Russian preschools

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Russian preschools of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries predominantly existed in the form of shelters and orphanages. They were mostly based on charity and directed towards the disadvantaged. Pedagogical principles were first introduced in preprimary education in the mid-1900s. It was the time when big cities saw the emergence of private kindergartens with fees charged for specifically Russian programs of bringing up children. Such institutions were mostly located in St. Petersburg and were accessible only for the chosen few. The rules were strict; the subjects included reading, writing, counting, and two or three foreign languages. In the period between the late 1800s and the early 1900s progressive preschools started implementing the principles of free education, as well as Montessori's ideas. In spite of the growing need and interest for early-childhood education and upbringing, the network of free kindergartens was unfolding very slowly. In 1882 there were only 37 preschools, 14 out of them in St. Petersburg. In 1893 preschool institutions received the first subsidy from the Ministry of Public Education. By 1914 Russia already had 275 preschools. 

The Declaration on Preschool Education adopted immediately after the Revolution of 1917 announced that preschools in the Soviet Republic were to become an organic part of the whole system of public education. The decree of 1918 subordinated all the state and private preschool institutions to Narkompros. The First Convention on Preschool Education (1919) came up with the initiative to create year-round kindergartens functioning nine or ten hours a day. In 1925 educators invented day summer playgrounds to accommodate peasants' children during the period of the most intensive field work. By 1927 the number of children on the summer playgrounds increased tenfold, from 15,000 to 150,000. By 1931 the number of children attending preschools reached 3,667,000.  

The ideological pressure of the period between the late 1920s and the 1930s resulted in the development of preschool indoctrination programs, collectivist methods, and strict official control from above. The uniform program of 1932 and a number of statutes and regulations formulated the official requirements for preprimary education, seen as the first stage in creating "the new Soviet person." Children's committees and meetings were organized. Dolls represented soldiers of the Red Army, workers, peasants, and Young Pioneers. New Year holidays were abolished as "a survival of the past." Fairy-tales were seen as "an obstacle to the formation of a materialistic outlook." Teachers interfered with the children's games if they were "ideologically unacceptable." 

During World War II the number of preschool institutions continued to grow. The need to accommodate the growing number of orphans, as well as the young children from evacuated families required more boarding preschools and children's homes. 

The three postwar decades (1950s to 1970s) witnessed a rapid growth of the network, especially in urban areas. By 1980 the network included 63,500 preschool institutions with 7,127,700 children. In the 1960s to 1980s the general crisis of the Soviet educational system revealed itself in the form of outdated preschool programs, exaggerated attention to ideology, unjustified unification, and a disregard for the children's individual peculiarities. 

The political reforms of the period between the late 1980s and the early 1990s gave educators more independence and freedom to develop new diversified programs, personal approaches, and nationally specific forms of upbringing. At the same time the economic state of preschools noticeably deteriorated. Most of the institutions were subordinated to the municipal administrative organs and were no longer financed by industrial enterprises and government organizations. In the 1993-2000 period 20,000 preschool institutions were closed; the number of children attending them decreased by one third (2,400,000), thus satisfying only 50 percent of the demand. By the beginning of the 1998-1999 academic year there were 60,250 preschool facilities attended by 4,700,000 children. 

Preschools have to be licensed and accredited as all the other educational institutions. Their network is administered by the Ministry of Education. Preschool teachers (vospitateli, literally "upbringers") are trained at 190 secondary pedagogical schools and more than 30 pedagogical institutions of higher learning.  

Preprimary education in Russia exists in the form of nursery schools (yasli) for infants aged six-weeks- to three-years-old and kindergartens (detsady) for children aged three- to six-years-old. In many cases the two types are located in the same building. The facilities include half-day, all-day, and boarding schools. They vary from year-round to seasonal institutions, the latter predominantly in rural areas. Special facilities are set up for children with physical and mental disabilities. Private preschools are emerging in addition to the state ones. A recent development, family nursery schools and kindergartens, is gradually gaining popularity. Alongside with games and outdoor recreational activities, preschool programs, especially in the last year of kindergarten, include classes, which would prepare the children for primary school: language development, instruction in reading, writing, counting, singing, dancing, and art. The nationwide interest for foreign languages accounts for their introduction into preschool curricula. An important part of preprimary education is the organization of concerts and parties, especially for the national holidays. 

Although specialists have different opinions about the future of preprimary education in Russia, they all agree that the main goal is to preserve and develop the existing facilities. On the average the network continues to lose 3,500 preschools a year. Over the last decade, the reduction amounted to almost 40 percent. The improved facilities accommodate a limited number of children from well-to-do families, while the demand for preschool education remains unsatisfied. The subordination of preschools to municipal organs in the 1990s created additional problems, the worst of which was insufficient financing. Educators suggest alternatives to the existing preschools: facilities with short-term stay (one to six hours) once or several times a week, on weekends, and with variable costs.  

The plan of the government is to include preprimary institutions in the system of general compulsory education and develop flexible programs with an individual attendance schedule in order to prepare five- and six-yearolds for school. The changes in the organizational structure will be based on the distinction between preschool education and daycare as a form of federal aid to low-income families.

