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All eyes on Russia: Are nation-building reforms weakening the rights of educators and civilians nationwide?

President Putin’s recent platform for re-election featured several reforms that he promised would raise the Russian Federation to the level of its international competitors, and education reforms were featured in four different areas:

  • for foreign policy, President Putin vowed to export Russian education so that “a more positive image of Russia could be established internationally;”
  • for national security, there was an emphasis on military education wherein ten “research and education centers” would be established to transform military education and to stimulate the defense industry’s research and development;
  • for socioeconomic issues, a proposed strengthening of the quality of education in Russia by updating curricula, supporting extracurricular programs, and providing a monthly financial aid package of US$170 for low-income, high-achieving students was made;
  • and for ethnicity, promoting “civic patriotism” in literary education for the purpose of creating a “canon” of classic Russian literature that those students must read.

 

Both President Putin and the new Education and Science Minister Dmitry Livanov have also proposed a new law that will close thousands of Russia’s education institutions in 2013. The proposal follows a series of other reforms being implemented in Russia that aim to privatize education and severely limit the rights of educators nationwide.

 

Universities closing

Minister Livanov recently stated that, “the key criteria will be the quality of education–no matter if it is a state or a private institution,” and he has predicted a one-in-five closure rate for Russia’s education institutions during the 2013-2014 year. Some of these institutions will close immediately, while others will undergo mergers with those institutions that make the cut. The Ministry of Education and Science has already released the criteria by which educational institutions will be evaluated:

  • the income of its alumni five years after graduation,
  • how the salaries of professors compare to the average regional salary,
  • the percentage of students whose academic qualifications allowed them to be accepted to the university without taking entrance exams,
  • and the scholarly work of professors and the scientific research conducted at the university.

Also reportedly stating that he would limit free education to basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills, Livanov wishes to have primary school students evaluated solely upon a portfolio of their academic achievements. Livanov believes that education should generate skilled workers as opposed to intellectuals.

 

ESEUR President Galina Merkulova said the union is dissatisfied with the draft law in its current form. She stated that the liquidation and reorganisation of Russia’s educational facilities doesn’t take into account the rights of the citizens (i.e. students, teachers, and staff) currently associated with those facilities, and could lead to overcrowding, privatisation and corruption. She underlined that student fees (housing, meals, etc.) at the so-called “free schools” are too high and shouldn’t exceed 5 per cent of the total funds that educational institution receives.

The ESEUR would also like to see these other demands included in the law:

  • a code of ethics to be implemented;
  • a salary increase of 40 per cent for assistant professors and 60 per cent for professors;
  • trade unions’ involvement in setting the government subsidy for select institutions that will fully consider the rights on the students;
  • trade unions’ involvement in making local regulations affecting the rights of the students and workers at educational facilities and organisations;
  • and the establishment of a maximum number of hours per year that teachers should work: 900 per year for primary and secondary teachers, and 800 per year for university educators.

 

Administrative violations law proposal

A new draft law is being put into place that will require all preschool age children to be mandatorily placed in a state preschool. Preschool administrative staffs and local governments will now be held responsible for all children found to be in violation of the law.

EI’s affiliate, the ESEUR, strongly disagrees with the proposed law, arguing that it will force local governments and preschool administration to overfill their schools with children under threat of penalty, and that it will not allow those local governments or preschool administrations to do their jobs effectively. Furthermore, it will lead to deterioration in preschool education and overcrowding, thus forcing a nationwide lean towards the privatization of preschool education.

 

Language education in Russia

Konstantin Zamyatin of the University of Helsinki has argued that both President Putin and the Ministry of Education and Science were not as concerned with the rights of citizens as with a nation-building agenda. He has also asserted that the reform actually discourages teaching of minority languages and, therefore, will inevitably lead to a further decline in the number of students learning their native languages; a right that no minority child should be denied.

 

Restrictions on free assembly

A law imposing tougher restrictions and penalties on organizers and participants in unsanctioned rallies has passed the Russian State Duma and was signed by President Putin on 7 March. President Putin dismissed the concerns of numerous Russian and international human rights groups and told the news media that, “the new law was to protect Russian nationals from radicalism.” Human Rights Watch strenuously disagrees; they have stated that the new law seriously undermines freedom of assembly rights in Russia.

 

Growing dissent

President Putin has wasted little time in implementing drastic Russia’s legislation. Many of those publicly-opposed to the reforms have recently been arrested and are awaiting trial, such as the “March of Millions” organisers, three former members of the Russian Upper Parliamentary House, and several members from the female rock band “Pussy Riot.”

 

 

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