Universal Education

Universal Education


instruction of all children of a given age at general-education schools which provide a set minimum of knowledge. Universal education is ensured by a system of state measures (legislative acts concerning compulsory education and state allocations for school construction and maintenance, teacher training, and so on).

The introduction of universal education was one of the demands of the masses for several centuries. Compulsory education was proclaimed by the Great French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. The demand for free public education was set forth by K. Marx and F. Engels in the Communist Manifesto (1848), and an attempt at its practical implementation was made by the Paris Commune (1871).

Laws concerning universal elementary education were adopted in individual German states (for example, in Weimar and Hesse) as early as the 17th century. The introduction of laws on universal education in capitalist countries was most closely connected with the development of mechanized production in the 19th century and industry’s need for literate workers. It was also connected with the struggle of the workers for culture and learning. Laws on compulsory elementary education were adopted in Denmark in 1814, Sweden in 1842, Norway in 1848, the USA from 1852 to 1900, Japan in 1872, Italy in 1877, Great Britain in 1880, France in 1882, and Latin American countries at the beginning of the 20th century; in a number of countries in Asia and Africa such laws have still not been adopted. The rapid technological progress which brought about a revolution in all branches of production at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century required the organization of a state system in the developed countries for training highly skilled workers. In connection with this the laws concerning universal education were reexamined and the term of compulsory education was increased, as was the scope of subjects studied; in most countries the general-education schools were made tuition-free.

According to official statistics, in the highly developed capitalist countries (the USA, Great Britain, Japan, France, and others) almost all children of compulsory school age are enrolled in general-education schools; however, according to UNESCO data, at the end of the 1960’s there were 740 mil-lion illiterates in the world, and in Asia, Africa, and Latin America only 47 percent of the children aged five to 14 attend schools. To this day certain peoples in colonial countries have neither a writing system nor schools with instruction in their native languages. In capitalist society schools continue to be class-oriented; the lack of fees for elementary and even secondary education is offset to a considerable degree by the expensive tuition payments required at the higher levels of education.

In prerevolutionary Russia the population was almost completely illiterate. In connection with this, V. I. Lenin wrote in 1913: “There is no other country so barbarous and in which the masses of the people are robbed to such an extent of education, light and knowledge—no other such country has remained in Europe; Russia is the exception … . Four-fifths of the rising generation are doomed to illiteracy by the feudal state system of Russia” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 23, p. 127). A demand for free compulsory general and vocational education for children of both sexes up to the age of 16 was included in the program of the RSDLP adopted in 1903 at the Second Party Congress, and it was supported by progressive figures in Russia. Nevertheless, it was only after the October Socialist Revolution that universal education was introduced throughout the country. In October 1918 the All-Russian Central Executive Committee ratified the Statute on Standard Labor Schools in the RSFSR, which legalized free compulsory coeducational instruction for all children aged eight to 17 in primary and secondary schools. The Eighth Congress of the RCP (Bolshevik) adopted in 1919 a Party program which undertook the task of providing free and compulsory general and polytechnical education for all children of both sexes up to the age of 17. It also provided for extensive development of vocational education for persons above the age of 17. On Aug. 20, 1923, the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR adopted a resolution to proceed to work out a plan for universal education. By a decree dated Aug. 31, 1925, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars set a deadline of the 1933/34 academic year for the introduction of universal elementary education in the RSFSR. Analogous laws were passed by the government of the Ukrainian SSR on Aug. 5, 1925, and by the government of the Byelorussian SSR on Apr. 7, 1926. In accordance with the resolutions of the Sixteenth Party Congress (1930) and the decree of the Central Committee of the ACP (Bolshevik) dated July 25, 1930, the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR adopted a decree on Aug. 14, 1930, On Universal Compulsory Elementary Education. By 1934 universal elementary education had been implemented throughout the country. During the years 1933-37 the USSR introduced universal, compulsory seven-year education in cities and workers’ settlements, and considerable progress was made in secondary education. The implementation of universal compulsory seven-year education was interrupted by the Great Patriotic War; however, it was basically accomplished by 1956. By the law On Strengthening the Ties Between School and Life and on the Further Development of the System of Public Education in the USSR (1958) the seven-year system was replaced by universal compulsory eight-year education for children from the age of seven to 15 or 16.

