Commercialization of Public Education in Russia Hits School Curriculum and Family Budget

Federal Law N-83 FZ activated the process of commercialization of public education that brought so far only uncertainty and frustration for Russian society. Certainly, there are more questions surrounding the reform than answers. Yet, it is becoming clear that the reform will have a major impact on school curriculum and family budget.

The law guarantees to provide basic education for free. However, people express fears that fee-free curriculum will be cut down to a bare minimum. One concerned parent explained that experimentation with the new law in her child’s school has resulted in narrowing down of the fee-free educational program to the following subjects: two hours of math, two hours of Russian language, three hours of physical training, and three hours of religious studies weekly. The “free program” is so basic that students have no choice but to attend fee-based courses in order to gain the necessary knowledge.  Some reports suggest that teachers force their students to attend fee-based courses and give low grades to those students who do not obey.

However, not all families can afford to pay for the courses. A price list posted on one of the Internet discussion forums states that parents have to pay a monthly fee of 500 rubles (15$) for general subjects (e.g., chemistry, biology, literature) and 1000 rubles (30$) for foreign language lessons. Parents are in panic since they believe the reform will hit their family budgets dramatically. Given the fact that average monthly salary in Russia is about 500-800$ (and many earn considerably less), allocating extra 200$ for a “proper” education is a significant burden on families (these 200$ do not include additional expenses, such as school uniforms, textbook materials, school repairs, and so forth). Clearly, the low-income families will be the ones to suffer the most.

Surprisingly, the government has not yet attempted to clarify this chaos of opinions. Although the official website of the Ministry of Education has devoted a separate page to the new reform, it only includes the text of the law and some additional normative documents.  Only three news and press releases are devoted to the reform and they all date back to 2012 or earlier. It seems that government is not ready to take an affirmative stand on the issue and is only observing the evolving situation from a distance.

Meanwhile, some activists are beginning to unite their efforts in opposing the reform. For example, there is a public initiative of concerned individuals called “Civil Initiative for Free Education” that boycotts the new law and regularly organizes demonstrations. There are also those who collect signatures and write petitions to stop the reform, as well as many others who are creating their smaller Internet communities. Their main concern is that the new law will lead to raising “a generation of dummies” and “grey masses that can only read and write, but not think.” Therefore, the negative impact of the reform is predicted to go far beyond the curriculum and family finances. It is believed that in a longer term the law will have a severe affect on the overall education level in the country.

Government official against Federal Law N-83 FZ (in Russian language):

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