On May 8, 2010 Dmitriy Medvedev signed Federal Law N-83 FZ, which aims to introduce a major reform in the secondary education system in Russia.
Unofficially this law is known as “a reform of monetization of public education.” The law includes provisions for granting autonomy to schools to raise their own funds. As the official version of the law states, schools have the right to introduce new subjects to school curriculum on the commercial basis and provide private tutoring for students wishing to improve their knowledge in a particular subject. The law, according to the government officials, aims to improve the quality of education and encourage schools to become more competitive and innovative. The law has been in power since January 2012, and it is now in its implementation period.
While commercialization and privatization of public education are common in the so called “Western world,” these policies are becoming increasingly widespread globally (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010; Ball, 2012). Russia is no longer an exception. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, privatization has become one of the central features of post-Soviet transformation in Russia and the N-83 FZ Law has extended privatization reforms to the public education sector.
Given the fact that schools were entirely state-funded throughout the Soviet history, the new reform is quite unprecedented. In fact, it has evoked huge resonance in the Russian society. First, the majority of the public does not completely understand what the law implies. Some critics call the reform “the end of free education,” while others blame the law as a “means to justify the decrease in public spending on education.” Parents are also hesitant since they believe they will have to pay for the reform out of their own pockets. In response, government is trying to convince people that education will continue to be free. However, the key message here is that only the standard (basic) curriculum will be available for free. And the critics question whether or not this standard will be enough for students to pass the national examinations in order to be admitted to the university. Also, it is likely that only children from wealthy families would benefit from the commercial services in schools, which in turn would further contribute to growing social inequality.
By and large, there is a great deal of controversy surrounding the reform. The text of the law itself is overly complicated and difficult to comprehend, which further contributes to fears among the broader public. Thus, it seems unclear what this reform will bring for the Russian society. Are schools prepared for self-governance? Will the reform in the end raise the quality of education? Or will it lead to shutting down of rural schools, which without doubt will be struggling to raise funds? What will this push for privatization of public education finally bring?