The growth of universal education in the Union republics is shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Number of students in general-education schools of all types (in thousands, at the beginning of the school year)
USSR . . . . . . .9,656.435,55249,426
RSFSR . . . . . . .5,68420,63325,795
Ukrainian SSR . . . . . . .2,6076,8308,480
Byelorussian SSR . . . . . . .4891,7371,852
Uzbek SSR . . . . . . .181,3253,154
Kazakh SSR . . . . . . .1051,1483,141
Georgian SSR . . . . . . .1577671,016
Azerbaijan SSR . . . . . . .736951,394
Lithuanian SSR . . . . . . .118380573
Moldavian SSR . . . . . . .92440795
Latvian SSR . . . . . . .172242353
Kirghiz SSR . . . . . . .7334751
Tadzhik SSR . . . . . . .0.4315740
Armenian SSR . . . . . . .35333635
Turkmen SSR . . . . . . .7252536
Estonian SSR . . . . . . .92121211

The achievements of universal education in the USSR at the elementary, incomplete secondary, and secondary levels are reflected in Table 2.

Table 2. Number of students by grades in general-education schools (in millions, at the beginning of the school year)
1-4 . . . . . .9.021.721.2
5-8 . . . . . . .0.512.520.7
9-10 (11) . . . . . . .

It is impossible to judge the scope of the education provided to children in the older age group by the number of students enrolled in grades 9-10 (11), since some of the children in this group continue their education in specialized secondary educational institutions and vocational-technical schools. At the beginning of the 1970/71 academic year about 80 percent of those who had finished eight-year day schools were continuing their education at various educational institutions.

In accordance with the Directives of the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU, the transition to universal secondary education will be completed during the ninth five-year plan.

One of the longer-range prospects for solving this problem is the further development of vocational-technical schools which would provide a secondary education but still preserve the primary role of the general-education schools.

The USSR has comprehensive state guarantees for the successful development of universal secondary education, including the right of citizens to an education regardless of sex, race, nationality, religion, or social status, as proclaimed by the Constitution of the USSR; free compulsory education; a state system of educational institutions; various types of educational institutions providing secondary education—the secondary general-education labor polytechnical school, evening (shift) and correspondence schools for young working people, specialized secondary educational institutions, vocational-technical schools, and schools for teaching children with mental or physical handicaps; standardization and continuity of all types of educational institutions, making it possible to pass without hindrance from the lower levels to higher ones—that is, the absence of dead-end schools; accessibility of schools to all students, as well as instruction in their native language or in one of the other languages of the USSR; coeducational schools; registration by the state of school-age children and checking of their class attendance; staffing of the schools with teachers who have appropriate qualifications; construction and maintenance of schools at state expense; material state assistance to students; and various types of community aid to the school.


Lenin, V. I. “Proekt programrny Rossiiskoi sotsial-demokraticheskoi rabochei partii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6.
Lenin, V. I. “K voprosu o politike ministerstva narodnogo prosveshcheniia.” Ibid., vol. 23.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
“Direktivy VKP(b) i postanovleniia Sovetskogo pravitel’stva o narodnom obrazovanii.” Sb. dokumentov za 1917-1947 gg., vols. 1-2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Malyshev, M. P. “O vseobshchem obuchenii v SSSR.” In the collection Voprosy organizatsiivseobshchego obucheniia. Moscow, 1953.
Kul’turnoe stroitel’stvo SSSR: Statisticheskii sb. Moscow, 1956.
SSSR v tsifrakh: Statisticheskii sb. Moscow, 1958.
Strana Sovetov za 50 let: Sb. statisticheskikh materialov. Moscow, 1967.
Narodnoe obrazovanie v SSSR, 1917-1967. Moscow, 1967.
Prosveshchenie v stranakh mira. Moscow, 1967.


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