Duma proposes 'Soviet' changes;Briefing;International

5th February 1999 at 00:00

New measures to counteract domestic problems could stifle the arts, as Jennifer Louis reports

The state Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, is set to pass a new restrictive, Soviet-style curriculum. A parliamentary committee, dominated by hard-line nationalists and communists, has been working on the proposed educational shake-up for several months.

Its members believe the lack of a centralised school programme is to blame for the present brain-drain to the West, the ailing economy and the rising crime wave.

The answer from the Duma is to start all over again with a new curriculum. Many legislators believe a strongly science-orientated curriculum is necessary to correct Russia's economic shortcomings, and there is some doubt over whether the humanities should be included at all. The plan's supporters claim that foreign languages have already led too many Russians into trouble, even if they have not yet got as far as emigrating, and should not be learned below the age of 11.

It says the time-consuming subjects of drawing, drama and music should be squashed together into one lesson, "art", with hours cut to a minimum to release time for physics, chemistry and mathematics. Critics now wonder where future generations of Russian ballet dancers and composers will come from.

Computer courses would be restricted to two hours a week for 13-year-olds only. This would drastically limit pupils' hands-on computer experience, as home PCs are a rare luxury. Startlingly, the committee condemns literature as a complete waste of time. The irony is that, even during the years of communist censorship, Russians maintained high standards of study in their own poetry and prose. There's no room for literature in the timetable now.

In recent years, the ethnic minorities and the regions have been left to manage their own educational programmes, as have the small percentage of private schools. Under the new plan, they would be required to follow the national line on compulsory science subjects, which will mean less time for the humanities.

If the Duma votes for the new education standards, no amendments could be made to the national curriculum for six years.

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