Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia's birthrate has been falling, and schools are now feeling the first effects of the early years of post-Soviet instability.
According to Education Ministry officials, the pre-school population will continue to drop over the next two years at least so that by 1997 the number of children aged three to six will be down 26 per cent and school age children between six and nine will fall a further 12 per cent.
Infant mortality statistics are also still worryingly high in Russia: at 18.6 per 1,000 live deaths it is three times higher than the rate in the European Community.
"We are taking every possible measure to preserve our pre-school system, " said Raisa Gorba, head of the Education Ministry's pre-school division. "It is not such a bad thing to have fewer children enrolled in each school. Besides, the drop in birthrate is a temporary factor."