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20 years after the USSR

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20 years after the USSR

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The fall of the Soviet Union resulted in huge changes – in all aspects of life. Education changed, and the education systems in the former Soviet Republics were decentralised. Twenty years later, Learning World investigates the changes.

Russia: Ready Steady Go

Alina is a weekly boarder at the Girls Cadet Boarding School No 9 in Moscow. Her mother Anastasia is an accountant. Her elder son went to a military board school, and now her daughter is following in his footsteps. She said: “Of course at the beginning of her studies we missed each other, but then we got used to it. The main thing is that my daughter is not somewhere on the street. She is being kept busy all the time.”

The school was founded in 2004 and is fully financed by the state. According to the school’s statistics around a third of the girls at the school will become civil servants.

Aleksey Zhukov, the Deputy Head Teacher at the school, said: “After the 1990s it was necessary to bring our children up in the spirit of love of their Motherland. Those were the times of Vladimir Putin. I think he is right to prioritise educating the young generation. I hope God helps him to win the presidential elections. Our graduates are normal young ladies who I think are future of Russia.”

As well as military studies, classical ballet, traditional folk dances, fencing and cookery are taught.

Victoria Silenskaya, the Head Teacher at the school, said: “We started working on 1st September 2004 when the Beslan school seige happened. We thought we really should teach children the basics of security and military service. If the children in Beslan had known what our graduates know, they would have been able to provide first aid.”

Before coming to the Cadet School, Alina wanted to be a banker. But now, she says “My main dream is to be of help to my country, to my parents, and to make a contribution to our country’s progress.”

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Before and After the USSR

Carole Sigman is a researcher in political science and an expert in Soviet education systems. Learning World met her in Paris at an exhibition marking 20 years since the fall of the USSR.

Carole Sigman said: “The higher education system used to be entirely state financed, especially after WWII with the generalisation of secondary and higher education. There were strong links between companies and vocational colleges.

“There were obligatory classes in Marxism and Leninism – the curriculum contained a certain amount of ideology. Even within technical courses.

“The system allowed for social mobility particularly for the most deprived, but then Pérestroïka and the economic crisis arrived. Finance, both private and public, dried up, and universities became more autonomous, with a quota of paying places. Free, state-funded places were attributed purely on the basis of academic results. But in fact, to get a free place, you had to pay private tutors in order to pass the entrance exam.

“Since the year 2000 we see the state once again taking over management of the sector, mainly thanks to oil profits – as from 2005 – and the strategy worked out of supporting a few national champions.”

Around 40 universities are therefore financed by the Russian government, ie only 5 or 6% of them. So for Carole Sigman, free universities and the resulting social mobility – belong to to past.

“Public under-financing, which has been constant since the 90s, will probably continue in most estaboishments, especially with the crisis, and in fact this system will force universities to increase their fees.”

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History: The Cornerstone, Ukraine

Since independence in December 1991 Ukraine has struggled to reconcile its Soviet Russian past with its more European, national heritage. This makes teaching history even more complicated than normal.

Yuriy Komarov, a history teacher at Kyiv-Pechersk Lyceum № 171, said: “Today there’s no pressure. Personally, in my work, I agree with Marc Bloch: a historian doesn’t have to judge, a historian has to explain. Therefore, we try to present different points of view.”

One of the trickiest, most sensitive, parts of the curriculum concerns WWII when nationalist insurgents fought first against the Nazis and then against the Soviets.

Galyna Tsybko, a history teacher at the School-kindergarten “Sofia” in Lviv, said: “There is a general teaching guideline, the concrete dates and events that are to be taught to the students. And of course teachers have their own position and can offer their own point of view and ask students for their opinions on the issue.”

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