Secondary General-Education School

Secondary General-Education School


an educational institution that aims to provide systematic knowledge of the fundamentals of various subjects as well as the skills and abilities essential for obtaining vocational training and higher education.

General secondary education emerged during the Middle Ages in bishop’s, or cathedral, schools and in the schools teaching the seven liberal arts, which included the trivium (lower studies) and quadrivium (higher studies). As universities became established in the 12th and 13th centuries, the functions of the secondary general-education schools were also performed by university arts faculties, which prepared students for further education in the main university faculties.

The secondary general-education school as an independent educational institution emerged only in the 16th century, in the form of the Gymnasium. The first Gymnasium was founded in Strassburg in 1538 by the humanist educator J. Sturm. Owing to the influence of Renaissance traditions, the chief subjects taught at the Gymnasiums were Latin and Greek. However, in distinction to the humanist schools of the preceding period, where these languages were studied as a means of mastering the cultural heritage of the Greeks and Romans, the earliest Gymnasiums were attracted to the formal aspect of studying Greek and Latin. Sturm’s Gymnasium, a typical classical-education school, determined the nature of development of secondary general-education schools for several centuries. Secondary general-education schools in different countries had different names: Gymnasium, college, collège, lycée, and grammar school.

During the second half of the 18th century, basic changes took place in the classical secondary general-education school under the influence of neohumanism, which was prevalent in Western Europe, particularly in Germany. At this time, the leading educators began viewing as the primary objectives of the general-education schools the development of independent thought and aesthetic tastes and of a world view and morality in conformity with the interests of the bourgeois state.

The curricula of the Gymnasiums and the analogous secondary general-education schools placed stress on mathematics, which, together with Latin and Greek grammar, was considered an important means of developing logical thought and mental discipline. The curricula also included native languages, history, geography, and elements of the natural sciences.

The secondary general-education school was viewed as a preparatory stage for a university education. Its nature and functions endured without significant changes until the late 19th century. Even today, the traditional secondary general-education school exists in the public educational systems of many countries, including Belgium, Brazil, Great Britain, Italy, France, and the Federal Republic of Germany.

The development of capitalism gave education the task of preparing young people for work in industry and science. This called for a fundamental reconsideration of the very concept of general secondary education. As early as the Renaissance, democratically minded thinkers and educators such as T. More, F. Rabelais, J. Béliers, and J. A. Comenius opposed the dominance of classical languages in the schools and advanced the idea of Realschule education (seeREALSCHULE). They believed that the native and modern foreign languages, the natural sciences, and crafts—subjects that would provide practical knowledge and skills—should predominate in general education.

One of the first secondary general-education Realschulen in Europe was the school founded in Berlin in 1747 by J. Hecker. However, this school was oriented mainly toward specialized subjects and had a division for university preparation. During the second half of the 18th century, similar secondary schools were founded in other countries as well. In the USA they were established on the initiative of B. Franklin and were called academies. Further progress in the development of secondary general-education schools was made by the German educators and philanthropists J. B. Basedow, C. G. Salzmann, and B. Blasche, who founded a number of boarding schools, called Philanthropinums, for the children of well-to-do parents. These schools emphasized Realschule subjects and practical work; classical languages were also taught so that graduates could enter the university.

By the late 19th century, the conflict between the two concepts of general education had ended with the coexistence of two types of secondary general-education schools in the public-education systems of most countries: classical Gymnasiums and Realschulen. For a long time the Realschulen were not considered to be full-fledged secondary general-education schools: their graduates could enter only specialized higher educational institutions and the natural sciences and mathematics faculties of universities.

In Russia, the first schools to offer instruction in advanced subjects were the Greco-Latin schools founded in the second half of the 17th century; they taught Church Slavonic, Greek, Latin, philosophy, and rhetoric. In 1701 the first advanced school of the Realschule type was founded in Moscow, the School of Mathematical and Navigational Sciences. However, it was not a true general-education school, since it taught subjects related to naval and military affairs and to mining. The Academy Gymnasium, founded in 1726 under the auspices of the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg, is generally regarded as the first true secondary general-education school in Russia; it aimed to prepare young people for admission to the Academy University.

