Staunton, September 10 – School teachers are not miners whose 1989 work action pointed to the end of Gorbachev’s Soviet Union, a Moscow commentator says, but Russian Education Minister Andrey Fursenko’s decision to lay off 200,000 educators could prove almost as explosive and trigger a political crisis for Vladimir Putin and his government.
That is because, experts say, there are currently more than 1,000,000 young people waiting in line to get into pre-school institutions, the absence of which has a serious impact on family life and thus a problem that will become ever more important if even more instructors at that level are fired as Fursenko is committed to doing.
And in addition to that, many schools have teacher vacancies in key subject areas like science and mathematics, shortages that have been widely reported in the Russian media and that make it difficult for many Russians to accept Fursenko’s claim that the Russian Federation should be getting rid of such a large number of teachers.
In a commentary today on the “Svobodnaya pressa” portal, Aleksandr Danilkin says that Fursenko’s plan to eliminate the jobs of one of every six teachers in the Russian Federation because Russian schools are overstaffed could prove “explosive” and even help “dig the grave of the Putin government” (svpressa.ru/society/article/30263/).
Because of falling enrollments and a large number of small rural schools, Russia currently has one teacher for every ten pupils, far more than in Europe where the radio is one to 15. Russia can’t afford that, Fursenko argues. Instead, Moscow must bring its teacher-student ratio into line with the Europeans.
For an evaluation of Fursenko’s proposals, Danilkin interviewed Sergey Komkov, the president of the All-Russian Education Foundation, an expert advisor to the Duma’s education committee, and a frequent commentator himself on educational trends in various parts of the Russian Federation.
Komkov said that it is simply wrong to speak globally about a teacher surplus in Russia. The situation varies widely across the country, and “in fact, there is an enormous shortage of teachers” in the country in particular regions outside of Moscow and in particular subjects like biology and chemistry even there – although there is a surplus of foreign language instructors.
Moreover, Russia is going through a serious program of school consolidation especially in rural areas, with more approximately 2,000 schools being closed each year given declining enrollments in some parts of the country and the benefits from larger schools which can offer a greater variety of courses.
But as the lines for kindergartens show – and there are “many more” in them than the one million children official statistics acknowledge – the uptick in the number of births in recent years is already affecting demand for education. And if teachers are fired now, Komkov said, Russians will soon be asking, “how could [the lack of schools and teachers]have happened”
The possibility that many teachers will in fact be let go, he said, has already driven down applications to teacher training institutions. And that in turn means that there are fewer and fewer teachers to cope with problems such as rising illiteracy among the young. According to the Russian procuracy, there are 1.8 million young people not attending school as they should.
Russia already spends far less on education than most other modern countries – about 3.5 percent of GDP – compared to 7-8 percent of GDP among European countries, 14 percent of the GDP in Japan and a high of 23 percent of GDP in South Korea. Reducing Russian expenditures is thus uncalled for.
But it is happening now, Komkov said, because “despite all the assurances of the leaders, we have still not emerged from the crisis.” Moreover, he continued, “the economic situation in the country is very difficult, and in the regions there are no resources,” all the more so because of recent natural disasters that Moscow must spend money on.
Komkov said that Fursenko was demonstrating that he is the wrong man for the job. A friend of Putin’s who worked with the future prime minister in the Ozero Cooperative, the minister is not “some kind of intentional wrecker. But everything [the minister] is doing harms the country,” something he does not appear to understand.
While Russia’s wealthier groups send their children abroad and don’t seem to care, most Russians depend on the public schools, Komkov concluded, and the current trend of declining investment in public education will ultimately lead to “a sharp reduction of the level of the economic development of the country.”
But still worse, the educator continued, “the population will be transformed into unthinking executors. And a large part of the rising generation will become ever more drawn into alcoholism, drug abuse, prostitution, criminal business and other evils. As a result, Russia will become a police state.”
That is because, Komkov argued, “only police measures will be capable of resolving its problems.” And that in turn will leave Russia in the unenviable position of “a reserve territory for the more powerful and developed countries.” In that way, what will begin as a personal tragedy for the dismissed teachers will end as a tragedy for the country as a whole.