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Russian Federation - Secondary Education

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Prior to the Revolution of 1917, the prototypes of modern secondary schools were gymnasiums and lyceums. The first gymnasiums opened in the early 1700s, with Russian as the language of instruction. These were followed by other secondary schools, which were affiliated with the Moscow (1755) and Kazan (1758) Universities. The lyceums introduced at the beginning of the nineteenth century were a combination of primary and secondary schools. The legislation of 1864 established two types of gymnasiums: classical and real. The curricula of the former included ancient history and classical languages, whereas the latter gave preference to sciences. The Charter of 1871 declared classical gymnasiums the only type of educational institutions representing complete secondary education. Only in 1912 did the graduates of real gymnasiums acquire the right to apply to universities.

The October Revolution (1917) declared the schools to be unified, labor, and polytechnic. As a result, general education in secondary schools was combined with vocational training. Strong emphasis was also made on the indoctrination courses expected to propagate Communist ideology. The regulation of 1934 established two types of secondary general education: incomplete seven-year and complete ten-year education. The law of 1959 extended the length of study in complete secondary schools to eleven years, but in 1966 it was cut back to ten years.

The socioeconomic crisis of the 1980s endangered the state of Russian secondary education: its uniformity, lack of educational choice, and social apathy alienated students from the school. The reform of 1984 declared a number of goals to enhance the quality of education, but the state failed to realize most of them. The decision to lower the school age from seven to six years once again extended complete education to a total of eleven years. In the early 1990s, schools acquired the right to choose curricula and textbooks, to diversify the teaching process and introduce different profiles of education.

Primary and secondary level grades are usually located in the same building and are regarded as one school. Nevertheless, there is a major difference between the levels: if in primary grades most of the classes are taught by the same teacher, on the secondary level there is a different teacher for each subject. Students are transferred from primary to secondary school as a class of about thirty, who continue on together as a group. One of the subject teachers is appointed their klassny rukovoditel (academic director) in order to give them guidance, watch their progress, provide leadership for extracurricular and recreational activities, and keep in touch with the parents. Parent-teacher conferences called "parents meetings" are devoted to the students' achievements, discipline, and organizational issues. They also elect representatives to the school parent committee, which assists the teachers and administration.

The academic year in all the schools begins on September 1, which is celebrated as the Day of Knowledge, and continued until the end of May, exclusive of the examination period. The year is divided into quarters. Students go to school five or six days a week (depending on the decision of the school administration) and have up to 36 lessons per week. Classes last 40 to 45 minutes. The intervals between them are from 5 to 25 minutes long, and there is no additional lunch break. Since most of the school buildings cannot accommodate all the students at once, schools usually operate on a shift schedule.

The subjects in the curricula are grouped into seven areas of knowledge: languages and literature (includes Russian, as well as other native and foreign languages; the number of hours allotted for the Russian language can be different and depends on the linguistic situation in the area, as well as peculiarities of a particular school); mathematics (includes algebra, geometry, logic, statistics); sciences (includes physics, chemistry, biology); society (includes Russian and world history, law, foundations of modern civilization, world economics, international relations, and sociology); art (includes fine arts, music, world culture, and courses reflecting the cultural peculiarities of the region where the school is located); labor (includes labor education, professional training, and technical drawing); and physical training.

The number of hours in each area is subdivided into the federal, regional, and school components. The curricula comprise an invariable part, which is mandatory for all the schools, and a variable part, within which schools are free to make decisions of their own. The programs also provide for individual consultations, electives and optional courses, which are often taught by invited university professors, actors, artists, or people of other professions. For the last thirty years the number of subjects at schools have doubled. It can be as high as seventeen to twenty, therefore the schedule of classes is different every day of the week.

Though computer literacy instruction is part of the programs, it is ineffective because in most of the schools the equipment is outdated or nonexistent. The lessons of physical training take place in the gym or on the sports grounds. Due to the lack of adequate equipment and poor organization, sports activities are not very popular with Russian students. Insufficient state financing compels schools to look for sponsors and seek additional funds to improve their facilities. Some innovative schools also work in close conjunction with universities, local libraries, museums, and industrial enterprises.

Students in grades five to eight are evaluated at the end of each quarter, and students in grades ten to eleven twice a year (after the second and the fourth quarter). All secondary school students receive a cumulative grade in each subject at the end of the academic year. Officially the grading is based on a four-point scale: five, excellent; four, good; three, fair; and two, poor (failure). Grade one (very poor) is usually an emotional response to unsatisfactory performance and is used as a disciplinary measure. Students are promoted to the next grade on the basis of academic achievement during the year and the results of the annual examinations (oral or written) in Russian and mathematics (obligatory for all) and one or more subjects of their own choice. Those who fail in two or more disciplines either repeat the year or are transferred to a class of compensatory education. Students with a failing grade in one subject are allowed to go on to the next grade, but they have to complete their work on the subject. People who are unable to cope with a particular level cannot go on to the next one. Excellent students of grades five to eight are exempt from examinations. However, everybody is required to take exams after grade nine, because it is the final year of basic (incomplete) secondary school. After it some students go on to secondary professional schools; others continue with grades ten and eleven.

