People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
November 11, 2007
TRANSFORMATION OF THE EDUCATION SYSTEM
R Arun Kumar
“And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention direct or indirect, of society, by means of schools, etc.? The Communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class”. Communist Manifesto
The first socialist state that came into being as a result of the October Revolution astonished many with its achievements. At the base of these achievements is its socialist, scientific and democratic education system. Being the first socialist country in the world it had no role model to depend upon or learn from past experiences. It is only through the application of Marxist theory to practice and learning in the process that it in fact became a trail blazer in many fields.
Lenin wrote in 1913: “There is no other country so barbarous and in which the masses of the people are robbed to such an extent of education, light and knowledge-no other such country has remained in Europe; Russia is the exception…four-fifths of the rising generation are doomed to illiteracy by the feudal state system of Russia”. This was the existing condition of the country that the Revolution set to transform. They set this drastic transformation process with revolutionary fervour, as they believed that only then could they build the society of their dreams. Lenin had stated, “Only by radically transforming the teaching, organisation and education of the youth, will we be able to achieve that which, as the result of the efforts of the younger generation, would be the creation of a society not like the old one, but rather a communist society”.
The pace at which they achieved the transformation can be gauged by the fact that by 1934, they had achieved universal elementary education and by 1975, achieved universal secondary education. By the year 1970, they had completely eliminated illiteracy from their country. In 1975, it was the only country in the world with 72 percent of its workers educated up to the middle standard or above. The significance of these achievements can be better understood if we compare them with some of the advanced capitalist countries of that period.
According to the statistics released by the UNESCO, the percent of illiterates in US in the year 1970 was 2.5 percent and in France 3.6 perecnt, even though laws on compulsory elementary education were adopted in the US from 1852 to 1900, Great Britain in 1880, and France in 1882. This shows that the advanced capitalist countries could not achieve even in nearly hundred years what USSR achieved in fifty years! We in our country of course were unable to pass the legislation even after sixty years of independence!
The reason for the remarkable achievement of the USSR lies in the different social systems that existed in these two sets of countries. The capitalist system was interested in educating people only to the extent that they satisfy its needs of workforce required for production. In spite of their sweet promises and phrases they are not interested in providing ‘real’ education to the people, as they fear the axiom that ‘education is a true liberator’. This attitude is reflected in the allocations for education made by the respective governments in the decade of the seventies. The Soviet government invested between one-seventh and one-eighth of its total budget in formal education, and 7 per cent of the Soviet national product went into providing formal education while only 3 to 5 per cent is spent by the Western, developed countries.
Public education in the USSR is organised so that instruction and character training are closely linked with life and with productive labour. Soviet education system was able to achieve whatever it did, because it was sincere in implementing its commitments to the people. Education was a major priority for the Bolsheviks. Lenin clearly stated that there cannot be apolitical education system or schools as the capitalists and the ruling classes state. “Our object in the field of school system is the same struggle for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie; we openly declare, that a school outside life, outside politics is a lie and hypocrisy”. According to this understanding of education, the education law in the USSR states “The object of peoples education in USSR is the preparation of highly educated, all-sidedly developed active builders of communist society, who are imbibed with the ideas of Marxism-Leninism…” Lenin recognised that socialism could not be built unless workers and peasants had the skills to participate in running society so that “all may become ‘bureaucrats’ for a time and that, therefore, nobody may be able to become a ‘bureaucrat’.” For the first time in the human history we find a state that was open in its bias towards the majority of the people-the toiling sections of the society.
This bias towards the interests of the toiling sections of the society can be understood from the fact that the state took all steps and measures to ensure that students from these classes enter educational institutions at all costs. For this purpose it had passed a decree as early as in 1918, “It is absolutely necessary to accept first persons from the ranks of the proletariat and the poorest peasantry, who would be granted scholarships on a wide scale”.
