20 years under Putin: a timeline

Schools as enterprises

The new law will fundamentally change school financial systems. Educational institutions will have to become financially independent and increase their innovative and technological capacity (according to the aforementioned federal law 83-FZ).

The new system will also include per capita financing, and tie teachers' salary to performance. In other words, the better the school, the more money it will receive. The better a teacher’s performance, the higher his or her salary.

This new system abandons the existing wage scale and supplemental pay system. Instead, teachers will receive a fixed salary and a monthly performance-based bonus not to exceed 30% of that salary. The bill also introduces the concept “cost of student hours,” to be calculated by each school. In order to cut costs, classes will be consolidated and, in some cases, schools will be merged.

The education reform will cut the number of universities in Russia by one third

Depending on the district budget, a student can “cost” between 18,000 to 119,000 rubles per year. This figure, multiplied by the number of students in the school, produces that school’s average budget. As the law’s designers suggest, this financial mechanism should create competition among schools to win client-students, increasing educational quality.

Last year, the new system was tested in more than 700 Moscow schools. In December 2011, at the end of the experiment, a roundtable was set up.Many experts complained about the new system. Oleg Sergueyev, All-Russia Education Fund specialist, said the new teacher compensation system was a dead-end because the per capita financing principle was “vicious.” “‘Money follows the students’ dramatically decreases school quality because it excludes the teacher’s role in advancing education.” And as Viktor Krugliakov, head of the Duma’s Commission on Education and Youth Policy noted, the new system threatens the loss of specialists not directly involved in academics, such as psychologists or guidance counselors.

Roundtable particpants also pointed to the formalism of the proposed school evaluation process. Yevgeny Bunimovich, Moscow’s Children’s Rights Ombudsman, showed that getting top scores in students’ Unified State Examinations (USE) and winning academic competitions would yield a good school rating, but could be achieved through specialized training, without imparting real knowledge to students. This, according to Bunimovich, would create “an unfavorable school climate.”

Critical Standards

In his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, Deputy Minister of Education Igor Remorenko spoke about the new federal publiceducation standards (FPES). The public and the academic community harshly criticized initial FPES drafts.

The latest FPES draft introduces two components to the high school curriculum guideline. The first component includes six mandatory general disciplines: Russian language and literature, mathematics, foreign language, History (or Russia's role in the world,if such a discipline is developed), health and society, and physical education. The second component requires the student selectone of six academic fields: philology, foreign languages, social sciences, math/computer science, natural sciences, and physical education, ecology and personal and social safety. “For example, a student who chooses natural sciences has to choose at least one specialty: physics, chemistry, biology or natural history,” Remorenko explains. Thus, a student takes up to 9 or 10 different subjects.

We interviewed ten teachers of different backgrounds, ages, and experience levelsfrom across Russia and asked their opinion about the new FPES.

Lyudmila (Siberia, secondary school teacher for 42 years):

“The USE and the new standard do not aim to develop a student’s creative abilities. To the contrary, by decreasing the amount of time devoted to basic disciplines, studentswill get only a summary education. Children used to dream of becoming cosmonauts and firemen. Now they aspire to government work and to making a lot of money… [Minister of Internal Affairs Rashid] Nurgaliev says we need to teach humanity. But a child’s character is shaped by literature lessons. In Ancient Greece, they would give slaves theater tickets. In our country, the government consistently creates cynicism.”



Mikhail Dremov (Moscow, Russian language and literature teacher at Education Center #825 and Assistant Professor at Moscow State Teachers’ University):

“They plan to teach more physical education. This will overload gyms in schools, many of whichdon’t have swimming pools orsports fields. In one school at Izhevsk, I saw kids taking a sports test,sprinting down the school corridor. Another free discipline,health and society, is definitely useful, but is it worth casting away physics or biology? It appears that Russia’s role in the world is not a discipline but political propaganda, a way to brainwash impressionable youth. In Soviet schools, scientific rigor always came first. The new standard drifts away from that principle by introducing integrated disciplines and focusing on test-taking. There may no longer be comprehensive natural science lessons.” [...] “A country that does not create technology and is mostly focused on resource extraction and exports has no demand for highly-educated people. That is why educational investment doesn’t interest the political elite. Why would it, if people won’t have any place to work in the future?”

Like many other teachers, Moscow teachers’ union co-chairman Andrei Demidov has concluded that "the new standard, though nobly conceived to achieve more freedom, independence, and better quality, will lead to school closingsand the standardization and commercialization of those that remain open."

In other words, the state negates its responsibility to prepare highs school students for higher education. The gap between the free school provided and the knowledge level required for university admission is critical. This gap will be unbridgeablefor children from poor families.

Professionals not in Demand

The new law will seriously transform vocational education, too. It recognizes that the three current vocational school divisions, first, second, and third,are obsolete. First-level vocational education will be eliminated and integrated into other educational institutions. Vocational colleges will award bachelor degreesand will be equal to their academic counterparts.

In Irina Abankina's words, eliminating first-level vocational education was done at employers' request. “Today’s [employers] need skilled workers.They are no longer satisfied with unskilled laborers, and first-level graduates are unskilled.” Yet some first-level programs will be preserved and transferred to non-trade schools, training centers, second-level vocational institutionsor, in some cases, universities.

Some first-level vocational schools will have to upgrade to second-level institutions. Ms. Abankina promises this reorganization will take place gradually and, by 2016, will be publically financed. As a cost saving measure, many vocational institutions will be part of a network that includes educational institutions across Russia, universities, and employers. “It will create a sustainable educational chain.”