The examinations for the Certificate of Secondary Education, also called a "maturity certificate," conclude the eleventh grade. They are prepared by the federal authorities and strictly monitored. The school can offer five or seven exams, which always include an essay on Russian literature and a written test in mathematics. Other subjects can be chosen by the student. Those who get all excellent grades for the last four semesters and the final examinations are awarded a gold medal. Students with a maximum of two good grades (all the others being excellent) receive a silver medal. The medals significantly improve their chances to be admitted to a competitive higher educational institution.

The democratization of the school system, greater flexibility in curricula development, and encouragement of innovations have opened up the way for numerous experiments at the secondary school level. In 1998-1999, alongside with regular secondary schools, the network included 2,547 lyceums and gymnasiums with 1,700,000 students. The old terms have acquired a new meaning. The word "lyceum" has come to denote an innovative secondary school with a specialization in a particular area (e.g., mathematics, law, ecology, pedagogy), which is attached to a higher educational institution. "Gymnasium" is a nontraditional humanitarian school with a comprehensive program and the study of at least two foreign languages. To be granted the status of a lyceum or gymnasium, schools are expected to prove that they have highly qualified teachers, advanced programs, and adequate facilities. Among the first institutions to receive this status were the schools with intensive foreign language programs, which had been established under Khrushchev (the 1960s) and had gained popularity for producing nearly bilingual graduates. Though officially these schools are expected to enroll all the children of eligible age from the local community, the entry there is becoming more and more competitive.

The schools for the gifted and talented, which work in conjunction with theaters and conservatories, provide advanced training in ballet, music, and performing arts. Children with outstanding abilities for mathematics, biology, physics, and other sciences selected during nationwide competitions (Olympiads) are enrolled in specialized educational establishments, which are affiliated with universities and serve as laboratory schools or experimental grounds.

Those who decide to combine work with parallel secondary education can study at part-time evening schools. Due to the low quality of instruction and the inability to compete with daytime institutions, enrollment in such schools is steadily decreasing. Boarding schools, which in the late 1950s were seen as the Communist school of the future, now predominantly accommodate orphans, children deprived of proper parental care, and students from remote rural areas, who do not have a regular private school in their locality. In 1998-1999 the number of children in boarding schools and orphanages was more than 96,000. Most of such schools, as well as children's homes, are poorly financed and maintained. Their existence is a struggle for survival, rather than a strive for innovation.

The state also operates special facilities, which provide secondary education for the blind or partially sighted, deaf or partially hearing students, individuals with speech defects, and other health problems. The educational process in such schools is adjusted to the students' special needs and trains them in skills, which can be useful in their adult life. Alcoholism, crime and other social problems account for the growing number of institutions for mentally retarded and physically handicapped children, as well as closed correctional establishments for juvenile delinquents.

A school is headed by the Director who is personally responsible for the general management of the school life. As the main administrator, the Director deals with the educational process, staffing, the financial state of the school, the maintenance of its facilities, as well as food and security. Deputy directors (zavuchi) take care of particular areas of work (curricula, schedules, extracurricular activities, etc.). The highest organ of school self-government is the pedsovet (pedagogical council), which deals with fundamental aspects of the school life. It is chaired by the Director and includes all the deputy directors and educational staff. The Pedsovet adopts the school Charter (Ustav), defines the organizational structure of the school administration, makes decisions about educational programs, choice of curricula, forms and methods of teaching, approves the students' final grades, cooperates with the parents committee, educational institutions, and NGOs.

In the situation when schools have to deal with numerous economic difficulties, it has become vitally important to preserve and support the educational network, especially in the Far North, Siberia, and the Far East. Due to insufficient financing, only 46.3 percent of schools have the necessary facilities; and one third of the buildings need repairs. There is no construction of new educational establishments occurring in rural areas. Many schools are overcrowded, 32 percent of them have to work in two or three shifts.

Due to low social and territorial mobility of students and teachers, people living in different parts of the country do not have equal access to high-quality programs. It is necessary to improve and diversify the content of education, develop new methods, technologies, curricula, and textbooks. Another aim is to make various forms of education accessible for the gifted and talented students living in remote areas. The transition to a market economy requires paying more attention to professional orientation and programs for individuals who combine their education with work.

The principle of continuity between different stages of schooling is declared, but not truly implemented. The number of secondary school graduates, who can enter higher educational institutions without additional training (private tutoring), is steadily decreasing. Serious efforts have to be made to bridge the gap between the content of secondary and higher education. In order to support students from rural schools (68.9 percent of the total number), it is essential to intensify professional guidance, organize specialized classes, and search for other forms of cooperation between VUZs and rural schools. The introduction of unified state examinations is expected to make the admission to higher educational institutions more objective.

One of the long-term goals is a gradual transmission to a 12-year secondary education (4-6-2 model), which involves the development of new curricula, alleviates the students' work load, and allows for the individual choice of subjects according to the students interests and abilities. The reform is preceded by a period of experimentation: beginning in 2001, five educational institutions in every region are working along the lines of the new program. By 2015 the reform will embrace ninety percent of all the students.

