. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Minister Decries Textbook Shortage

As students returned for the start of the official school year, a top education official said Monday the government had produced only half of the 100 million textbooks needed for basic tuition.

Vladimir Kinelev, the education minister, told a press conference that one of every two Russian students would start the school year without a full set of basic textbooks.

He blamed the textbook squeeze on shortfalls in federal funding. Although 500 billion rubles ($95 million) were allocated for textbooks in the federal budget, the money had not been disbursed, Kinelev said.

The Education Ministry tried to make up the shortfall by borrowing money from commercial banks but the Finance Ministry initially refused to guarantee the loans, insisting that regional governments should find the money to print the textbooks that are supplied free to students.

The troubles, however, did not stop even after the Finance Ministry gave in and granted the guarantees. Tveruniversalbank, one of the Education Ministry's lenders, collapsed in May days before transferring money for publishing textbooks.

According to Kinelev, this put the textbook program further behind schedule, but Sberbank and Menatep bank eventually provided 130 billion rubles, allowing publication of the books to start.

Kinelev said that with another 300 billion rubles coming from Menatep, sufficient textbooks would be made available by the end of the calendar year.

While the Education Ministry says every second pupil in Russia is without a set of basic schoolbooks, the situation in Moscow is apparently much less difficult.

Valentina Vlasova, the principal of the Moscow school No. 220, said her school and, to her knowledge, other Moscow schools do not have any problems and are fully supplied with books for this year.

For Moscow schools the main problem, however, remains lack of teachers. "Salaries are so low that people quit in search of higher salaries," Vlasova said.

The most problematic area is teaching foreign languages. According to Vlasova there is a constant need for specialists in this field. "For people with the knowledge of a foreign language it is relatively easy to find a better paid job," she said.

Yevgeny Tkachenko, a spokesman for the Education Ministry, denied that there is a severe lack of teachers.

According to Tkachenko, there has always been a shortage of teachers but while in Soviet times it was most noticeable in rural areas, the problem has now moved into the big cities.

But Tkachenko said the deficit in teaching staff still does not exceed 1 percent. "In Moscow, though, I suspect this problem will last for quite a while due to availability of the other jobs," he said.

In Moscow, with its healthy supply of textbooks, the focus has turned more to quality than quantity.

A group of teenage journalists from the independent youth publication Glagol appeared at Monday's press conference to complain that the quality of the official textbooks is so bad that parents are often forced to buy other books by different authors.