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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Quality, Reform, and Funding

A "report card" for Soviet education in the 1980s based on comments from government leaders, educators, and rank-and-file teachers, as well as from the public at large, indicated the schools were failing in serious ways. The picture that emerged from articles published in the Soviet press revealed inadequate facilities, crowded classrooms, and schools operating on two- and even three-shift schedules. Shortages of school materials and equipment were serious. The quality of teaching was often low. These deficiencies were particularly acute in rural areas and in the Soviet Central Asian republics. Abuses, such as cheating by students and grade inflation by many teachers, were widespread as well. The schools were failing to meet the nation's labor needs: shortages of adequately skilled workers existed in almost every sector of the economy, and, although institutions of higher learning were graduating large numbers of engineers and specialists, their training was theoretical and narrow and lacked practical applicability. These limitations, together with excessive bureaucracy, led to poor performance (see The Administration of Science and Technology , ch. 16). Industrial accidents, most notably the Chernobyl' nuclear power plant accident, were openly attributed to inappropriate training and technical incompetence.

The schools were failing as well in the task of inculcating youth with Marxist-Leninist ideals and socialist morality. Young people were becoming increasingly cynical about official ideology; they were motivated more and more by the pursuits of material things, personal comforts, societal status, and privilege. Moreover, the school system's emphasis on uniformity and conformity, rote learning, and memorization squashed students' creativity and the development of critical thinking and individual responsibility.

The 1984 reform of the general and vocational schools together with the 1986 reform of higher and specialized secondary education aimed at fundamental perestroika (restructuring) and demokratizatsiia (democratization) of the education system. The Soviet leadership saw the role of teachers as central to this endeavor; in addition to increased wages, they promised that teachers would have greater autonomy and flexibility and that the "command mentality, formalism, and overbureaucratization" produced by the multilayered administrative bureaucracies would be eradicated. Articles in the official Soviet press called for the "teacher-creator" to take the "path of freedom," with a "freely searching mind . . . tied to no one and to no thing."

Implementation of these reforms would require major increases in funding, which in the mid-1980s was about 12 billion rubles for general secondary schools. The state spent about 1,200 rubles per student for higher education and 780 rubles for secondary specialized study. Calling allocation of less than 8 percent of a nation's income to education a sign of societal degradation, Soviet education specialists expressed alarm that the country was currently allocating only about 4 percent of its national income to its schools. But the greater, and perhaps insurmountable, obstacle to genuine reform of education in the 1980s remained the overriding importance assigned to ideological purity in all aspects of schooling.

Data as of May 1989