The development of specialized professional education in Russia was strongly encouraged by Peter the Great and started with the opening of the Artillery School (1701), Medical School (1707), Engineering School (1709), Navy Academy (1715), and other institutions. By 1914-1915 there were more than 400 professional schools with 54,000 students, who were trained to work in construction, industry, transportation, medicine, and agriculture. During the first years after the October Revolution the Soviet government, which made special emphasis on vocational training, established 450 new institutions called technicums.

In the 1930s the network continued to grow; the night and correspondence departments were opened for those who combined studies with work. During the Second World War the vocational training system prepared 340,000 workers and specialists. When adults were recruited into the Army, teenage graduates replaced them in factory shops. By the late 1940s there were 4,000 vocational schools and technicums with 1,007,700 students. After three more decades of steady growth, the enrollment figures became stabilized and in the 1990s started decreasing (4,611,000 students in 1980, 4,231,000 in 1990).

Vocational institutions were subordinated to the republic, regional, and local administrative organs in order to meet the needs of particular territories. New types of schools (professional colleges and lyceums) combined general and vocational training with the purpose to improve the students' economic, legal, and industrial competence. By 1998-1999 there were 2,649 state and municipal secondary professional schools with 2,052,000 students.

The system encompasses two levels of education. The initial level comprises professional technical schools (PTU) and centers of continuing professional education, which train skilled workers and paraprofessionals for blue-collar jobs. The course lasts from one to two years for professional training only, and three to four years if it is combined with general secondary education.

The types of schools at the secondary professional level include: technicums (or polytechnicums) (independent institutions, which predominantly train middle-level technicians, lower managers, shop foremen for industry, transport, construction, and agriculture); uchilishcha (schools, which prepare specialists for non-production spheres, including preprimary and primary school teachers, nurses, circus performers, and librarians); and colleges (secondary specialized institutions, which can be either independent or function as structural divisions of a university, institute, or academy).

Other types of vocational institutions are farmers' schools, commercial schools, and specialized schools aimed at the social rehabilitation of juvenile delinquents. Organizationally, all the schools are subdivided into state, municipal, and non-state institutions. In order to acquire a legal status, they have to be accredited by the state. The prerequisite for admission is basic (nine-year) or complete (eleven-year) secondary education. Prospective students have to take entrance examinations, which in some cases can be substituted by an interview. Preference in admission to free education is given to applicants who are getting professional training for the first time, as well as those who are referred to the institution by employment agencies.

The length of study at schools, which offer an mixture of professional and general education, is from three to four years. The state standards, adopted in 1992 and 1996, introduced a completely new approach to the structuring of the permanent and variable parts of the curricula. They include the federal, national, and regional components. The federal component defines the obligatory minimum content of educational programs, maximum workload, and the required level of student training. In their turn, the national and regional components reflect the specific needs of a particular locality and ethnic group. The standards have to be reviewed at least once every ten years. The new arrangement allows for adjustments, which take into consideration the peculiarities of the natural environment, climate, and the demand for certain skills and occupations. It aims at training specialists of wider profiles, who would have more professional mobility and adaptability to the changing social conditions. The mandatory minimum in the curriculum provides for the equivalency of training on all the territory of Russia.

The curricula, built along the lines of the state standards, include practical and theoretical courses. The annual number of hours can be from 4,418 to 5,744. Approximately one-third of them are devoted to general education (710 to 800 hours for humanitarian subjects, 500 to 680 hours for sciences, and 263 to 435 hours for electives and optional courses). In technical schools special emphasis is made on the basics of technology, economics, law, organization of production, intensive work methods, and use of new equipment. In addition to traditional topics, students get acquainted with new trends in commerce, management, marketing, auditing, and computer science. The educational process consists of lectures, tutorials, laboratory work, consultations, tests, excursions, simulation games, and practical training. The weekly study load is 36 to 38 hours. Students are organized in groups of 25 to 30 students (12 to 15 students for complex specialties). An academic director or a master of production training, attached to each group, is responsible for developing the students' vocational skills. Practical training usually takes place at the school shops or corresponding enterprises. At some schools the course culminates in the defense of a final paper called a diploma project.

Vocational schools are administered by a council representing all categories of employees, students, and other interested parties (enterprises, organizations, or parents). The council is chaired by the Director, who is responsible for the educational process, the school's financial state, the students' health and security, and recreational activities. In 1998-1999 there were 123,200 teachers employed in the network of secondary professional education. Most of them were graduates of industrial pedagogical institutes, higher, and specialized secondary institutions.

Educators are trying to find a rational correlation of theoretical and practical knowledge—a calculated balance of creative thinking and professional skills. In order to intensify the professional, social, and territorial mobility of specialists and make them more competitive on the job market, it is necessary to extend and combine the existing specialties and advance the quality of education. The educational tendencies encompass competitive enrollment; diversified curricula; financial reform of the network; cooperation of the state, businesses, trade unions, and educational institutions; and attraction of investments into the sphere of vocational training.

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