Staunton, Sept. 19 – Making a country’s educational system compatible with its economic and political situation is always difficult. If schools produce too many educated but free-thinking people, they may become a problem, failing to find existing jobs and becoming a reservoir for dissidence.
But if the schools produce too few educated people and reduce themselves to producing graduates who will fit in with existing arrangements economic and political, there is a great risk that those countries will stagnate because there won’t be cadres who will produce breakthroughs in the economy or political system.
Finding the proper balance between these two dangers has never been easy, but it has become more difficult in recent times because parents and officials have demanded that advancement in the system be governed by “objective” tests rather than the subjective judgment of teachers or anyone else.
The result has been an increasing tendency to “teach for the test,” a problem that has plagued Western educational systems and that has now so infected the Russian educational structures that they are in crisis, with students who are capable of passing the multi-choice tests not capable of independent thought or judgment.
A recent case in Moscow has highlighted this tragedy. An eight-year-old girl has passed the Unified State Examination and qualified to become a psychology student at Moscow State University even though her parents concede that she has never read Pushkin’s “Yevgeny Onegin.”
Not surprisingly, many Russians are scandalized by this, but Oleg Ivanov, a commentator for Svobodnaya pressa, argues that this is the entirely natural result of the imposition of the Unified State Examination system in 2001 and the subsequent degradation of the educational system in Russia (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/309842/).
The powers that be are apparently pleased with a system that produces people who can answer multi-choice questions but don’t have the intellectual training and critical thinking that are needed to make progress because the country’s rulers are happier and more secure with graduates who lack those kinds of skills.
The Unified Examination System was sold as a means of overcoming corruption. It hasn’t done that: well-off or well-connected parents are still able to navigate their way around it. But what it has done is reduce schooling to teaching for the test from the earliest grades. And the experience of other countries shows how harmful that can be.
“A system of education, the goal of which is taking a test, develops not critical thinking but a ‘computer-like’ kind. It doesn’t prepare students with a broad point of view, but people who narrowly focus” on the “correct” answers. And not just on tests but in life more broadly. Such people aren’t a threat to the regime but they are to Russian development.
According to Ivanov, “a thinking individual to a certain degree represents a threat to the state.” The authorities can’t be sure what he or she might do. And so they are more than willing to marginalize or even dispense with altogether such people in order to maintain stability in the short term even at the cost of longer-term degradation.
The commentator says it is “still not too late” to reverse course, but with each passing year, it becomes more difficult because those who are the products of such degraded educations will be the ones making decisions about education in the future.