The development of secondary general-education schools began in 1804, when a charter for educational institutions subordinated to the universities was adopted. This charter introduced uniformity into the system of public education. The curriculum of the four-year Gymnasium, which prepared students for the university, offered a great many subjects, including languages, philosophy, political economy, mathematics, physics, the natural sciences, and technological subjects. The positive features of the Gymnasiums were their admission of all social classes and the considerable stress they placed on Realschule subjects. After the adoption of a new school charter in 1828, the Gymnasiums became secondary general-education schools for the privileged classes, emphasizing the humanities and classical subjects.

In the 1860’s, progressive elements in society attempted to democratize education and integrate it with life. The Statute of Gymnasiums and Progymnasiums of 1864 established Realgymnasiums as well as classical Gymnasiums; the Realgymnasiums placed great stress on the natural sciences and did not teach classical languages. However, the Realgymnasiums were not considered to be true secondary general-education schools, and their graduates could be admitted only to higher technical educational institutions.

With the intensification of political reaction, the school statute was revised in 1871, and the classical Gymnasium was recognized as the only type of secondary general-education school. However, the demands of industry and trade compelled the government to retain the Realschule type of secondary education; a statute of 1872 established six- and seven-year Realschulen providing specialized instruction in the upper grades. In 1888 the specialized instruction was eliminated, and the Realschule graduates were permitted to enter higher technical and agricultural educational institutions. Those graduates who passed a Latin examination as well could also enter the university faculties of medicine and of physics and mathematics. In 1896, seven- and eight-year commercial schools were legally recognized as secondary general-education schools. Specialized subjects such as merchandising, bookkeeping, and technology were taught in the higher grades of these schools, whose graduates could enter higher commercial and technical educational institutions.

In the early 20th century, owing to the demands of progressive elements in society, the Gymnasiums began placing less stress on classical subjects and intensified the teaching of mathematics and the natural sciences. Until 1917 there were two types of secondary general-educational schools: the classical Gymnasiums and the Realschulen, which included commercial schools. General secondary education was also offered by class-oriented institutions, such as the cadet corps and the institutes for wellborn girls. The prerevolutionary secondary general-education school was separated from the primary school, and children were admitted to the secondary schools by examination. There were separate secondary general-education schools for boys and girls.

In the USSR, Lenin’s theses on the necessity of linking the secondary general-education school to government policies and actual life and of separating education from the church became the foundation of secondary general education. Measures were taken in 1917 and 1918 to establish a well-integrated system of public education aimed at standardizing secondary general-education schools and coordinating them with other stages of education. The secondary general-education school became a means of communist upbringing and public education; it disseminated the proletariat’s ideological, organizational, and educational influence among the semiproletarian and nonproletarian strata of the working people.

The fundamental changes taking place in education were reflected in the Statute on the Uniform Labor School of the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic and the Fundamental Principles of the Uniform Labor School (1918). In place of the former class-oriented schools, a uniform labor school for all strata of the population was established, divided into two stages. The first stage provided five (later four) years of instruction for children aged eight to 12; the second stage provided four (later five) years of instruction for children aged 13 to 17. The work of the schools was based on the principles of ethnic and sexual equality, instruction in the native language, and the integration of studies with actual life. Religion and the classical languages were removed from the curriculum and sociopolitical disciplines were introduced; the teaching of the natural sciences was intensified. The Marxist-Leninist ideas of polytechnic education and of combining study with student participation in socially useful labor were put into practice.

In 1919, in order to make higher education accessible to workers and peasants, who before the revolution had no opportunity for a secondary-school education, workers’ schools were established. In the mid-1920’s, some changes were made in the structure of the secondary general-education school. Seven-year industrial training schools were established in cities and workers’ settlements to familiarize students with work in an industrial setting. In rural areas, schools for peasant youth were established that supplemented general education with the theory and practice of agriculture. Graduates of the industrial training schools and the schools for peasant youth entered specialized secondary educational institutions or the eighth grade of ten-year schools.

The decrees On Primary and Secondary Schools (Sept. 5, 1931) and On Syllabi and Procedures in Primary and Secondary Schools (Aug. 25, 1932) of the Central Committee of the ACP(B) set forth the tasks of writing new syllabi for each subject and of reinforcing the classroom system of instruction. These and later decrees of the Central Committee of the ACP(B) on textbooks, the work of the Pioneer organization, and the teaching of civil history and geography were instrumental in improving education and reinforcing the authority of the teacher.

The May 15, 1934, decree of the Council of Peoples’ Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the ACP(B) On the Structure of the Primary and Secondary School in the USSR standardized secondary general education. A ten-year secondary general-education school was established, divided into primary school (four years), incomplete secondary school (seven years), and secondary school (ten years). New types of secondary general-education schools, including schools for working and rural youth and Suvorov and Nakhimov schools (military and naval secondary schools), appeared during the Great Patriotic War (1941–15).

