Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 23:15:01 -0500 (CDT)
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Rich Winkel)
Subject: EDUCATION-RUSSIA: A Soviet Pride Falling Apart
/** ips.english: 424.0 **/
** Topic: EDUCATION-RUSSIA: A Soviet Pride Falling Apart **
** Written 9:05 PM Sep 12, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
On the occasion, ailing president Boris Yeltsin received this year a group of prize winning high school students at the Kremlin, and told them that they were “the young Russian elite.”
Prime minister Vladimir Putin addressed students at Moscow State University, saying he hoped the country's youth would not need to fight on the battlefields of Dagestan. Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov lectured students at a local high school, which was broadcast live on TV.
This solemn day, students throughout the country are supposed dress their best oufits and bring flowers to their revered teachers. However, Russian education workers definitely feel that flowers are an inadequate compensation for a miserably low and irregular pay.
The monthly wage of 200–300 roubles (8-12 US dollars) for a two day working week “is simply ridiculous,” says Katya, a young teacher from an affluent family for whom teaching is a sort of hobby.
“Some of my colleagues work hard six days a week but earn little more than one thousand roubles a month ( 40 dollars),” she told IPS.
“School managers have promised to provide teachers with free meals—which turned to be students' breakfasts leftovers, and when I get some half-eaten sausages for my dog, my colleagues felt offended,” she recalls.
No big wonder that the return to school after the summer holidays this September was interrupted in many Russian regions as thousands of unpaid teachers refused to go back to work and went instead on strike demanding their back salaries.
A total of 396 schools throughout Russia failed to open their doors in protest against their miserable working conditions. Some 16,000 teachers across the country held meetings, sent telegrams and cancelled classes to protest over delayed wage payments.
However, the number of protesting teachers dropped considerably compared with September 1998, when some 115,000—out of total of 1.5 million Russian teachers—took part in three days of protest.
As a result of the protest, teachers official salary was then raised to an average of some 800 rubles (30 dollars) a month—still well below the minimal monthly subsistence level of 950 rubles.
Almost a decade after the Soviet collapse, most schools and many universities in Russia remain in state's hands. However, the cash strapped federal government—and eroded by corruption—finds itself increasingly unable to maintain even a semblance of the once vibrant education sector.
“The national education system will cease to exist within the next two-three years due to acute underfunding,” according to Leonid Sokolov, a professor and member of the audit chamber at the Russian parliament.
The former Soviet Union used to spend up to 10 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) to fund education, which was free from kindergarten to doctorate. Now, after nine years of economic “reform” the figure is 0.6 percent, he says.
Some Russian experts even claim there is an international conspiracy to undermine the country's education system so as to affect Russia's viability as a world power in the longer term.
The system, shaped to produce first-class scientists and experts does not fit in a country rapidly sliding into an economic, social and moral abyss.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is forcing Russia to cut funding of education programmes, argues Vladimir Kuznetsov, vice- president of the All-Russian Education Foundation. As a result, the best teachers and lecturers have abandoned their profession, and the country's education system has suffered a catastrophe, he told IPS.
Students have also been hit. The Russian Association of Students' Unions (RASU), which claims a 2.6 million membership or some 70 per cent of the total number of students nationwide, argues that the government's current plan to reform higher education amounts to annihilation of the system.
If the plan is implemented, free education in state colleges will be chopped by 10-15 percent. As campus and other fees skyrocket, RASU predicts that the number of Russian students will plunge by 40-50 per cent within the next 3-4 years.
However, some experts argue students should not be afraid of private education. Russian state-run universities are getting roughly 15 per cent of their funding from the state, argues Mikhail Karpenko, rector of the Modern University of Humanities in Moscow.
The only viable alternative is private education, he told IPS.
Experts argue that Russia—the largest country on earth, with an average population density lower than the Sahara desert—needs to find its own ways to develop a new national education system.
The promotion of distant education is seen by some as an answer to challenges posed by the country's dispersed population and poor road network.
Some 47,000 of the total 67,000 schools in Russia are in the rural and remote areas, where the average number of students is a mere 157, and were the quality of education has dropped most dramatically.
Given this background, innovative patterns of distant education via new media like the Internet could be a solution, Karpenko argues. However, he admits that Internet access is out of reach for most Russia's rural students as well as their parents.
It is largely because local Internet service providers now charge about one dollar per hour—a fortune for people who earn an equivalent of 20-30 dollars per month.
Nonetheless, there are still some optimists in Russia who seem to believe in the future of the education system. Russia could be revived through improved education via new hi-tech medium, argues Alexey Podberezkin, an opposition politician and leader of the conservative Spiritual Heritage movement.
However, for Russia's destitute teachers a feasible solution of their woes seem a long way off—any meaningful education reform implies considerable investment, which the country now can hardly afford.