Staunton, April 7 – Since 1995, the Russian authorities have closed 24,500 schools of which 22,500 had been in villages. That along with the closure of medical facilities in villages has left these population points without the anchors they need to survive; and their demise threatens to leave large portions of the country uninhabited and at risk of being lost.
That message was delivered yesterday by Oleg Smolin, the first deputy head of the Duma education committee to hearings in the Federation Council. He said Moscow officials have promised to “stop the liquidation of rural schools” but that the contraction continues, with 2500 shuttered in last three years alone (rosbalt.ru/moscow/2018/04/07/1694696.html).
“They tell us,” Smolin continued, “that schools are being reduced in number because the children are. But in fact, the number of children has fallen more slowly than the number of schools; and now we are seeing even a certain growth in the number of pupils while the number of schools continues to be reduced.”
Other speakers pointed to additional problems rural schools in Russia now face. Some 13,700 schools in the country do not have high-speed internet connections, and “the overwhelming majority,” deputy education minister Tatyana Sinyugina says are in rural areas. “Some 2,000 don’t have any Internet connection” – and those are in rural areas.
A federal program to bring the internet to rural areas had slowed to a stop. Scheduled to be completed by 2018, it is only 40 percent completed because Moscow has cut back in funding. Now, officials hope that it will be in place by 2024.
Another problem Sinyugina pointed to is that 821,000 rural pupils must now use buses to get to schools. But there are two serious problems: Many of the roads are impassable, and the Duma has passed a law saying that all buses more than ten years old are not to be used at all. As a result, many students must find alternative ways to school.
In many places, Vera Yemelyanova, deputy governor of Pskov oblast, added, the schools are in a terrible state of repair. “The last school in a village was erected 25 years ago,” she says [emphasis added] Local administrations simply don’t have the money to pay for repairs let alone rebuilding.
Officials say that there is no teacher shortage, but that is in some cases deceptive. The schools can’t afford to hire enough teachers so they force those they do have to cover many classes. As a result, they report that there are no new teachers needed, but that really only means that there is no money to pay for them.
But perhaps the most important remark at the session came from Smolin. He argued that “it is necessary to set the financing of rural schools without regard to the number of residents and to permit a reorganization only with the agreement of a rural meeting. But all these proposals require federal support and federal financing.”