In 1958 the law On Reinforcing the Link Between School and Life and on the Further Development of the System of Public Education in the USSR established the eight-year incomplete secondary school and the 11-year complete secondary school. Labor instruction was reinforced, and vocational training was introduced in the upper grades. In 1964 the ten-year school was restored. As of 1966, production training was retained only in those secondary general-education schools that were provided with the necessary equipment. During the 1960’s, secondary general-education schools were developed that emphasized a single subject, such as a foreign language, mathematics, physics, chemistry, or biology.

Today’s ten-year secondary general-education school is a uniform polytechnic labor school. In areas where instruction is conducted in a language other than Russian, 11-year schools may be established with the permission of the Council of Ministers of the USSR. The secondary general-education school is divided into three stages: primary (first through third grades), incomplete secondary (fourth through eighth grades), and secondary school as such (ninth and tenth or 11th grades). Primary and eight-year schools may be established separately, depending on local conditions. There are evening (shift) and correspondence secondary general-education schools for working youth and secondary general-education boarding schools for physically and mentally handicapped children.

The overall outlook for the further improvement of Soviet secondary general education is defined by the Program of the CPSU; one goal is the implementation of universal secondary education for all children of school age.

In 1974, 95 percent of the students who entered the first grade in 1966 completed the eight-year school on time, and roughly 93 percent of them went on to some form of secondary education. This indicates that the transition to universal secondary education has essentially been achieved. The scope of secondary education has led to changes in the network and structure of all general-education schools, whose number has decreased owing to a significant increase in the number of secondary general-education schools (50,000 out of a total of 152,400 schools). In 1974, 86.4 percent of the children in cities and 62.3 percent of the children in rural areas studied at secondary general-education schools; 0.8 percent studied at urban primary schools, and 4.9 percent at rural primary schools.

The Soviet secondary general-education school seeks to give students a secondary education that meets the requirements of social, scientific, and technological progress, and to provide them with comprehensive knowledge of the fundamentals of essential subjects and the ability to supplement this knowledge on their own. A further objective is the formation of a Marxist-Leninist world view and the promotion of overall harmonious development. The secondary general-education school relates education to the practical building of communism, provides a moral upbringing in the spirit of the moral code of the builder of communism, trains students for work, and prepares them for life and for the conscious selection of a vocation.

According to the decree of the Central Committee of the CPSU and the Council of Ministers of the USSR On Measures for the Further Improvement of the Work of the Secondary General-Education School (Nov. 10, 1966), the Ministry of Education of the USSR and the ministries of education (public education) of the Union republics revise the curricula of secondary schools to conform with the requirements of science, technology, and culture. The ministries of education improve the distribution of instructional materials according to grade and eliminate superfluous detail and material of minor importance from curricula and textbooks. Elective subjects are introduced beginning in the seventh grade to extend knowledge and develop varied interests and aptitudes.

Toward the late 1960’s, a commission of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences of the USSR completed a project to update the content of secondary education. The new curriculum (see Table 1 below) basically retains the former distribution of study time between the humanities (42.4 percent) and the natural sciences and mathematics (38.4 percent). Classes in music and the fine arts amount to 4.8 percent of the study time, physical education to 7.2 percent, and

Table 1. Standard curriculum for the secondary general-education school in the USSR
SubjectNumber of hours by gradeTotal week hours
123456789101976 curriculum1959 curriculum
Russian language ...............121010663322/05357
Mathematics ...............66666666555859
History ...............22223431820
Social studies ...............222
Nature studies ...............22262
Geography ...............23222 1112
Biology ............... 22220/221111
Physics ...............223451617
stronomy ...............111
Drafting ...............11134
Chemistry ...............22331011
Foreign language ...............4332221620
Fine arts ...............11111167
Singing and music ...............1111111   78
Physical education ...............22222222222022
Labor instruction ...............22222222222058
Compulsory classes ...............24242424303030303030276330
Elective classeses ...............2466
Total ...............24242424303032343636

labor and polytechnic training to 7.2 percent. A more extensive development of extracurricular work is projected. Each school subject presents the basic trends in a given field of contemporary knowledge in a form accessible to students.

