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Secondary Education

General secondary education is the main part of the system of continuous education in Belarus. It is represented on three levels:

  • primary school (first to fourth grade, six or seven to nine years of age)
  • basic secondary school (fifth to ninth grade, ten to fifteen years of age) leading to incomplete secondary education
  • upper secondary school (tenth and eleventh grade, sixteen to seventeen years of age), which leads to complete secondary education

The primary and secondary level institutions sometimes function separately (predominantly in rural areas); in the city they are usually combined within one school. The academic year begins on September 1 and continues through the end of May, and they have an examination session in the ninth and eleventh grades. School operates on a quarterly schedule, with four vacations: a week in November, two weeks in early January, a week at the end of March, and two and a half or three months in the summer. Students go to school five or six days a week. The daily number of classes varies from four in primary school to six in the senior grades. Lessons last 40 or 45 minutes, with shorts breaks between classes.

Almost all the schools are coeducational. On the primary level, children are divided into classes of twenty-five to thirty students, who study as a permanent group until the end of secondary school. The program opens with a relatively simple curriculum, with new subjects added every year. In the eleventh grade, there can be as many as 17 or even 20 subjects. The grades used for evaluation are numerical: five is excellent, four is good, three is satisfactory, and two is failure. Students who fail in two or more subjects are required to repeat the year's program. Successful completion of secondary school is the main route into higher education. In 1998-1999 the system of general secondary education in Belarus included 4,783 secondary schools with 1,650,000 students.

Primary education begins at six or seven years of age and encompasses the first three or four grades of the general education school. The reform of the 1980s, when Belarus was still part of the Soviet Union, attempted at the transition to universal four-year primary education starting with the age of six. The reform was premature and schools could not cater to the needs of all the six-yearolds. As a result, the modern Belarusian primary school allows for two options: children can start school at the age of seven and study three years (old system), or enter the first grade at the age of six and study four years with a lighter schedule and more attention given to games. The choice depends on the child's medical state and the parents' wish. The program of the first grade can be also covered in kindergarten. In the future, all primary schools are planning to adopt a four-year program.

The curricula include basics of the Belarusian and Russian languages (reading and writing), mathematics, nature study, initial knowledge about society, and national history and culture, all of which are taught by the same teacher. Other subjects are labor, music, and physical training. Great attention is given to the development of the child's individuality, personal hygiene, and a healthy way of living. Students also engage in extracurricular activities: school concerts and holiday parties, trips, excursions to museums, theaters, and libraries. In 1997-1999 the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the National Education Institute, developed new curricula and textbooks for primary schools.

Basic secondary school (fifth to ninth grade) is compulsory and leads to incomplete secondary education, which can be continued on the upper secondary level (tenth and eleventh grade). The content of education and forms of control are based on the curricula developed according to the state requirements, as well as regional and national peculiarities. The Communist indoctrination programs, which was a significant part of the curricula during the Soviet times, have been replaced by more diversified courses that allow room for alternative points of view and personal opinions. Yet, the state control of education is strong and reveals itself in the requirements of the content of education, which are prescribed by the executive organs of the Republic. The state standards include an obligatory list of subjects and the minimum number of hours assigned for them. The major subjects are the Belarusian and Russian languages, literature, mathematics, sciences, Belarusian and world history, law, foundations of modern civilization, art, music, world culture, labor, and physical training. A foreign language (predominantly English, German, or French) is introduced in the fifth grade. Students get cumulative grades in every subject at the end of each quarter. After the ninth and eleventh grade they are required to take examinations. All students who successfully complete 11 years of study receive the Certificate of General Secondary Education. Those who get excellent marks for all the semesters of the tenth and eleventh grade, as well as the final exams, are awarded a gold medal. Students with no more than two good grades (all the others being excellent) receive a silver medal. The medals have a moral value, but they also give their owners privileges when they apply for entry to higher educational institutions. In 1998, gold medals were awarded to 6 percent and silver medals to 6.1 percent of secondary school graduates.

In addition to the traditional general education secondary schools, the 1990s saw the development of new types of institutions—gymnasiums and lyceums. Gymnasiums provide comprehensive humanitarian education, often centered on the study of foreign languages. They are expected to have a highly qualified teaching staff, use innovative textbooks, and to have modern methods of teaching. Lyceums offer professionally oriented education and are usually affiliated with higher educational or research institutions. In 1999 the Republic of Belarus had 73 gymnasiums (69,100 students) and 25 lyceums (13,600 students), which correspondingly made up 1.5 and 0.5 percent of all secondary daytime schools.

