17/12/2020 by G.G Pace 0 Comments
Perestroika and the Soviet Education- ‘the winds of change’
The president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, when addressing the audience at a speech in Leningrad in May 1985, was the first man to openly criticise the poor economic situation in Russia. Later in February 1986, he was to make another speech to the Communist Party Congress, stressing again and elaborating on the need for political and economic reform. He called it a restructuring orperestroika. He was also to push for greater openness and transparency or glasnost.
In February 1988, these earlier reforms were disposed of altogether. The new reforms included compulsory vocational study programs and plans for an integrated secondary school. Schools also had a significant change in the way the curriculum was taught. In his 1992 paper in an investigation into the effects of perestroika on Soviet education, Ben Brodinsky offers many extremely valuable insights. He noted that student uniforms were no longer required and the dialect between student and teacher became much more fluid with less rigidity and formality, and a two-way learning process emerged where the students were able to ask questions.
Previously, children from early on were encouraged to be “labour-loving” and to glory in their work and were geared up for professions in industry and trade, office administrative work as well as routes into teaching and medicine amongst others. Teachers were also allowed to now speak the “truth” about the Soviet past and were “permitted to investigate and learn about the crimes and mistakes of past Soviet regimes”. This is an important takeaway. Shouldn’t all countries be learning about the real “truths” of their past? However, at the time of these reforms, it was clear that the true benefits were slow to materialise. Brodinsky noticed that “teaching in Soviet classrooms remains traditional- even as the winds of change sweep all around it”.
Teachers were aware that although it was all well and good to have such reforms, they were still clinging onto the old styles of teaching they were used to without the right educational tools and guidance to help them on this new path. Some simply lacked the confidence to do so. Teachers were more open to discuss these issues and noted that drastic changes in education were still needed in some areas. However slow, the face of education was changed forever. Russia now can boast of one of the most advanced educational systems with an extremely high literacy rate.
“If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.”
― Mikhail Gorbachev
Brodinsky, B., ‘The Impact of Perestroika on Soviet
Education’, The Phi Delta Kappan, vol.73 (1992), p.379