Education in the Soviet Union

From Academic Kids

The Soviet education was organized in a highly centralized government-run system, designed to fulfill political and military purposes foremost. Its advantages were total access for all citizens and post-education employment.

Although this system was unbelievably ineffective by economic standards, it managed to raise the country's educational level to among the world's highest. In the 1970s and 1980s, Soviets were about 97% literate. Soviet elementary and secondary schools, despite their relative illiberal style, remain the unbeaten example of equality, social accessibility and high achievement. In the 1970s the common situation was that an American or German university student would fail to meet the standards of a Soviet secondary school physics program.

The internationally recognized education and science achievements of the Soviet Union were stimulated mostly by the Cold War arms race.

The worst features of Soviet education were its totalitarianism and inflexibility. Research and education in the social sciences was dominated by Communist ideology and supervised by both CPSU party and KGB minders. Such domination led to long-term abolition of the whole academic branches such as genetics and sociology (with scholars purged) as they were proclaimed bourgeois and non-Marxist. Since the supply of student vacancies and lecture courses was regulated by the bureaucracy ("planned"), the system failed to answer labour market challenges in the late 1970s and 1980s. Enormous numbers of engineers were trained despite the hidden crisis of the economy and the declining prestige of the position.

Classification and Terms

The Soviet educational system was organized in three levels. The names of these levels were and are still used to rate the education standards of persons or particular schools, despite differences in the exact terminology used by each profession or school. Military, police, KGB and party schools were also graded according to these levels. This distinguishes Soviet system from the rest of the world, where educational levels of schools may differ, despite their similar names.

Elementary schools were called the "beginning" level (adj. начальное, nachalnoye), 4 classes. Secondary schools were 7 and later 8 classes and called "incomplete medium education" (неполное среднее образование). This level was compulsory for children and optional for undereducated adults (they could study in so-called "evening schools"). Children of ethnic minorities and native tribes who didn't want to study were forcibly gathered to attend elementary schools.

10 classes of an ordinary school was called "medium education" (среднее образование).

Tehnikums, PTUs and some military facilities formed a system of so-called “medium specialized education” (adj. среднее специальное, sredneye spetsialnoye). Graduation from this level was required for the positions of qualified workers and lower bureaucrats (see also vocational education, professions, training).

“Highest” (adj. высшее, vyssheye) education facilities included a degree-level facilities: universities, “institutes” and military academies. "Institute" in the sense of a school, refers to a specialized "microuniversity" (mostly technical), usually subordinate to the ministry associated with their field of study. The largest network "institutes" were medical, paedagogic (for the training of schoolteachers), construction and various transport (automotive and road, railroad, civil aviation) institutes. Some of those institutes were present in every oblast' capital while others were unique and situated in big cities (like the Literature Institute and the Institute of Physics and Technics in Moscow). Numerous military and police academies (Russian: высшее училище/школа, vyshee uchilische/shkola) were on the same graduation level. Note that Soviet military and police facilities named "Академия, Akademiya" are not a degree-level school (like Western military academies such as West Point), but a post-graduate school for experienced officers. Such schools were compulsory for officers applying for the rank of colonel.

The spirit and structure of Soviet education is mostly inherited by post-Soviet countries despite formal changes and social transitions.

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