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By the early twentieth century in Russia a deep contradiction had been formed between the high educational level of society’s “upper crust” and the illiteracy of most people, especially the peasantry, which comprised 80 percent of the population (Rutkevich 6).
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It was obvious that the Russian Empire was quite behind in terms of education during this time. The census data from the end of the nineteenth century (1897) indicated that only a mere 24 percent of the Russian population (over the age of nine years old) was able to read and write to a sufficient standard; this percentage was quite low and alarming for any nation. It suggested that the current Russian education system was in need of major changes in order to increase literacy amongst its citizen.
The Revolution of 1905 would bring just the changes that Russian education needed; over the next decade or so, the Russian literacy statistics would increase dramatically. In fact, by the year 1914, the statistics regarding reading and writing in Russia would climb to approximately 40 percent. No doubt, there was an increase in literacy among Russians and that improvements in the Russian educational system had occurred over the several years, but what exactly brought these changes about?
Petr Stolypin wrote in March of 1907:
Realizing the necessity for extreme exertions to improve the economic conditions of the population, the government clearly recognizes that such efforts will be useless until the level of national enlightenment is raised to the required height and until the provocation that have continually disturbed the orderly routine of school life during recent years have been removed. Such scenes make it obvious that without basic reform our educational institutions are in danger of complete dissolution. The Ministry of Education is committed to a reform of the schools at every level of instruction on the principle of an unbroken sequence of lower, middle, and higher schools, but with a complete course of instruction at every stage (as cited by Alston 199).
The events of 1904 and 1905 undoubtedly marked a turning point in the expansion of education as an agency for directing social change in the Russian empire. During this time, the disgruntled voices of parents, students, and teachers spoke up, and state officials, surprisingly enough, actually took notice, despite their resentment. Indeed, from 1905 until 1914, their existed strained cooperation between state and society in regards to national educational affairs.
In fact, between 1912 and 1913, there was an excess of 10.9 million rubbles committed to the raising of quality of secondary education. Although this brought great benefits, there were also many downfalls. For example, the new law restricted the teachers, who had been use to working thirty hour weeks, to a maximum of twenty-four hours a week. There developed a teacher shortage, and classes began to be cancelled due to the lack of available teachers. In July 1912, a new pay scale was implemented in order to raise the salaries of teachers in secular schools. However, it must be noted that the financial and professional condition of urban school teachers was much worse than that of secondary school instructors (Alston 224). These problems with finding and properly compensating educators had a negative impact on students. Like in every other aspect of change, there will always be unexpected problems that arise; however, the willingness of the state to work with society was a vast improvement in comparison to the past, and as time went on, these issues began resolving themselves and the educational system in Russia began to flourish. The benefits of these changes are evident in the dramatic increase in the literacy rate throughout the nation.
The Role of Duma in Educating Russia
After the Revolution of 1905, the parliament, known as the Duma, worked to bring about major changes in the education system. Although the reality was that the Duma had only limited power, it did provide a national forum for discussion of educational problems. In addition to this forum, this new legislature worked diligently to devise various schemes in an attempt to remedy these educational issues. “For example, the Ministry of Education introduced into the Second Duma of 1907 a bill calling for universal elementary education, free and accessible to all classes of children” (Long and Long 6). Even though this bill was never actually passed into law, it did bring about change in Russia’s educational system. The Ministry of Education actually began implementing many of the provisions of this bill; among these provisions, was the increasing the length of primary school from three years to four years. Five years later, the Third Duma made another attempt to establish a ladder system of schools in 1912, but once again, the Duma failed in its endeavours. It would not be until 1915 that the New Statute of Primary Schools, which called for the gradual introduction of compulsory education, would be introduced, and it would not be until the establishment of the Soviet government years later that this idea would actually be acted upon (Long and Long 6).
Russian Student Community: Studenchestvo
Students in Russia during the early twentieth century were highly vocal on topics of great controversy. In fact, the Russian student community, known as studenchestvo, was often involved in the various aspects of Russian political and social life. For example, these students took part in the development of political parties, the Christian renaissance, as well as the spread of national and workers’ movements. In addition, they partook in countless debates on issues such as women’s rights, legalized prostitution, and even issues of anti-Semitism and the rights of Jews. These students were also involved with numerous literary, cultural, artistic, and intellectual currents. Furthermore, studenchestvo also was a major voice in the disputes over the political and academic roles of higher education in Russia. Considering the number of issues that studenchestvo took interest in, it is obvious that this group of students was a major part of Russian population.
“Perhaps best known for their radical politics, students had held a series of nationwide strikes and protests between 1899 and 1904, and in the autumn of 1905 they turned the universities into crucial sites of revolutionary activism” (Morrissey 2). There is no doubt that the studenchestvo was one of the most politically active and socially engaged factions in Russian society during this time period, even in spite the government’s efforts to smother such activism. In fact, the group only grew stronger as the number of students and the range of higher educational institutions expanded radically; this expansion supported the growing demand for trained specialists (ex., engineers, lawyers, teachers, etc). From 1905 and lasting for well over a decade, the world of higher education formed a “microcosm of Russia’s educated society” (Morrissey 2).
StudencheskiÄ al´manakh. KÄ«ev (Morrissey 3)
During 1905-1906, known as the revolutionary years, as well as the relative freedom of the press that came about in the subsequent years, students were able to publish many newspapers, journals, and volumes of collected articles. These newspapers were commonly fleeting as a result of external political pressures; however, they did offer significant insight. These sources provided unique access to the mixed and complex world of the university, given that they included academic and scholarly currents as well as the activities of the hundreds of student groups that flourished during this era. Collectively, this collection of writing offered “a cross-section of Russia’s student press, including publications from both capital and provincial cities, and from both the extreme left and the extreme right” (Morrissey 2).
Politics in the Academy
Dating back as early as the mid 1800s, students in Russia have always had a reputation for political radicalism, and after 1905, this reputation was stronger than ever. For example, progressive students were involved in two national strike movements, one in 1908 and one in 1911. In addition, these students continued to voice out and participate in national politics such as leading a movement against the death penalty in 1910 and even protesting the Beilis case in 1913 in which a Jewish man was prosecuted for the ritual murder of a Christian child. In short, the student press provided a vital source on Russia’s political life, including the development of organizations and ideologies.
Alston, P.L. Education and the State in tsarist Russia. California: Stanford University Press, 1969.
Long, D and R. Long. Education of teachers in Russia. Westport. CT: Greenwood Press, 1999.
Morrissey, S. Russia’s Student Press, 1901-1917 (Brochure). London: IDC Publishing. 08 Mar 2010
RUTKEVICH, M. N. “The Dynamics of the Level of Education of the Population of Russia in the Twentieth Century.” Russian Education & Society 50.4 (2008): 6-25. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.
Seregny, S.J. Russian teachers and peasant revolution: the politics of education in 1905. USA: Indiana University Press,1989.
Williams, Beryl. “RUSSIA 1905.” History Today 55.5 (2005): 44-51. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 4 Mar. 2010.
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