Russian Education Compared With That of Other Developed Countries

Discussion in 'Russian Society' started by Moscow Exile, May 11, 2013.

  1. Moscow Exile

    Moscow Exile Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    I first posted most of the following on Kremlin Stooge after having come across a Harding article in the Guardian. I am reposting it here so as to hopefully start the ball rolling as regards opinions concerning the state of education in Russia today:

    Harding is definitely suffering from some psychological disorder concerning anything associated with Russia and Russian citizens. He has in today’s (7 May 2013) Guardian a little piece about Russian children attending British private schools, “How the Russians came to Hogwarts”.

    In his article Harding contrasts the free, liberal English education system (I say “English” because the Scottish one is different in several respects), quoting a Russian education consultant working in the UK who “helps Russian-speaking parents navigate their way through the entrance and exam system”. “British schools”, Harding reports the Russian marketer of English private schools as saying, “nurture individuality and creativity, and teach pupils critical thinking, encouraging them to write essays and see both sides of an argument. The more rigid, fact-driven Russian system, by contrast, relies on “fear and pressure’, meted out by older, Soviet-trained teachers.”

    It’s that old Evil Empire again, and Harding goes on, saying that the wonderful English school system is at at odds with the xenophobic, often paranoid thinking that comes from Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Furthermore, he maintains that a 27.4% increase in attendance of Russian children at English schools this year is the result of “Russia’s darkening politics” that “has prompted growing numbers of Russian parents to send their children to Britain.”

    That awful Russia! Such a dark foreboding place!

    And Hardings’s got to get at least one KGB reference in:

    "One observer describes the scene at the Lanesborough hotel in London, where a Russian mum with KGB connections had taken her 12-year-old son at a British prep school out for breakfast. The boy waved away his egg twice, complaining that it was not done the way he liked it. The mother was delighted with his behaviour, reading it as a sign of his assertiveness.”

    What a headbanger Harding is! Though I do not doubt that such a freaky mother and her offspring exist, what evidence does he present to support his claim that the Russian mother has "KGB connections"?

    And the KGB? The silly pillock is seemingly obsessed with that defunct organization.

    And what experience has Harding of Russian schools? Well, as a matter of fact, when Harding was the Guardian's man in Moscow, his children attended school there. In fact, one of the reasons he gave for wishing to return to Moscow after his having been shown the door the other year was so that his children could finish off their schooling there and not have to debunk to the UK with their persona non grata father. No doubt they went to a private school in Moscow. Fact is, though, that Harding chose not to have them continue their wonderful English education during his Russian posting. Maybe the Guardian doesn't pay him that much.

    As regards my experience of Russian schooling: my 13-year old son and 12-year-old daughter both go to a local state school here in Moscow and I have no complaints whatsoever concerning their education there. As regards their teachers, there are very few Soviet-trained ones about now, about whom Harding’s resident in the UK Russian marketer of English privates schools says rely “on fear and pressure”. All my children’s teachers are thoroughly professional, as were the several former Soviet teachers with whom I have become acquainted during my lengthy exile here. My almost 5-year-old daughter goes to a local kindergarten. Again, I have nothing but praise for this kindergarten and its staff - and I didn't bribe the director so that my child could get a placement there!

    Unlike Harding, I have experienced at first hand education in the Soviet Union, where I was both a student within and an observer of the Soviet education system. I visited Soviet schools – and not in Moscow but deep in the sticks in the Voronezh region: village schools full of impeccably behaved children, who could barely contain their delight in being honoured by the visit to their school of an Englishman of all things, and highly diligent, professional teachers devoted to their calling.

    I have never come across a semi-literate child or adult in Russia: I have done so in the UK, though, -many times. What is more, I have met people in the UK who are seemingly proud in a perverse sort of way of their near illiteracy. Anti-intellectualism is, I think, a big thing in the "Anglo-Saxon" world, where to be described as being "too clever by half" is an insult.

