Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Window on Eurasia: With Exit of Soviet-Trained, Russia Faces ‘Total De-Professionalization,’ Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 26 – With the retirement or death of “the last generations who received technical education in the USSR,” the Russian Federation now  faces an increasingly severe shortage of qualified workers and “the total de-professionalization of the workforce,”  according to Yevgeny Gontmakher.

            And that, far more than many other problems the Kremlin talks about, the  deputy director of IMEMO argues in “Moskovsky komsomolets,” threatens the country’s future; indeed, he points out, the collapse of the Soviet system of technical education is the source of many of them (mk.ru/specprojects/free-theme/article/2013/11/25/950181-rossiya-tyi-odurela.html).

            What makes this especially bitter, Gontmakher says, is that Russians were justifiably proud of an educational system that was not bad as the mass level and was strong in the sciences and that the collapse of this system over the last two decades could have been avoided had different policies been adopted.

            Of course, the schools still function, and most but not all children attend them, he continues. But measured by PISA standards, Russia now ranks below 40 other countries in terms of science and mathematics, two areas in which it had been justifiably proud and below 50 other countries in terms of reading comprehension.

            Some of this decline reflects problems in instruction in the schools, but another part is the product of the absence of competition to get into higher educational institutions.  In Soviet times, competition was intense for a limited number of slots, but now, the number of slots is roughly equal to the number of secondary school graduates.

            As a result, and except for a small number of elite schools,, “all the other ‘universities,’ ‘academies’ and ‘institutes’” have an interest not in selecting only the best students but in attracting as many students as possible so as to get more money from the state or from the students themselves. But even the best Russian universities are not at the top of international rankings.

            Because Russians have to pay for higher education now, Gontmakher continues, this has given rise to a class of “no fewer than10 million” people who leave their small cities or villages to go to work in larger ones to earn money to pay for schools and get home only on the weekends.

            The situation at the level of special secondary education is if anything even worse, the result of Moscow’s decision to shift responsibility for funding onto the regional authorities.  This was “a crude error” and has contributed to the collapse of the system. Indeed, Russians need to recognize that the country has lost this entire sector.

            And in yet another area, Russia faces educational collapse. In Soviet times, the government funded “an entire chain of institutions” to raise the qualifications of workers. Some of these institutions were unworthy of the name, but others ensured that many people became more skilled with time. Now, that possibility is largely foreclosed by the end of these schools.

            The “total de-professionalization of the country” affects not only the economy but also the government apparatus.  It leads to poorly prepared decisions and poorly supervised programs. And it contributes to or even is the root of other problems like “crime, extremism, alcoholism, corruption, and all other threats.”

            Gontmakher is far from alone in sounding the alarm on this point. Another writer has pointed out that as a result of changes over the last two decades, Russians are  not reading as much as their Soviet predecessors did. Indeed, he says, the “most reading” country in the world was the USSR, not Russia (rus-obr.ru/ru-web/27938).

            And as bad as the collapse of education in the Russian Federation is over all, many researchers are now pointing to the fact that it is especially bad at all levels in the North Caucasus (newizv.ru/society/2013-11-25/193007-neuchenyh-tma.html and kavpolit.com/stavropole-vysshee-obrazovanie-nizshego-kachestva/).

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