elementary schools in prerevolutionary Russia that were opened and run by the zemstvos (district and provincial bodies of self-government) in rural localities. There were 27,486 zemstvo schools in Russia by 1911. Three-fourths of these schools had a three-year term of study and were odnokomplektnye (that is, they had fewer than 50 pupils, with one teacher), and the remainder had a four-year term and were dvukhkomplektnye (more than 50 pupils, with two teachers).
The rights of the zemstvos in education were limited mainly to such financial and economic tasks as collecting funds from rural communes for the construction and maintenance of schools, renting premises for schools, and supplying school equipment and fuel. They did not have the right to interfere in the educational activity of the schools: they could not determine the content of curricula and textbooks and other educational supplies or appoint teachers. Despite government restrictions, the zemstvo schools were noted for their superior organization of educational work in comparison with the ministerial schools and especially with the church-parish schools. Subjects studied in the zemstvo schools included religion, reading, writing, arithmetic, and if possible, singing. However, advanced teachers in the zemstvo schools, in explaining the readings, gave the students elementary knowledge of natural history, geography, and history. The best textbooks (chosen from among those permitted by the Ministry of Education for use in elementary schools) were used in zemstvo schools. These included Native Speaking by K. D. Ushinskii, The ABC’s and books of readings by L. N. Tolstoy, and Our Friend by N. A. Korf. Visual aids were more widely used in the zemstvo schools than in the others, and some zemstvos organized school libraries. The zemstvo schools played a major role in spreading literacy and elementary education among the peasants.
After the Great October Socialist Revolution, the zemstvo schools, along with other educational institutions, came under the jurisdiction of the People’s Commissariat of Education and were reorganized into schools of the first level, with a five-year term of study.