    What Harding and these Western shills really detest, though, is, in my opinion, the alleged systematic learning by rote prevalent in the Evil Empire. Well, there is rote learning in Russian schools: Russian children learn their timetables by heart as I did in an English infants’ school almost 60 years ago; they learn Russian grammar; they learn chunks of Russian poetry and literature by heart. Last summer, my son's school task was to learn Lermontov's lengthy epic poem "Borodino" off by heart. He did it. However, my children’s school has state-of-the-art classroom IT technology: there is a plasma screen in every classroom and a laptop on every teacher’s desk which projects lesson material onto a drop-down screen. My children do a lot of presentations with Power-Point in class. My son’s big thing is making stop-action movies with his Bionicles: he won a prize at an all-Russia schools competition for one of his Bionicle adventures recently, and though I say it myself, his success was well deserved.

    Of course, my children's school is an inner-city Moscow one. Such state-of-the-art technology would certainly not be found in village schools, and in many provincial ones as well. Nevertheless, the methodology and the curriculum would be the same everywhere in Russian state schools, which is another thing that used to be criticized in the UK, where there was until about 25 years ago no national curriculum.

    This criticism of the Soviet curriculum was all part and parcel of Western sneering at Soviet uniformity and its associated lack of creativeness, which criticism is evident in Harding's article, where he quotes the Russian marketer of all that is bright and wonderful and wholesome in British education as saying: "British schools nurture individuality and creativity, and teach pupils critical thinking, encouraging them to write essays and see both sides of the argument."

    Read: In Russian schools individuality and creativity is frowned upon, as is critical thinking.

    As regards the fear allegedly instilled by these Soviet monsters of teachers that still rule with a rod of iron in "the former Soviet Union", when I was a schoolboy in the UK, I was regularly assaulted by teachers with canes across the hands or arse for such gross misdemeanours as talking in class, not wearing my school cap when coming to school, tardiness and making mistakes in class or in homework. The caning stopped when I was about 12: I’d started to grow into a big boy by that time.
    They certainly did not instil fear in me as a result of their criminal activities, but they did leave me with an abiding loathing of them and their kind.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2013
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  2. Hero of Crappy Town

    Hero of Crappy Town Collegiate Registrar (14th class)

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    Russian schools are probably what English schools were 20 years ago. It's the old Prussian system which I went through (in a different East European country), and which I detested, and which I have no inclination of speaking up for. Nonetheless it is the case not all change is always for the better. Regression is a real possibility. Many of the new trends in schools in the UK and the US that I have read about are equally if not even more troubling.

    It is interesting because as I said England (or at very least continental Western Europe) at some point in the not so distant past had basically the very same system that still remains in Russia. Yet I doubt Harding would write such a thing about schools in 1980s West Germany. They aren't bad because they remain oldfashioned, but because they're Russian. If it's Russian it's shockingly retrograde by definition.



    I was made to memorize Soči in elementary school. Even though it is just half the length of Borodino and even though I have forgotten most of it since it remains a minor point of pride for me that I did. I could say a lot of negative things about the schools I went through, but that is one thing I don't resent them for.
  3. Moscow Exile

    Moscow Exile Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    More like 40 years ago! The English state education system in which I was educated until 1965 was certainly modelled on that of Bismarckian Germany and I too as a schoolboy had to learn great chunks of Shakespeare and mostly English romantic poetry: Wordsworth, Keats, Shelly etc. And we studied Early Modern and Middle English as well, in that Milton and Chaucer were all part of our secondary education. But this was at Grammar School, the grammar in question being namely Latin and Ancient Greek - a straight copy of the German Gymnasia.

    What the British tried to copy off Germany but with little success was the Realschule system: call it the result of English snobbery or what you will, but you really only achieved high position in the UK if you studied the classics and graduated from Oxbridge: the natural sciences were not the business of gentlemen destined to govern the British Empire or to become government ministers, which is, by the way, the reason why, after having graduated in chemistry from Oxford, Margaret Thatcher decided to study law before entering politics: scientists are too clever by half for British Conservatives and in England there were traditionally only three professions: medicine, law and holy orders.