These intents of the state were supported by necessary mechanisms to attract students from these classes into educational institutions. Education in the USSR right from the elementary classes to the higher level was absolutely free. The state provided nutritious meals, free boarding facilities to the needy, free transport facilities together with various kinds of stipends. Nearly 70 percent of the students used to get stipends from the state. Together with all these, even in higher education institutes teaching was done in native languages (at Soviet higher educational institutions teaching was carried in more than 70 languages of the people and nationality groups of the USSR) to ensure that higher education was accessible to all the citizens who have completed secondary education. Another important feature of the Soviet education system is the fact that the state by law had guaranteed uniformity in standards and teaching aids in all education institutions making it unnecessary for students to go far from the place of their residence for pursuing their dream education. Thus free of cost quality education provided by the state was available at the doorsteps of the hitherto disprivileged classes. This resulted in the empowerment of the poorest sections of the society.
Let us compare this with the status of quality education and its availability to the poor people in the advanced capitalist countries at that time and even today. In the 1970s, the per capita school budget for children who live in wealthy suburbs in the US is ten times that of children living in city slums. Even in our country today we find that rural schools and schools located in areas predominantly consisting of SC/ST population are discriminated in the allocation of resources. Teachers are rarely recruited in these schools. Moreover absenteeism among the teachers appointed is another concern that remains unaddressed by the state. All these lead to the poor quality of education provided to the marginalised sections of the society. The entire concept of starting islands of ‘centres of excellence’ and providing them with a large share of the budget is another form of discrimination prevalent in our country. The arguments against providing reservations to the disadvantaged sections in these elite institutions also show the elitist bias in our society.
By preventing majority of the population from accessing education we are wasting valuable human resources. One of the reasons for the advances made by the USSR in the fields of science, technology and culture is due to their success in involving majority of the population in all their endeavours.
The high scientific level and democratic foundation of higher education in the USSR had received worldwide recognition. William Benton, publisher and chairman of the Encyclopaedia Britannica in the seventies had opined that the level of science education in the USSR is far ahead of the education given to the students in the US. Thus it is no wonder that the USSR was the first country to send a satellite and human being to the space. In fact, Sputnik's launch prompted massive American investment in education and technology. That concern sparked a revolution in scientific education in the US. In classrooms, educational tools began to change. Lab kits and overhead projectors were added, and educational films became part of the curriculum, imitating the USSR.
USSR had rendered assistance to many of the third world countries including India, in the building and equipping of higher educational institutions, in training scientific and teaching personnel and specialists. With the help of the USSR, many higher educational institutions were built in the third world countries; among them is the IIT in Mumbai. Soviet scholars have taken part in developing curricula and programs, in addition to creating textbooks and teaching manuals for higher educational institutions in the countries of Asia and Africa. In Moscow, the Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University was established in 1960 in order to train highly qualified specialists from the youth of Asian, African and Latin American countries.
The achievements of the socialist state in education
were so magnificent that in 1975, every fourth book that was published in the
world was a Soviet book, every fourth student was a Soviet student, every fourth
doctor was a Soviet doctor and every third research worker was a Soviet research
worker. The USSR was also first in the number of libraries and after the Louvre
and the Vatican, the Hermitage museum had the best collection of art works in
the world, accessible to all.
One has to always keep in mind that all these achievements of the USSR were achieved under severe and trying circumstances. The construction of socialism began in Russia on the ruins left over by World War I, the civil war and the intervention by the armies of 16 imperialist states. To these must be added the even greater destruction resulting from World War II. During the Great Patriotic War 82,000 schools once attended by 15 million children were destroyed together with 334 institutions of higher learning. To prevent a decline in the number of specialists trained at higher educational institutions, more than 50 such institutions were opened in the eastern regions of the USSR by the 1943-44 academic year. The reconstruction of the USSR without any foreign aid within four years (1945-1949) constituted another feat of the socialist Soviet power. On the contrary, we have to remember that the reconstruction of capitalist Europe relied to a large extent on the US “Marshall Plan”.
The whole of the world, together with opponents of communism and the Soviet Union, admit that Soviet education system was excellent. It included all levels of education, high school and higher education particularly. The country would have hardly achieved global success without its education system shaped on the principles of Marxism-Leninism.