November 2, 1999
by Julia Urakcheeva
There are two levels of education in Russia: intermediate education and higher education. "Intermediate education" - 9 years of school - is compulsory. So the minimum level of education for every Russian is to study at school for 9 years. The maximum on the educational scale is up to the individual. On getting a bachelor degree or master degree, you can go on studying, become a candidate for a doctorate degree or receive other degrees...In short, there IS a choice.
We go to school when we are 7. The 1st of September, Knowledge Day, is a day when school begins for every pupil from 1st to 11th grade (there are 11 grades of school, each school year lasting from September till June). A backpack (usually bigger than a schoolboy himself) and a bouquet of asters for teacher in his hand is a portrait of typical student hurrying to school together with his Mom.
Until recent times all the pupils wore uniforms: dark-blue pants and jacket for boys and brown dress with black apron for girls. It was a pathetic view, I would say. On holidays, black apron was changed for a white one. From the age of 7 to 10, we were all called "oktyabryata", or "the grandsons of Ilyich (V.I. Lenin)". And each of us wore red star-shaped badges with a portrait of Lenin as a little kid. I remember how I said goodbye to my star-badge in 1990. We 10-year- olders (only those of us who behaved well and had good marks) joined the Pioneer Organization. "Pioneers" were somewhat like scouts, but the Pioneer Organization was the Communist Party in miniature. We wore crimson neckties - it was obligatory - but that was all we did as Pioneers. We didn't even think of it. Being a schoolboy or schoolgirl was just automatically equal to being a Pioneer. Very few of us were involved in the Pioneer activities. About 1993, we were allowed to not wear neckties, and soon after that the uniform was abolished too. Now everybody wears anything he wants in the majority of schools. Only in a very few schools - private first of all - the administration is of the opinion that pupils need uniforms. It helps to maintain the image of the school, they say.
I can't judge if our school system is good or bad, if the schools in Russia are overcrowded or not. There are certain problems about it, but nothing catastrophic. Each class has from 25 to 40 pupils. There can be up to 8 classes of the 1st grade in school, but only 2 or 3 classes of the 11th grade - many pupils quit school after the 9th grade. So there are about 1,500 to 2,000 pupils in one school. In Rostov there are about 110 schools for 1.1 million inhabitants.
The intermediate education is free of charge. But, to speak the truth, we can't call it free of charge when parents of pupils have to buy all the schoolbooks (those belonging to school libraries are old and no good), to pay the school guards and for classrooms repair.
After the 9th grade you can get a job that doesn't demand special qualification or you can enter trade college for 2 or 3 years. Such colleges, medical or technical for example, provide a diploma for "intermediate specialized education." Nurses, mechanics, seamstresses, bookkeepers and many others have that kind of educational background.
You can stay at school for 11 years. This is the way for those who plan to get higher education. There are more and more of those each year. Every high school has its own system of admittance; usually you have to pass three exams to enter University or Academy. But the students who have only higher marks in their school diplomas have only to get over one exam. Those pupils are awarded with "Gold Medal" or "Silver Medal" after the 11th grade. They are called "medal-getters." It's a privileged class where every pupil dreams to belong (more often it's his parent's dream). Many of the students who studied till the 9th grade change their mind about studying in the 10th and 11th grades and manage to receive a Medal.
(PART 2 will be about higher education.)