Russia’s Education Reform

by Ina Chiriliuc

Almost two years after Russia fully introduced its Unified State Exam (later referred to as EGE –“Ediny Gosudarstvenny Ekzamen”), students, parents and teachers are still dismayed by the change. The exam is similar to the American SAT-s and is a mandatory requirement for acceptance into higher education institutions. At the polar opposite of the oral exams and essays that were the basis of the Soviet testing system, the new multiple choice testing is supposed to be “directed against corruption and should be much more transparent”, according to president Medvedev, a strong supporter of the EGE.

Introducing the EGE is part of Russia’s commitments as a member of the Council of Europe, under the Bologna Convention on Higher Education. Besides its strategic role, this education reform is expected to introduce an unbiased, consistent and measurable method of evaluating students before they enter universities.

The intentions behind EGE are apparently the best, but people are still protesting; the main subjective reason being that it completely substitutes the once glorious Soviet education system, which was very focused on science and produced bright minds. Unfortunately the reality is that the former Soviet system has been lagging behind the rest of the world for quite some time and Russia has been losing its best high-school graduates in favour of Germany, US and UK. A reform was thus necessary. A more believable reason to reject the new EGE is that it has caused even more corruption, particularly in schools. Teachers were caught taking the exams in place of students for 40000 rubles.

Moreover, students and teachers complain that the new exams are unfair, very different from what they were used to and are unable to measure students’ creativity. They may have a point, but if Russia wants to reduce corruption and produce diplomas which are recognized in Europe, there is no point in fighting the change. It will take a while before the tests are objective and relevant, before students and teachers get used to preparing and taking them in a fair manner, but I think it is all for a good cause. With every reform, there will be supporters and opponents, but Russia may just be on the right track to a modernized education system.

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