DISTANCE EDUCATION IN RUSSIA: Between the Past and the Future
Moiseeva, Marina, Visser, Lya, Quarterly Review of Distance Education
The history of distance education in Russia and in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is a history of dramatic change in ideology, conceptual framework, and approach. It can be divided into two main stages: initial formation and development into the world's largest system of correspondence learning, from the mid 1920s to the early 1990s, and formation of a modern system of open and distance education based on new information and communication technology (ICT), from the early 1990s until the present, as an alternative to correspondence learning inherited from the old Soviet system. The second stage of development of the distance education system in Russia coincided with the drastic reforms of Perestroika (early to mid 1990s). Today, distance education is becoming a catalyst for the modernization of the Russian educational system, which still is very traditional. With its fresh concepts and nontraditional stance on the role of education, distance education has been provoking an important change in the mentality of educators throughout Russia.
EARLY DEVELOPMENT OF DISTANCE EDUCATION IN RUSSIA
From Workers' Circles to Vocational Training
Distance education first appeared in prerevolutionary Russia in the form of correspondence education. The history of open and correspondence education began in 1870, when Karl Muzing, a famous Russian mathematician, engineer, and educator, opened the first classes and vocational schools for adults in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This initiative was supported by the Imperial Russian Technical Society, which also played an important role in opening special educational institutions for adults called workers' courses and workers' departments. In 1908, under the direction of Stolipin, Milukov, and other public figures, the Moscow City Public University for Workers and Peasants opened, becoming the first correspondence education providing institution in Russia. These educational institutions allowed adults who were looking for secondary and higher education, but who belonged to underprivileged social groups, to combine study and work (Zukerman, 1990).
The system of laborers' courses for adult learners was further developed in the 1920s when the the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) since 1918 was recovering from civil war and postrevolutionary economic collapse. There was a vital need to fight illiteracy. It could only be eradicated through the involvement of thousands of school teachers. The problem of illiteracy was solved by opening training centers which used the method of correspondence learning and assisted adults in receiving rudimentary education.
Some of the first training activities at these centers were Correspondence Courses for Teachers of the Moscow Region. These courses did not have the objective to provide learners with systematic knowledge; instead, they taught students the ideological issues and basics of Soviet pedagogy. Their model of learning was in fact very similar to the modern Russian notion of correspondence learning. First, students received topics and material to be studied (including a list of recommended literature); then, after completing the reading, they wrote essays either individually, or in small groups, and sent them to consultants who later gave students grades for their work and provided feedback. This system of studying was supported by the creation of a network of teacher training institutes, separate from the existing specialized pedagogical universities and functioned as a short-term training alternative for those who wanted to become teachers, but had no higher pedagogical education. This early system was convenient for those who wanted to get an education without quitting their jobs.
The relationship between jobs and education underwent another change in the late 1920s as the Russian society industrialized. Industrialization gave a boost to the formation of the correspondence learning system on the national level. …