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Putin pledges long-term increase in spending

RUSSIA

ACTING President Vladimir Putin has awarded teachers a 20 per cent pay rise and pledged to increase education spending tenfold over the next decade.

But the unexpected pre-election windfall for teachers, who earn on average 650 roubles (pound;15) a month, may not be enough to keep up with inflation when it comes into effect on April 1.

At the moment, village teachers in the St Petersburg region of north-west Russia are having to supplement their salaries by working as sweepers in the local cemeteries.

Mr Putin, in one of his first moves since formally declaring his candidacy for the presidency left vacant by Boris Yeltin's resignation, signalled that he would make dramatic long-term increases in education spending and fund an extra year of compulsory schooling.

Deputy education minister Vladimir Shadrikov said Russia hopes to increase the percentage of gross domestic product spent on education from today's miserly 1 per cent to 6 per cent by 2005, with a further rise to 8 per cent by 2010. This compares with 4.5 to 6.5 per cent in most of western Europe.

But most of that funding would be coming out of the local rather than the federal budget and would be spent on expanding the year of compulsory schooling from nine to ten.

Other countries from the former Soviet Union that are worse off, such as the Ukraine, already run a 12-year education system, but most of Russia has still to take the plunge.

The main obstacle is lack of finance to upgrade crumbling school buildings that have not been repaired for 20 years and outdated teaching equipment.

Representatives from Russian regions who attended a teachers' conference in Moscow on January 13 warned that cash-strapped local budgets were unable to finance existing demands let alone new ones, and they complained of primitive conditions throughout the country.

Village schools in Bryansk Region, in western Russia, for instance, have not been upgraded since the Second World War. Many of them are built of wood and are still heated with wood-fuelled stoves, with water being carried in buckets from wells.

Pupils have to share tattered textbooks and use lumps of limestone instead of standard blackboard chalk. There are no computers.

At the moment, almost half Russia's school-children receive only an eight-year education because there are just not enough teachers or classrooms to complete the compulsory ninth year.

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