Educational Reform in Post-Soviet Russia: Legacies and Prospects

Article excerpt

Ben Eklof, Larry E. Holmes and Vera Kaplan, eds. Educational Reform in Post-Soviet Russia: Legacies and Prospects. The Cummings Center Series. London and New York: Frank Cass, 2005. xvi, 350 pp. Appendixes. Glossary. Index.

Where will Russia be in ten, twenty years? Will democracy succeed? Answers to these questions depend on the ability of Russian education to bring up a generation of civic-minded citizens who respect democratic values and human rights. To carry out such a monumental task, however, the educational system has first to change itself, depart from Soviet authoritarian approaches and indoctrination, and embrace new pedagogical ideas and technologies. Society's urgent need for educational reform made Boris Yeltsin proclaim education a top state priority in his Decree No. I. The book under review is a collective effort to detect the trends resulting from that historic decree. It seeks "to measure the progress of change" (p. 2) and identify the areas in transition, the causes for success or failure, and the prospects for the educational system to evolve into a democratic institution.

The authors are a group of distinguished scholars: Russian educators who have played leading roles in the reform and Western experts on Russian education. With the goal of the volume to "compare current educational reform to reforms of the past, analyze it in a broader cultural, political and social context, and study the shifts that have occurred at the different levels of schooling" (front page), the authors skillfully travel back and forth in time and across the globe. In his excellent introduction, Ben Eklof surveys the school system under the tsarist and Soviet regimes, and examines the post-Soviet reforms-to discern a recent counter-reform trend, dissatisfaction with changes mostly based on Western experiences, and people's "new appreciation for their own traditions and achievements" (p. 17). Part I, "Educational policy," and Part II, "The teacher, the textbook and educational practice," corroborate Eklofs general conclusions with very detailed analysis of the post-Soviet school system.

Vyacheslav Karpov and Elena Lisovskaya offer an interesting comparison of educational change during, in their own wording, the French Revolution of 1789-1814, the Communist revolution in Russia/USSR of 1917-38, and the post-Communist Russian revolution. They find many similarities in educational transformations after dramatic social upheavals and argue that the first "radical" stage of "large-scale destabilization and spread of innovation" entails a "reactionary" stage that brings "stabilization and partial restoration of pre-revolutionary norms" (p. 28). Larry E. Holmes puts into perspective the school system under Stalin, which he sees as "another agent of modernization in the large context of American and European educational history" (p. 59). In two wonderful articles, Stephen T. Kerr presents a heartbreaking picture of sick children, closing schools, and social pathologies such as crime and violence in post-Soviet Russia; he finds relief in that schooling is a remarkably conservative institution (p. 153) and pedagogy has always been taken seriously in Russia. He argues that the experimental tradition of the past, traced back as far as Tolstoy and Ushinskii, might yield interesting new educational patterns. Isak Froumin shrewdly discusses the accomplishments and setbacks of school democratization, compares reforms in Russia with those in the West and concludes that "the reason for many negative phenomena in Russian education is not that there is too much democracy but that democracy is inadequately understood" (p. …


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