Why doesn’t the telephone ring? Reform of educational standards in Russia.

Elena Minina


The article explores the public perception of neoliberal idea of of 'educational standardisation' against the benchmark of local pedagogical practices and preferences in post-Soviet education modernisation reform in Russia. The analysis shows how the standardisation reform in Russia was developed in convergence with policy recommendations by foreign agents, rather than through consultations with domestic pedagogical community. Using a variety of discursive techniques, the article contrasts the interpretative schemes underlying neoliberal and local interpretations of educational standards and exposes several points of tension surrounding the concept at the linguistic, metaphorical and conceptual levels. While the official discourse positions 'educational standard' as a principle of educational provision, the public discourse interprets it as merely a reduced list of school subjects subsidised by the state. In further explicating specific conceptual frameworks within which particular meanings of ‘standard’ are instantiated, I identify two conflicting sets of frames within the standardisation debate: state control and pedagogy. One is associated with authoritarian pedagogy and state monopoly over education, while the other is rooted in the local pedagogical tradition of vospitanie through creative learning. I uncover a number of tensions in the interpretation of the idea of standard, including the oppositions ‘curriculum versus programma,’ ‘standard versus non-standard,’ and ‘whole versus fragmented.’ Within these oppositions, one member stands for the ‘humane,’ ‘fundamental,’ and ‘liberating,’ while another represents ‘restricting,’ ‘stereotypical,’ ‘mechanistic’ and ‘lacking individuality.’ Whilst sharing the initial points of reference, the value points appear reverse in the public and the official discourses: the official discourse construes the progressive idea of educational standard in opposition to the ‘grey uniformity’ of Soviet-era schooling, while the public discourse castigates the standardisation reform as a total displacement of personality. Straddling contradicting frames of reference, the official rhetoric exhibits a considerable degree of inconsistency, creating confusion in the societal debate and obscuring the direction of reform.

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DOI: 10.4119/UNIBI/indi-v5-i2-124