Another area that needs to be improved is the content of preschool education. It has been criticized for "invading" the primary school educational space. Teachers, doctors, and parents believe that it is unacceptable to overload children of preschool age and thus deprive them of the period of childhood, which has a value of its own. In order to reform the content of preschool education, a competition was organized in 2000. The winners' program has become the basis for the development of the state standards, which are expected to ensure the children's smooth transition from the preprimary to the primary school level. 

General education school in Russia includes three stages: grades 1 to 4, elementary level; grades 5 to 9, basic secondary level; and grades 10 to 11, upper secondary level. The complete course totals 11 years in the general education track. There is no formal division between the levels, and the students (called ucheniki, "pupils" in Russian) usually remain in the same building from grade one through eleven. Separate primary or basic secondary schools exist only in rural areas. Since the mid-1960s the government has been making serious efforts to restructure the school network by combining small schools into larger ones located in areas accessible for the local children. In the first grade students are divided into classes of 25 to 30 people who study as a group throughout all the years of school.  

In the 1998-1999 academic year, Russia had 66,700 general education schools of different types with more than 21,100,000 students. As a result of the development of the private sector in education, there were 568 non-state schools (0.8 percent of the total number with 0.2 percent students). 

The history of Russian primary education is connected with monastery schools, which emerged in the eleventh century and gave children moral and religious instruction. In the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, "masters of literacy" taught small groups of students or tutored them individually. The foundations of the primary schooling system were laid in the early 1700s under Peter the Great. 

In 1782 the Commission on Establishing Schools worked out a structure of general primary education, which was introduced in 1786. The Charter of Educational Establishments of 1804 created a network of one-year parish schools. The mid-eighteenth century was marked by the development of primary schools for peasants and pronounced interest for educating female students. The reforms of the 1860s committed primary schools to disseminating basic knowledge and religion, establishing centralized administration of the school system, and introducing uniform curricula and textbooks. Primary education of this period was significantly influenced by the progressive social movement and the publication of pedagogical journals and books, especially by K.D. Ushinsky. 

The Statute On Unified Labor School published in 1918 after the October Revolution decreed five years of primary schooling, which were later replaced by four years. In 1934, after the reconstruction of the Soviet school system, primary learning became the first stage of the unified general education system based on the principles of continuity and transferability.  

Over the next decades the curricula and syllabi for primary schools were systematically revised and altered, depending on the political and economic situation in the country. In the 1970s the number of grades in primary school was reduced to three. The educational crisis of the 1980s made it obvious that the standardized school programs permeated with Communist ideology required urgent changes. The 1984 school reform lowered the school age to six, thus returning to a four-year primary school and trying to incorporate the world experience into Soviet education. The revolutionary political changes of the late 1980s initiated "deideologization" and "depolitization" of the school system.  

However, most parents, teachers, and doctors did not enthusiastically hail the transition to four-year primary schooling. The reform could not be carried out for many socioeconomic reasons: insufficient numbers of classrooms and teachers, absence of necessary facilities and equipment, and inadequate psychological and professional teacher training. As a result, a two-track primary education system developed by the end of the 1990s. According to the new program, children can start school at six years of age and study for four years, before they go on to the secondary level. The alternative is to enter the first grade at the age of seven and follow the lines of the traditional, more intensive curriculum, when the same material is covered in three years. In this case children skip grade four of primary school and go directly to the fifth grade. Though this process is somewhat confusing, it preserves the uniformity on the secondary school level. Educators hope that the coexistence of the two tracks will allow them to complete the reform by gradual transition to the four-year primary school program.  

The subjects taught on the primary level include Russian (and/or another native language for non-Russian students), reading, mathematics, nature studies, physical training, music, and art. Though the content of education is based on the state educational standards, schools and individual teachers have acquired more freedom in developing curricular and teaching materials. Gymnasiums, lyceums, and private schools introduce additional subjects (e. g., foreign languages, dancing). All the classes, except music, art, and physical training, are taught by one teacher who is also in charge of extracurricular activities (excursions, field trips, concerts, parties, and celebration of national holidays).  

The school year always starts on September 1. Though uniforms are no longer enforced in most of the schools, children, especially first-graders, wear white shirts or blouses. Primary school students study five or six days a week and usually have four 40-45 minute classes a day. The intervals between classes vary from 5 to 25 minutes. Each student has a special record book (dnevnik) for writing down the schedule and home assignment every day of the week. The teacher uses the dnevnik to record the student's grades and remarks about his or her behavior. It is considered to be an effective

 method of the teacher's communication with parents. The academic year is organized on a quarterly basis, with four vacations (a week in early November, two weeks for the New Year and Christmas, a week at the end of March, and three months in the summer). Students are graded for every subject at the end of each quarter and the academic year. The grading is numerical: five, excellent; four, good; three, fair; and two, poor (failure).

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Russian preschools of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries predominantly existed in the form of shelters and orphanages. They were mostly based on charity and directed towards the disadvantaged. Pedagogical principles were first introduced in preprimary education in the mid-1900s. It was the time when big cities saw the emergence of private kindergartens with fees charged for specifically Russian programs of bringing up children.
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