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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Education Needs No Quick Fix




Recent proposals by the Education Ministry to radically refigure the Russian high school experience may cause a wave of apprehension among critics of the U.S. education system. The Russian plan, put forth by Education Minister Vladimir Filippov and pending approval from the State Duma, hinges on several points of reform that are familiar to education-watchers. Foremost among them are the push to replace specific, content-based university entrance examinations with standardized testing, and switching the intellectual process from rote memorization to critical analysis. It seems the country that begat the phrase "repetition is the mother of learning" is now leaning toward a more fluid, generalized consideration of what a solid academic background entails.


Gestures toward reform can be applauded in a country where centralized textbook publishing and skeletal budgets have hampered learning in the country's high schools and universities. But staging a full-blown retreat from the tenets of Soviet pedagogy would be like throwing the baby out with the bath water. As recently as 1995, Russian high school students ranked second out of 39 nations in advanced mathematics. They also finished third in physics, a subject in which their "analytical" U.S. counterparts placed last. Many foreigners acquainted with Russian students marvel over their sophisticated grasp of not only math and science but history, geography, languages and literature.


The brain drain of intellectual talent to the West only affirms that, even under duress, the Russian education system continues to have its advantages. Even pedagogues who groan over the dominance of stodgy Soviet-era textbooks cannot fail to admire at least some of the results of Russia's "repetition"-based learning system. The humanities are growing less important in university curricula everywhere - an inevitable response to today's industry- and computer-driven global economy. Why turn students off math and science when these skills are needed more than ever?


Other aspects of the ministry proposal, such as switching the high school regimen from 10 years to 12, also require further elucidation. Even if Filippov succeeds in his plan to beef up school spending budgets over the next 15 years, it's not clear this will be sufficient to cover the massive shift in human and educational resources that such a change would require. Lastly, any switch to standardized testing should be approached with trepidation. Good standardized tests can be both reliable and valid, but with their troubling reputation for cultural and socio-economic bias, they are not a ready-made solution for any country.


- Daisy Sindelar