Public Education

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Public Education


a system of institutions and measures that ensures the education and upbringing of a people in accordance with the interests and requirements of the society and the state. In a number of countries there are private and religious, as well as state-run, educational institutions. The public education system includes preschool institutions, general education schools of all types, technical vocational schools, specialized secondary and higher educational institutions, and various forms of on-the-job training and courses to improve workers’ qualifications, as well as extracurricular institutions.

It is not correct to refer to education before the late 18th and early 19th centuries as “public,” in the sense of a system of broadly based education for the people in the interests of the state. Throughout the many centuries of human history, instruction and education in schools had been the privilege of the tribal, slaveholding, and feudal aristocracy. A small number of artisans’ and merchants’ children received an elementary education in workshop, guild, and municipal schools, but the masses of the working people were deprived of the right to an education.

With the development of capitalist relations, the interest of the bourgeoisie in improving production and in training workers, as well as the participation of the masses in bourgeois revolutions, caused most of the countries that had taken the path of capitalist development to promulgate laws defining the state’s obligations to organize education for all citizens. However, these laws only reflected the transition from schools limited to certain social estates to schools organized on a social class basis. Schools organized by estates required that their pupils belong to a particular social estate, whereas the class (bourgeois) schools required that pupils have the means to pay for instruction. In a number of countries the bourgeois school coexisted for a long time with the estate schools, with privileged, aristocratic educational institutions. The growth of productive forces in capitalist society led to the development of a general and lower-level vocational education for a significant number of working people.

During the 19th century the majority of capitalist countries issued laws providing for universal, compulsory elementary education. Although the requirements of developing industry, transportation, communications, and other branches of the economy for trained workers were objective in character, the bourgeois states established two systems of public education: one for the propertied classes and the other for the working people. Contemporary ideologists of capitalism attempt to present certain changes in the public education system—eliminating tuition fees for general education schools, making education compulsory to age 14 or 15, and increasing the number of students receiving stipends for higher education—as evidence of getting over the class character of the bourgeois school. According to these ideologists of capitalism, contemporary capitalist states have made education accessible to all both under the law and in fact. Furthermore, they assert that propertied and non-propertied persons have equal opportunities to acquire an education, and that all differences in education are to be explained merely by variations in the abilities and talents of children.

In a class society even a tuition-free school has a class character, because not all families can afford the expense of keeping children in school. Tuition payments at higher educational institutions and the high costs of maintaining students there sharply reduce the social significance of raising the level of compulsory, tuition-free education at secondary schools. Granting stipends from various funds to the most capable pupils from working-class families does not guarantee all young people the right to an education. In certain capitalist countries still another practice has a class character: pupils are assigned to schools and classes depending on their abilities. A special system of tests is used to determine children’s abilities, and, as a result, most of the children in the most gifted group come from well-to-do families. They are better prepared for instruction, and only they have the opportunity to enroll at schools offering a higher level of education and access to universities and other institutions of higher learning. Most graduates of elementary schools enroll at schools which generally do not guarantee students the right to continue their education at an institution of higher learning.

In bourgeois society the proletarian revolutionary movement compelled the ruling classes to alter their public education policy and supported measures to develop education among the working people. As a matter of fact, a genuinely public system of education at all levels is possible only in socialist and communist societies.

The USSR and the other socialist countries ensure the widespread development and general accessibility of all types and forms of education. They consistently implement the principles of a standardized school, tuition-free education at all levels, use of the native language in teaching, separation of church and school, and provision of state stipends for pupils at vocational technical schools, specialized secondary schools, and higher educational institutions. A system of this kind provides a high level of education for the entire population, regardless of race or nationality, wealth or social status, sex, or religious denomination.

In all countries the foundation of the public education system is the primary (elementary) education. The duration of primary education varies from three to six years. In some countries there is no continuity between elementary and secondary education. A special “link” has been introduced into public education—the “intermediate” or “middle” school (sometimes called the supplementary school), which prepares pupils for enrollment in secondary schools.

Secondary education usually entails a six-year term of instruction. In Great Britain the secondary schools are called grammar schools; in the Federal Republic of Germany, Gymnasiums; in France and Italy, lycées; and in the USA, academic high schools. In the USSR, where problems of general, secondary education are being resolved, secondary education is provided in all types of secondary educational schools; in vocational technical schools, which offer a general secondary education, as well as vocational training; and in specialized secondary educational institutions.