Due to the social and economic problems of the 1990s, the number of orphans and children left without proper parental care has significantly increased. In 1998 there were 27 ordinary and 22 family-type children's homes, 31 general secondary boarding schools, and 25 sanatorium-type institutions under the supervision of the Ministry of Education. The disturbing statistics of the same period showed that 10.9 percent of Belarusian children had problems with their psychic and physical development. These 21,500 students were accommodated at 80 boarding schools for mentally and physically handicapped children, 27 rehabilitation centers, and 707 special schools. There were 417 secondary school classes for students with learning disabilities. Two thousand children with health problems were tutored by visiting teachers at home.

The general secondary school reform of 1998 foresaw the development of culturally specific programs, restructuring of the curricula, and the introduction of new state standards and an innovative syllabi. One of the long-term goals was a gradual transition to 12-year secondary schooling, which would provide for a more even distribution of the study load across the curricula, and which would include 17 courses instead of 24 or 27. The new arrangement would also allow more time to students' individual needs, interests, and peculiarities, as well as a greater diversification of the educational process. An additional school year would help solve a number of demographic and social problems (e.g. insufficient, number of opportunities in the job market). Other innovative state programs dealt with the improvement of rural schools, intensification of the study of foreign languages, computerization of the education system, dissemination of 212 new textbooks, and other issues. An important step would be the development of a unified national test for admission to higher educational institutions. It would involve the creation of a national testing center, the development of assignments on all the subjects, entrance exams, and the replacement of separate exams by a universal test, which would be recognized by all higher educational institutions.

The Belarusian system of vocational training functions on two levels. The first level encompasses vocational technical schools (PTU) and apprenticeship programs for blue-collar jobs. Applicants may be accepted by PTU after 11 years of general secondary school and in this case take a year-long course to acquire a professional skill. Students with basic general education (nine grades) study three years to get both professional training and complete secondary education. The curriculum of PTU is distributed between theoretical (73 percent) and practical courses (27 percent). It includes general secondary, general professional, and special subjects, as well as electives and individual consultations.

Students are divided into groups of 12 to 25 people and are supervised by their main teacher called the "master of industrial training." Schools are usually attached to industrial enterprises, which provide students with onthe-job training. The modern tendency is to integrate several skills into the educational process in order to ensure the students' greater adaptability to the job market. In 1998, about 250 vocational technical schools with more than 130,700 students trained specialists in 400 professions. The number of PTU graduates totaled 54,400. There were 4,000 teachers and 7,363 masters of industrial education employed on the initial vocational level program.

The second level of vocational training is provided by technicums, colleges, and professional secondary schools called vuchylishcha. These institutions prepare middle-level technicians, assistants of higherqualification specialists, independent qualified workers performing tasks that require both practical skills and theoretical knowledge, as well as specialists of nonproduction areas (librarians, obstetricians, nurses, preschool and primary school teachers). In 1999 this network comprised 151 state and 6 non-state secondary professional institutions, which provided training in 154 specialties. There were 16 professional technical colleges for students with physical disabilities, with training in 14 different specialties.

The course of study at the secondary professional level lasts from three to four years and is concluded by qualification exams and the defense of a diploma project. A number of former professional schools have been transformed into colleges. Professional schools are usually affiliated with higher educational institutions and work in close contact with them. Consequently, this arrangement can lead to a bachelor's degree at a college. Another option is for the college students to continue their studies at a higher educational institution, with the courses previously taken counting towards the university degree. Educational institutions are expected to reveal and develop the students' interests and abilities and to give them vocational guidance and advanced professional training. Integrated continuous education is provided by a study complexes' lyceum (college or higher educational institution) with a coordinated curricula. Faculty from higher educational institutions often lecture at colleges, assist instructors with curricula development and methodological work, participate in qualification exams, and prepare study materials. Partnerships of this kind prove to be highly effective.

Innovations in the system of vocational training are primarily defined by new trends in society. Educators have to review the inventory of professions with regard to the market demand; change the content of education by diversifying the curricula; give the students an opportunity to express their individuality and creativity; and introduce new subjects in response to the changing times. Schools must work in close contact with prospective employers, enterprises, and businesses.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceBelarus - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education