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Q&A: Russian Children Learn Market Ways

Interview with former Russian minister for education, Vladimir Fillipov

MOSCOW, May 12 2008 (IPS) - After the political changes that brought in capitalism, education in Russia emerged from its old centralised style. The changes in education now have been no less radical than the political changes.

Vladimir Fillipov Credit:

Vladimir Fillipov Credit:

IPS Moscow correspondent Kester Kenn Klomegah interviewed former minister for education and science Vladimir Fillipov, who steered education through major changes from 1998 to 2004.

IPS: What significant changes were introduced in the education sector during your period as cabinet minister for education?

Vladimir Fillipov: The task of stabilising the educational system and consolidating educational programmes became a serious priority. We held the first all-Russian congress of teachers and workers in the Kremlin on 14 January, 2000, and we decided to institute a new nationwide educational doctrine that currently deals with necessary reforms.

During the early days of (former president) Vladimir Putin, the need for reforms was explicitly clear to the government, and teachers strongly supported the new nationwide educational reform programme. After this, we began to implement a series of measures for realisation of this programme, which included a concept to modernise the educational infrastructure and the school syllabus (curriculum) from that period until 2020.

Particular attention was paid to computerising schools. One other major innovation was the introduction of a unified examination system. Next was introduction of the multi-level system of higher education.

IPS: Why did the reforms become necessary after the Soviet collapse in 1991?

VF: The political system has changed, and we are no longer operating under the old centralised communist system. An introduction to the market economy forms the basis of teaching our students in Russia today. The Soviet educational system was based on the communist ideology. Now we are witnessing a democratisation in the school system; the subjects have considerably changed, and we are looking for more innovation in the sector.

In higher education it is necessary to prepare specialists who know how to work in the conditions dictated by a capitalist market economy. The labour market is developing rapidly, and their demands too are dictated by changing market forces.

IPS: Are employers, especially in the private sector, satisfied with the quality of training for students?

VF: Accessibility to higher education has substantially expanded in comparison with the Soviet times. There are almost 500 students to a population of 10,000. On the other hand, when there is a big increase in numbers, quality declines. But the fact is that a good graduate is always a good graduate, it does not depend on the university. Surprisingly, some top-rated universities turn out poorly qualified graduates. It is advantageous for employers to allow graduates to compete equally in the same market conditions and to gauge their efficiency for themselves.

IPS: How is education in the private sector developing?

VF: The private educational sector is growing fast alongside state institutions. The proportion of government students is about 70 percent; the remaining 30 percent are in purely private institutions. Annual enrolment figures are increasing because many people from the ex-Soviet republics and from developing countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia appreciate and value Russian education.

IPS: Is the state budget enough to support education?

VF: The government has reduced subsidies, which means that parents have to pay the full cost of education for their children. But there are still some people who have access to state scholarship. We also notice the disparity in funding in urban centres and in the rural regions. The federal government and the governors are making efforts to bridge the gap.

IPS: Is it possible to compare Russian education with European countries or the U.S.?

VF: Our Russian universities have their own standards. When we speak about U.S. universities, institutes and colleges, we can name maximum one hundred, although there are more than 2,500 universities. I assure you that 2,000 of them are below standard. Many professors from Israel, France, Belgium and the U.S. have left to work here.

IPS: Then why do Russian elites still send their children abroad?

VF: This is simply to get the status of studying abroad. Such aims can be found everywhere in the world. But they are many of us who keep our children in the local schools. The cost of education in Russian schools is distinctively less than in Europe, and educational materials are equally abundant here.

IPS: How would you sum up the education policy?

VF: The programme of educational reforms was initiated in 2001 and planned up to 2010. Since I left the ministerial post in 2004, many aspects of the programme are unfortunately not completed. With the cabinet reshuffle, the tempo of the reforms and reorganisation are somehow slowed down, because the new minister takes time to study the previous plan.

But I am glad that my work at the ministry brought to fruition a new policy. In the entire Russian territory, the state guarantees an educational infrastructure, and the policy has undergone a lot of changes to offer the best training.

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