Higher education is furnished by universities, institutes, higher schools, and certain types of colleges, which usually offer four- to six-year courses of study.

In many capitalist countries a percentage of the schools are run by the church, charitable organizations, or private individuals. In the USSR and other socialist countries most educational institutions are administered by the state, but a few come under the jurisdiction of the trade unions, cooperatives, and other organizations.

Several systems of administering public education have developed: centralized, decentralized, and a combination of those two. In a centralized system education is administered by a special ministry and by local organizations. The state finances the schools, issues mandatory curricula, publishes textbooks, approves uniform requirements for obtaining certificates and degrees, and supervises teacher training. Such a system has been adopted in France, Italy, Belgium, and the Latin American countries.

In a decentralized system education is supervised by local administrative bodies, and the quality of the schools depends, to a considerable extent, on the initiative and attitude of the local population. The state limits its functions to keeping accounts and, in specific instances, to providing some financial aid to meet educational needs. A decentralized system developed in Great Britain, particularly in Scotland, as well as in Norway and Sweden. In the USA the educational system was decentralized for many years, but since the 1960’s there has been a trend toward centralization.

Characteristic of the mixed, or combined, system of educational administration (India and Pakistan, for example) is the division of functions between the central and local bodies of power. Usually the central organs handle general planning and supervision and finance a number of levels of public education.

In the USSR and other socialist countries public education is administered by the government on the basis of democratic centralism, which means that central supervision is combined with extensive activity on the part of local bodies and broad involvement of the public opinion of communities.

The structural principles, basic tasks, and methods for improving all sections of the public education system have been set forth in the Basic Principles of Legislation on Public Education of the USSR and the Union Republics (July, 19, 1973). “The goal of public education in the USSR is the training of highly educated, comprehensively developed, active builders of communist society, brought up on the ideas of Marxism-Leninism and in a spirit of respect for Soviet laws and the socialist order, with a communist attitude toward labor; the development of physically healthy citizens capable of working successfully in various fields of economic and sociocultural construction and participating actively in public and state activities; the training of citizens prepared to defend their socialist homeland wholeheartedly, to protect and increase its material and intellectual riches, and to guard and conserve its natural resources. Public education in the USSR is called upon to ensure the development and satisfaction of the moral and intellectual needs of the Soviet people” (ibid., p. 6).

The Soviet system of public education includes preschool training, general secondary education, extracurricular training, vocational technical education, specialized secondary education, and higher education. The ever-growing body of scientific information created by scientific and technological progress has made it necessary for working people regularly to supplement their general education, general technical knowledge, and specialized skills. Consequently, the public education systems of the USSR and other socialist countries have extensively developed evening and correspondence schools, as well as various educational organizations designed to raise workers’ qualifications and guide them in self-education. In 1973 approximately 81 million people were taking advantage of various types of education offered in the USSR. There were 181,000 general education schools, including 165,000 day schools; 5,700 vocational technical institutions; 4,300 specialized secondary educational institutions; and 825 higher educational institutions, including 61 universities. General education schools of all types had an enrollment of 49.3 million pupils. The eight-year schools graduated 4.8 million students, and the general education schools, 2.9 million. Evening (shift) and correspondence secondary schools, as well as vocational technical schools, provided more than 660,000 people with a secondary education.

In 1973 vocational technical schools had an enrollment of about 2.8 million pupils; specialized secondary educational institutions, 4.4 million; and higher educational institutions, 4.6 million. Also in that year vocational technical schools accepted more than 2 million applicants—229,000 of them at schools that provide a secondary education as well as vocational training. Specialized secondary educational institutions accepted 1,347,-000 students in 1973, including 850,000 in the day divisions. Higher educational institutions accepted 930,000 persons, including 532,000 in day divisions. Vocational technical schools trained more than 1.8 million skilled workers. Also, the national economy profited from the services of 1.8 million new specialists, of whom 700,000 have a higher education and 1.1 million have a specialized secondary education. By the end of 1972, 72 percent of the population employed in the national economy had either a higher or a secondary (complete or incomplete) education. By means of individual and brigade-level instruction, as well as courses at enterprises, institutions, organizations, and kolkhozes, about 20 million people received training in new vocations or improved their qualifications.


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