State test to clarify mess
Russian schools are set to adopt a single standard set of leaving exams in one of the biggest shake-ups in education since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The unified state exam will sweep away decades of tradition - and, officials hope, corruption - through combining a bewildering array of school matriculation and university entrance exams into one secure universal test.
The controversial new system - already trialled over the past four years by more than 900,000 students in 65 regions across Russia - was finally introduced to Moscow schools last month.
Individual university faculties currently set their own entrance exams. But education ministry officials say that despite widespread opposition from university rectors who fear the loss of lucrative cramming fees for their own tests, the unified state exam will be established across Russia within two years.
President Vladimir Putin has given his backing to the introduction of the new exam, while officials say it has been well-received by students, teachers and parents.
"This is not a question of if, but when," said Yevgeny Semchenko, deputy director of the department for quality and assessment of the unified state exam in the ministry.
"The government will make a decision in the autumn on whether to extend the pilot period by a further year or move immediately to nationwide adoption and amend education legislation accordingly.
"A lot of university rectors complain about the new exam, but when challenged none of them can come up with concrete objections to it," he said.
Mr Semchenko added that Viktor Sadovichny, the rector of Moscow State university is even on record as saying that the exam provides a level playing field, allowing children from remote rural regions to enter the top universities.
Reports in the Russian media that the new system would only be adopted after a referendum of schools and students, were untrue and part of a lot of "noise" generated by opponents of the new system, he added.
The exams, sent out to schools in sealed packages containing 15 individual test papers with additional security features, had been specifically designed to prevent cheating.
Media reports of teachers opening the packages early and then selling answers to students were "rubbish", Mr Semchenko said.
The new system, developed with the help of the British Council as part of measures to support reform in Russian education, will replace Soviet-style oral tests and regionally-set exams. These have been much criticised as too vulnerable to corruption.