The structuring of syllabi according to successive stages rather than by concentric arrangement makes subject matter new at every stage and facilitates thorough study of each subject. The new syllabi have raised the theoretical level of education over the entire period of study. Extensive experiments have shown that in primary schools, intensive study and the introduction of work of greater difficulty may produce successful results. The new syllabi have made it possible to improve the development of children, reveal their inner strengths more fully, and establish good skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic. The reduction in the number of primary grades from four to three has increased the time available for systematic courses in the fundamentals of various branches of knowledge, which begin in the fourth grade. Closer ties have been established between the materials taught in the lower, middle, and upper grades.

To ensure comprehensive and harmonious development of the individual, the Soviet secondary general-education school organizes the educational process on the basis of practical activity, involving students in various types of socially useful labor. Communist upbringing is carried out in cooperation with the Lenin All-Union Pioneer Organization and the Komsomol, whose joint membership among schoolchildren totals 35 million. The secondary general-education schools maintain close ties with extracurricular instititions. Some 300 million secondary general-education textbooks are published annually in 47 national languages of the USSR. Teachers are trained in more than 400 pedagogical schools and 200 pedagogical institutes.

Secondary general education in other socialist countries is divided into two stages. Primary education, which is compulsory, covers an eight-year period in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia, nine years in Czechoslovakia, and ten years in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and Rumania. The secondary-school program covers two to four years of study. In Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia the secondary school is called a Gymnasium, in Poland and Rumania, a lycée, in the GDR, an expanded secondary school, and in the Mongolian People’s Republic, a complete secondary school. In most of the socialist countries, the secondary general-education schools function independently and often vary in their manner of organization. In Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia, the divisions of the humanities and of the natural sciences and mathematics are separated, and in the GDR there are separate divisions for the natural sciences and mathematics and for modern and classical languages. A new division is often created by introducing elective and alternative disciplines into the curriculum.

Much attention is devoted in the socialist countries to students’ practical projects. Special subjects are introduced to familiarize students with the fundamentals of modern production and its economics, organization, and most important sectors, and practical experience in industry is provided. The secondary general-education school is directing its efforts toward expanding education, raising its level, reinforcing its polytechnic orientation, and increasing its connections with practical life.

The capitalist countries have schools stressing the humanities and secondary general-education schools of the Realschule type: Gymnasiums, lycées, and grammar schools. A school often has several departments providing extensive preparation in one or several subjects. There are also technically oriented secondary general-education schools, or divisions of them, that in actuality do not give the students adequate preparation for further education. Examples are the modern secondary school in Great Britain and the general and vocational divisions of secondary schools in the USA. In most capitalist countries, the secondary general-education schools are not integrally related to the primary schools; they are independent and are usually separate for boys and girls. There are also many private schools.


Lenin, V. I. O vospitanii i obrazovanii. [Moscow, 1970.]
Krupskaia, N. K. Pedagogicheskie sochineniia, vols. 1–10. Moscow, 1957–61.
Lunacharskii, A. V. O narodnom obrazovanii. Moscow, 1958.
Narodnoe obrazovanie v SSSR: Sb. dokumentov, 1917–1973 gg. Moscow, 1974.
Konstantinov, N. A., and E. N. Medynskii. Ocherki po istorii sovetskoi shkoly RSFSR za 30 let. Moscow, 1948.
Korolev, F. F. Ocherki po istorii sovetskoi shkoly i pedagogiki, 1917–1920. Moscow, 1958.
Korolev, F. F., Korneichik, T. D., and Z. I. Ravkin. Ocherki po istorii sovetskoi shkoly i pedagogiki, 1921–1931. Moscow, 1961.
Ganelin, Sh. I. Ocherki po istorii srednei shkoly v Rossii 2-i pol. XIX v., 2nd ed. Moscow, 1954.
Smirnov, V. Z. Reforma nachal’noi i srednei shkoly v 60-kh godakh XIXv. Moscow, 1954.
Narodnoe obrazovanie v SSSR, 1917–1967. Edited by M. A. Proko-f’ev [et al.]. Moscow, 1967.
Prokof ev, M. A. Sovetskaia obshcheobrazovald’naia shkola na sovremennom étape. Moscow, 1975.
Kondakov, M. I. Novoe soderzhanie obrazovaniia i sovershenstvovanie uchebnogoprotsessa. Moscow, 1974.
World Survey of Education: IIISecondary Education. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
King, E. J. Other Schools and Ours. New York [1958].
Einheitlichkeit und Differenzierung im Bildungswesen. Berlin, 1971.