Quality of education in the USSR

This thread got me thinking about education in the USSR. During the Cold War the popular idea was that Soviet education was (1) less than worthless for social science due to propaganda but (2) equal if not better than the West in math/“hard” science/engineering. Was this a fair assesment? Were there any limits on math or “hard” science teaching for political reasons (e.g. “This was discovered by the
Americans so let’s not mention it”)? Could Soviet educators cover western literature or music?

This pretty much describes Lysenkoism.

It depends. Are you talking K-12 (well, at the time I went through it it was 1-10), or higher education?

My experience with USSR school system (from being a student) is the 70s. The compulsory (1-10) education system was not bad. The Math/Physics/Chemistry curriculum was strong. Russian language/literature was also strong. Stuff like History was obviously a lot of brainwashing. Foreign language teaching was useless. The education system was “meat and potatos” - with no organized sports, no official extracurricular stuff like “debate clubs” or “drama club” etc. etc. No music classes, although I vaguely remember a dance class when I was in 4th grade or so.

The “AP” stuff was usually not in school - it was outside. There were math- or science-“circles” in the local youth organizations, sometimes led by school teachers, sometimes by university personnel, that would teach advanced stuff to motivated youngsters after school. There was also a system of schools that were “special” - with emphasis on various things. There were foreign-language-emphasis schools which taught a particular language from very early grades and would usually graduate kids fairly fluent in that language. And there were math/physics emphasis schools, like the one I attended. You had to pass entrance exams to get in, the competition was fierce (1 accepted for every 20-30 applied), and the level of education was superb. That school was also allowed to kick out students for not measuring up academically. Graduating from it allowed me to proficiency out of 2 years of math, 2 years of physics and one year of chemistry in the US University I went to after I graduated.

I took a class in Russian History a few years back, and the professor said that Stalin, somehow, interfered with DNA science, which set, or kept back, Soviet understanding . (I could be misremembering the discipline, but, I think it was DNA stuff.)

Terr, can you expand on this a wee bit? As in, there were no classes offered, incompetent teachers, no money for books, if the student was good, they’d be kicked over to the special schools, thus making the classes worthless, etc…?
I think I know what you mean, but it’s just not gelling right now.


:slight_smile: The languages were taught, the teachers were ok I guess, but there was really no motivation to learn and they were taught kinda lackadaisically. Since there were very few foreigners you could practice with (the tourists were not that numerous, were tightly controlled by their “handlers”, and talking to them could get you noticed, and not in a good way), all foreign movies (not that there were that many) were dubbed in Russian, and except for few “approved” (read: not interesting, to us) books there were very few foreign books in libraries or stores, any opportunities to use what you learned were few and far between.

I studied German. 5th grade to 10th. Got an A in it in my graduation exams in 10th grade. I really could not hold a conversation in it at the time and today (granted, decades later) really don’t remember almost any of it.

Thank you!