreign language study, with English the most popular, began in the fifth grade. The curriculum in the intermediate and upper classes included courses in literature, history, social studies, geography, mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, and technical drawing. Consistent with the 1984 school reform's call for achieving computer literacy, the schools introduced computer training in the upper grades in the mid-1980s (see Computers , ch. 9). Vocational counseling was also introduced in the upper grades in an effort to direct more students to pursue training in technical areas requiring high-level skills. The new curriculum for grades ten and eleven included courses called "Ethics and Psychology of Family Life" and "Elementary Military Training." From one to four hours per week of "socially beneficial" labor was made compulsory for grades two through eleven.

General secondary schools emphasized mathematics and science; science courses were designed not only to teach the fundamentals but also to develop the official scientific-materialist worldview. Teaching of history and literature was particularly politicized and biased, through selection and interpretation, toward inculcation of communist values and ideology. As an outgrowth of the de-Stalinization effort under Gorbachev, the official Soviet press denounced elementary and secondary school history books as "lies," and, to the students' glee, school authorities canceled final history examinations in the spring of 1987.

On the whole, final examinations were rigorous and comprehensive, and they included both written and oral parts. Performance was graded on a number scale of one (failure) to five (outstanding). The general secondary school diploma was roughly equivalent to a high school diploma in the United States. Completion of this program offered the most direct route to entrance into an institution of higher learning.

After the eighth or ninth grade, students who chose not to finish the final two years of the general secondary school had several options. The most popular in the 1980s was enrollment in secondary vocational-technical schools or specialized secondary schools. In 1987 nearly 25 percent of students chose the former and almost 13 percent the latter route (more than 60 percent continued in the general secondary school).

The secondary vocational-technical school (srednee professional'no-tekhnicheskoe uchilishche--SPTU) combined a full secondary education with training for skilled and semiskilled jobs in industry, agriculture, and office work. In 1986 more than 7,000 such schools were in operation; the period of instruction was two or three years. Graduates received diplomas and could apply to institutions of higher education. An incomplete secondary education trade school variant, vocational-technical schools (professional'no-tekhnicheskie uchilishcha--PTU), numbering about 1,000 in the mid-1980s, provided training in skilled and semiskilled jobs.

At the beginning of the 1986-87 school year, 4,506 specialized secondary schools (srednie spetsial'nye zavedeniia), commonly called technicums (tekhnikumy), had an enrollment of nearly 4.5 million students (2.8 million in regular daytime programs and 1.7 million in evening or correspondence schools). The course of study lasted from three to four years and combined completion of the final two grades of general secondary schooling with training at a paraprofessional level. Technicums offered over 450 majors, most of them in engineering and technical areas, as well as paraprofessional-level training in health care, law, teaching, and the arts. Graduates received diplomas and could obtain jobs as preschool and primary school teachers, paramedics, and technicians; they could also apply to higher education institutions. A technicum education corresponded roughly to an associate degree or two years of study in an American junior college or community college.

In 1986 another school reform stressed the specialized secondary school system and higher education. The qualitative improvement of the technicums, which traditionally had served as an important source of technically trained workers, was a key component in providing skilled, technically qualified manpower required for the success of economic restructuring and modernization. To this end, the reform called for revamping both technicums and secondary vocational-technical schools to train specialists with diverse technical skills and hands-on experience with computer technology and automated production processes, as well as a more independent, creative, and responsible approach to their jobs.

Data as of May 1989

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