    I remember how so-called technical schools were introduced in post-1945 Britain and were intended for boys (girls didn't really count then) of a more "technical" rather than an "academic" aptitude. Nobody wanted to go to "tech": the way to the top was by way of the grammar schools and I well remember how my new form-master, who wore cap and gown, told me and other fresh faced 11-year-olds on our very first day at our local grammar school that we were the "cream of the cream". Concessions to modernity had been made, of course, during my schooldays, and at grammar school I studied physics chemistry and biology as well as Latin and Greek and French and German. My old school was so old fashioned that I remember how our German text books were printed in "Fraktur", which resulted many years later in my causing great comment in Germany by my ability to read Sütterlin script, a totally useless skill if one is not a German antiquarian, but all part of my strange English education.
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2013
  4. Alexander Mercouris

    Alexander Mercouris Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    I have come rather late to this discussion. A few general comments.

    Firstly, I think Russia is fortunate to be free of the highly stratified English school system, a fact Luke Harding does not touch on though without understanding it, it is simply impossible to understand the English school system.

    Always in England everything in the end comes down to a question of social class and the school system is a case in point. It very obviously follows class lines. There is a top tier of a very few ultra expensive private schools, which for archaic reasons are misleadingly called "public schools" (though they are the diametric opposite) to which the elite goes. There is a much larger swathe of schools some of which are private schools and some of which are state schools that overwhelmingly draw children from the moneyed middle class. State schools that belong to this category may in theory be free and the same as state schools elsewhere but everyone in the system knows that in reality they are not. Access to such state schools is tightly controlled and usually depends on owning a home in a very expensive area where only rich people can afford to live and buy a home. Lastly, there's the great majority of schools to which everyone else goes.

    Any comparisons that Luke Harding makes will be between English schools that belong to the first two categories and Russian schools generally and not to English schools from the last category, which represent the great majority of schools but of which he has no direct experience. As a highly paid journalist of a prestigious newspaper who comes from a middle class family he has no cause to experience schools of the third sort and will not have done so, just as he will have little social or professional contact with the sort of people who go to those schools or who send their children to them. If he did he would not be able to make the sort of claims about the English school system he makes.

    It goes without saying that the sort of English schools to which wealthy Russians in Russia send their children are also the schools drawn from the top two tiers.

    As for English schools being breeding grounds for independence and creativity, the reality is that following the introduction of a single curriculum for all schools in the 1980s teaching is becoming much more regimented than it used to be. Obviously we are not talking about Bismarckian rote learning. However it is difficult to convey to outsiders how bureaucratic and tightly controlled the English school system has now become with schools having to achieve centrally determined targets and rankings with the smallest deviations from set courses no longer tolerated. In fact the English school system increasingly resembles less perhaps the Soviet school system that actually existed and more a westerner's fantasy of what the Soviet school system was like. Again this may not be so obvious to those like Luke Harding whose experience of English schools would be limited to the top tier of English schools.

    Overall Luke Harding's comments reflect a pattern Moscow Exile and I repeatedly come across: the English or American middle class assumption that what they experience in their societies is the norm of those societies. That their socio economic position puts them in a position of privilege as against the majority which makes their experience actually unrepresentative and even abnormal is something which never occurs to them. This makes people like Luke Harding (or say Mark Adomanis at Forbes) continuously err when they make comparisons on the situation in say policing or housing or schooling or the Court system or the health system as between their own societies and Russia.
  5. Moscow Exile

    Moscow Exile Ship Secretary (11th class)

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    Anatole Karlin on his Da Russophile site had a thread about cheating in higher education in the Russian Federation. Of course, cheating goes on in the Russian educational system and rumours are always rife there about buying diplomas.

    So what about ...

    Nearly half of new Harvard students admit to cheating
  6. Philip Owen

    Philip Owen Office Registrar (13th class)

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    I was caned for being bullied. I still can't go into a school without feeling uncomfortable. But even so, Russians I meet are weak on critical thinking skills. There's a lot of lazy stereotyping. Geography and history, especially Russian history aren't so strong either.
  7. SWSpires

    SWSpires Gubernial Secretary (12th class)

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    Could be. But offhand, I can't think of a country where critical thinking skills are the norm among the population.

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