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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the independent acquisition of systematic knowledge in some area of science, engineering, culture, or political life. Self-education implies not only independence of study but also the personal interest of the learner in the material being studied. At the same time, self-education is a means of self-training, since it promotes the development of such moral qualities as purposefulness, persistence in working toward goals, self-discipline, and industriousness. In the broad sense, self-education includes all forms of the acquisition of knowledge where the learner works independently on the material being studied. The principal form of self-education is the study of scientific literature, popular science literature, educational texts, fiction, and the press. Self-education can also make use of various auxiliary means. For example, the student can attend lectures, public speeches, or concerts, listen to sound recordings, consult specialists, see plays or films, view television broadcasts, visit museums, exhibitions, or galleries, and engage in various types of practical activity, including tests, experimentation, and simulation.

Self-education became widespread during the era of capitalism primarily among the working people, who had limited opportunities for cultural growth. Those who engaged in self-education wanted to acquire skills or to raise their educational level for the sake of practical application and the improvement of their living conditions. They, of course, were also motivated by personal inclinations toward one or another area of self-education.

In prerevolutionary Russia, self-education was an important means for workers and peasants to acquire knowledge, since social and national oppression and the existing system of public education permitted the majority of the people to acquire knowledge only at an elementary school level. In the 1860’s the working people’s desire for education—a desire in many respects stimulated by technological progress—received support from the progressive intelligentsia. Many leading figures in science, literature, and art and several public organizations aided the self-education of the working people through the establishment of people’s libraries, people’s reading rooms, and people’s houses. The educational and literary journal Samoobrazovanie (Self-education) was published in St. Petersburg in 1863 and 1864. In 1893 a commission for the organization of home study was established in Moscow under the educational division of the Society for the Dissemination of Technical Knowledge. The commission worked out special programs for many subjects studied in the universities, published the series Library for Self-education, and provided tutorial teaching through the mail. Beginning in 1894, simplified self-education programs were published for a broad range of learners by the Division for the Advancement of Self-education in St. Petersburg. An important role in self-education was played by various public courses and by universities for the people, such as the Shaniavskii University. Self-education, however, could not take on a broad scope at this time because of the social system prevailing in Russia.

A special place was occupied by the political self-education of leading workers. In the late 19th century, such self-education took place in study groups, a relatively higher form than individual study. These groups studied the principles of Marxism and current political economic problems. The groups were generally led by trained revolutionary propagandists, primarily Social Democrats. In many cases, political self-education was carried out through workers’ lessons in Sunday schools. From the time of Lenin’s creation of the League of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class, the groups were a constant source of replenishment for the ranks of the RSDLP; they supplied proletarians with a high level of political consciousness and general knowledge.

After the October Revolution of 1917, self-education became one of the important means of carrying out the cultural révolution, and it received comprehensive support from the Communist Party, the state, and mass public organizations, such as trade unions, the Komsomol, voluntary societies, and unions of creative artists. Self-education took on two fundamentally new features characteristic of socialist society: (1) public and personal interests coincide with respect to the methods and aims of self-education. As a result, self-education is connected with life, with the socioeconomic, political, and cultural problems confronting society. (2) Self-education is oriented toward the all-around development of the personality, the discovery of a person’s capabilities, and the realization of his intellectual interests. These features result in the existence of two types of self-education: self-education that has direct social utility and self-education concerned specifically with personal interests, where the social utility is indirect. In practice, the two types are inseparable. The system of self-education is changing and being improved, in accordance with economic, scientific, and cultural progress, the rising level of education, and the necessity for the continuous replenishment of knowledge. As a result of the acute shortage of teaching personnel in the 1920’s and 1930’s, workers’ schools (rabfaki) and home university study became very popular.

In developed socialist society, self-education is directed primarily toward the independent deepening and broadening of the knowledge acquired in educational institutions, where the students master the skills of independent study essential to self-education. The leading forms in the system of self-education are the various forms of political self-education and organized voluntary study in, for example, the people’s universities, various special courses, scientific study groups, and societies. Important contributions toward raising the level of organization and systematization of self-education are being made by the Znanie (Knowledge) society, by various lecture bureaus (particularly those of the Komsomol), by the public library system, by numerous popular scientific, and special publications for self-education, and by radio and television.


Lenin, V. I. O vospitanii i obrazovanii: Stat’i i rechi. Moscow, 1968.
Krupskaia, N. K. O samoobrazovanii: Sbornik. Moscow, 1960.
Rubakin, N. D. Kak zanimat’sia samoobrazovaniem. Moscow, 1962.
Kovynev, N. Rabota s knigoi. Moscow, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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