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Brothels, banks, but no nurseries

Yeltsin is under fire from the Communist party over the slump in standards, reports Nick Holdsworth.

The collapse of educational standards in Russia threatens a return to "prehistoric times" and must be vigorously tackled, according to Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist party of the Russian Federation.

Mr Zyuganov's remarks, made in the run-up to the general election on December 17, were a side-swipe at the policies of President Yeltsin's administration. He said the communists promised a return to the standards - but not the ideology - of Soviet-era schooling. A communist-dominated State Duma (parliament) is predicted after the December vote.

Addressing voters in Kursk, 300 miles south of Moscow, the 51-year-old party leader said: "When the Russians had their breakthrough in the space race, the Americans sent a commission here entitled, 'What does Ivan know that Johnnie doesn't?'" Its conclusion was that the space race was lost in the classroom.

"Today when I visit an aircraft carrier of our Northern Fleet, the commander tells me that for the first time ever his new draft of sailors are educated only to primary level. Not even in Czarist times were army or navy recruits so poorly educated."

Education spending in Russia trails far behind that of the West. Only 0.32 per cent of gross national product is spent compared with 2 per cent in America and 3.5 per cent in Israel, he said during a series of public meetings in universities and workers' clubs in the city.

The failure of the current government to fulfil its responsibilities towards the defence industry, transport, communication, technology, education and science, was an indictment of the destruction wrought in the name of democracy, he said.

"Our education programmes must contain the fullness of Russian history, culture and custom. Specialist subjects must be the newest, most up to date, and available for everybody, regardless of the thickness of the wallet, " Mr Zyuganov said in reference to the booming private-education sector.

He asked what sort of society allowed its pre-school education, once the best in the world, to fall into such a state of disarray that kindergartens were closed and "banks or whorehouses" opened in their place?

Tatiana Styukhina, a 33-year-old chief accountant who joined the party during Mr Zyuganov's visit, said that without a good education youngsters had no future.

"I feel very sorry for the young people who are growing up now. In the old days you graduated from university and you had a piece of paper which gave you a job. Now they don't know what to expect or if they will find a job."

Tatiana Merinkova, a 42-year-old engineer whose 13-year-old son Nikolai attends a state secondary school, said: "I'm afraid I won't be able to give him a proper education. I'm not sure how he will turn out or whether he will manage to find a job. He's at a general state school - we don't have the money for a private school." She wasn't sure that the communists would offer anything better, adding that she would probably support one of the democratic centrist factions in next month's elections.

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