|Education and Production in the Russian Federation: What are the Lessons? (IIEP, 1997, 76 p.)|
|Chapter II. The Russian experience of education cum production|
As students get older, they are expected to acquire a greater number of manual skills and to engage in more productive and complex activities. Many schools have workshops that teach the basics of an occupation. In addition, students are expected to really produce something of economic value. After taking a certain number of credit hours of vocational courses, they may pass an examination and acquire a certificate that has a clear market value. For those who go to the labour market without further education, this training would allow them to start at a level that was higher than that which they could aspire to without this certificate.
The high level of stratification by diploma in Russian society has to be taken into account in understanding the logic of this training. All workers were rated according to the level of education and training completed. And a secondary diploma did not mean much in the labour market - it led to a rather low entry level. By contrast, a vocational certificate after a relatively short course taken at high school raised the job level to which they had access upon graduation.
Regardless of whatever market distortions might lie behind these rules, their practical consequences were clear. A certificate acquired as a side activity during secondary academic education put its holder in a higher occupational category compared to someone with only a secondary diploma.
Therefore, taking practical courses and engaging in the productive activities that go with them made much sense as an insurance against failure in being admitted to higher education. And since considerably less than half of the high school graduating cohort ever entered higher education, this was an insurance that had plenty of justification.
In addition to the work incorporated in the school curriculum, students were often required to work after school or during part of the summer vacations. Besides school cleaning, community work was also quite common, such as helping to clean a day-care centre, planting trees in a community park or helping with the harvest. The value of that experience largely depended upon teachers and their ability to arrange meaningful work, organize the activities well and motivate students. However, since teachers were required to report on how many students were doing community work, most of them would try to find them any kind of work and not worry too much about its educational content. The results were a mixed bag. In some instances, students learnt a great deal about team work, community support and personal pride and responsibility. Yet, they often resented the intrusion upon their personal time.
In actual practice, the capability of academic high schools to offer meaningful practical training programmes or productive activities left much to be desired. In contrast to vocational and technical schools which indeed took production seriously, academic schools went half-heartedly into these practical activities. Ideology mandated them, but the everyday concerns of a school dedicated to more academic pursuits militated against serious production. In more recent times, being more congruent with the new era, vocational training in secondary schools is optional. But much is changing in Russia.
The number of enterprises with workshops to train students has been drastically reduced, having decreased by 80 per cent in five years. The government is fighting this trend, resulting from firms which are now far more independent than before, and see no economic reasons to train high school students. One of the new policies is a decision not to privatize the firms which produce school equipment and also to give them tax exemption. The idea is that these firms should provide training places for students. In other words, since private firms do not 'behave', some will remain public in order to perform such social duties.
Another compensatory policy is to encourage schools to have their own workshops. This has led to an increase of 40 per cent in the number of production facilities in secondary academic schools. While pedagogical justifications may be invoked, the main incentive remains the possibility of using 40 per cent of the revenues from the sale of products to increase the salaries of faculty staff.
While ideological reasons for school production weakened and then disappeared, official policies have been replaced by practical motives. School budgets have plummeted and using the school facilities to generate revenues has become a motivating force behind the new generation of changes.
Schools are creating enterprises and co-operatives to exploit however they can their potential to make money. In 1994, there were already 400 cooperatives. But the development of more competent suppliers in the market has since driven many out of business. In the rural areas, however, the cooperatives are still expanding.
Overall, the picture is unclear, with many changes taking place and many amateurish initiatives. The spontaneous growth in money-making activities, the complete lack of a new pedagogical model for training and education, combined with the persistence of the traditional modes of training cannot hold much promise.
There is, however, an interesting movement under way to update education models, encouraging independence, critical thinking and responsibility. In some schools, simulation games are played in which students learn about the functioning of a market economy. A few experiments are taking place in conjunction with American 'Junior Achievement' firms. The Volga-Vyatsk oblast schools educate students in cultural traditions and folk arts and operate a small school business where students have a chance to take turns in different managing positions.
At this moment, with so many changes taking place which are affecting the slant of the academic system, it is very hard to say what is really happening to production in secondary academic schools. To make matters worse, the reduced power of the central government has led to a deterioration of statistics and information in general.