Volume:7, Issue: 2

Aug. 1, 2015

Russian social education: times of change?
Selivanova, Natalia L. [about]

KEYWORDS: social education, innovations, personality, education, educator, professional development and training.

ABSTRACT: The paper analyzes and summarizes key characteristics of the Russian social education today. The author opines her primary reasons for the necessity of reforms in education and formulates ideas that might help providing the foundations of the social education progressive development.

Basic assumptions

Significant changes that have recently taken place in the Russian society in general and in the system of education in particular, as well as domestic and international challenges make it necessary to analyze the objective reality in the national social education theory and practice, and work out the strategy of its further development. Obviously, this choice cannot be random, and should rather be based on contemporary theoretical and practical foundations. The latter may offer a significant contribution to the theory, which, in its turn, will provide a solid ground for innovations in social education practices and the reevaluation of its efficiency.

The author reflects on the situation in the Russian system of social education based on the analysis of over 2,000 applications and reports submitted to different Russian foundations on various issues within social education. The author had a rare opportunity to analyze both the mainstream and innovative practices of social education by using personal observations, interviewing teachers, school administrators and parents, and also by studying school documents and multiple publications related to social education. All the above made it possible to define key characteristics of the Russian social education and suggest possible ways for its development.

Statistical analysis of the current social education system in Russia

Let us start with a quick look at the current social education practices within the system of Russian education. If to use an emphasis on social education as a criterion, we can distinguish three groups of educational institutions.

Firstly, these are educational institutions where social education is a number one priority. Such institutions have rich traditions of social education activities with tangible positive results which are revealed in their students. Unfortunately, such institutions often work under a pressure from various boards of education, which impose on them completely different priorities and objectives. In this situation, it is increasingly hard to maintain teachers’ motivation to practice social education. Moreover, a great number of decisions recently made in the sphere of public education, have deprived modern teachers of their moral mentoring statuses turning them, at best, into  “knowledge providers” or, at worst, into providers of educational services.

Secondly, a number of educational institutions that consider instruction to be of paramount importance, but still preserve some elements of social education. The latter is often realized through various afterschool programs. The number of such institutions is constantly growing.

Finally, educational institutions that reduce social education to a minimum, considering that it is an integral part of teaching and learning processes. Administrators of such schools believes that social education does not require special efforts or it could be significantly reduced.

Clearly, such a differentiation of attitudes to education currently prevailing in educational institutions demands different approaches to the process of arranging it in schools.

The present-day practice of social education is characterized by a strong differentiation depending on the age of students and the stage of their secondary education – primary, middle or high.

There are certain characteristic features that are common for educational establishments efficient in social education. Some of them are listed below:

  • an emphasis on the development of  “self-reliance” of children of different age;
  • search for ways of students’ social adaptation by teaching them to solve existing problems;
  • creation and development of humanistic social education systems;
  • development of the social education environment where teachers and staff take an active (and often leading) role;
  • •use of culture (world and national) as part and parcel of social education;
  • integration of comprehensive and supplementary education implementation of new informational technologies in solving social education issues;
  • •teaching a healthy lifestyle and serious attitude to students’ own health issues;
  • building various child-adult communities;
  • setting up various public associations participated by children, teenagers and their parents;
  • further developing teachers’ professional outlooks and their activity.

As for the mainstream social education practice within educational institutions, it can be described by the following:

  • creative group activities;
  • •search for new forms of creative activity;
  • domination of quantitative evaluation in assessment of social education efficiency, which is often initiated by educational administration bodies;
  • •social education with its current content, forms, methods and ways is no longer efficient because of a different social situation of personality growth;
  • a declared goal of social education (personality development) is in conflict with methods and ways of its realization;
  • there is no correlation between the goal, objectives and results of social education;
  • teachers’ reflection of the social education process is poor;
  • psychotherapeutic and religious practices penetrate into the social education process;
  • an increased role of social youth organizations, associations, and movements;
  • •difference in values’ systems among students and teachers.

It is not always possible to offer an unequivocal attitude to the above characteristics and tendencies. Thus, there is no doubt that creative group activities enhanced social education work on the above-mentioned levels of education. However, many educators do not even realize that they have taken just the first step in implementing the so called “communards’ method” which is essentially based on relationships born in a group activity. Unfortunately, intentional social education on the level of relationships is not practiced by many teachers.

Why are changes in the Russian system of social education necessary?

First of all, the necessity to change is explained by the challenges of the present-day world. Russia was a closed country for over seventy years, only few citizens spoke foreign languages and were able to travel abroad, read foreign press or literature, or socialized with foreigners. Today we witness a dramatic change in life. For Russians, especially young people, the world is becoming increasingly open. They do not only travel overseas but also study and work there, and explore customs and traditions of other nations.

Globalization has expended the possibilities of multicultural education. Availability of other cultures creates favorable conditions for people not only to identify themselves with these cultures, which contributes to better understanding of other (alien) values, traditions and customs, but also helps to promote the feeling of identity, when teenagers and adults learn to be patriots of their country.

The problem of teaching tolerance should also be considered through the prism of multicultural education. We find it most productive to understand tolerance as a value-based attitude to cultural diversity of the society, manifested in recognition, acceptance, and understanding of representatives of other cultural communities (Stepanov, 5, p. 10).

This problem is closely related to the issues of secular and religious social education. The Soviet society is known to have existed as an atheistic one when religious practices and rites were not only unwelcome but also persecuted in all possible ways. The present-day Russian school cannot ignore the church, especially when the latter is actively looking for the opportunities of cooperation and when our countrymen are able to learn about various religions. Indeed, Russia is a multi-religious country. However, there are still not many proper ways of cooperative interaction between schools and different confessions. We are currently witnessing two extremes: either schools try to build high walls to separate themselves from religious institutions, or religious institutions are actively penetrating into school life by promoting religious values, primarily, in the area of moral education.

The formation of Russian youth citizenship identity presents another problem to social education, which has recently become evident. Moreover, it has been declared as one of the top priorities of the new Federal Standard of comprehensive education.

In accordance with Shakurova’s research, students’ social and cultural identities can be shaped and developed within their referent groups and communities inside educational institutions and through interaction with teachers as important “others”. These processes of formation and development are impossible without a wide social and cultural environment and more precisely, without a social education environment that is styled after the former (7, p. 21). Educational support is one of the primary methods of developing students’ social and cultural identities.

A consumerist society, rapidly gaining its strength in Russia, has significantly toughened and complicated the tasks of environmental education. It happens so because the environmental requirements to a human life must be higher in the situation of an increased consumption. It is more complicated today because this society stimulates people to strive for more pleasures “here and now” and, most regrettably, regardless of the cost. Advertising contributes to this negative influence as it creates an illusion for young people that everything is at hand. Difficulties in providing environmental education are also created by the fact that older generations used to living in the situation of constant deficit of basic goods and services and have no positive experience and cultural patterns that they might have been able to pass to the younger generations.

Environmental education in Russian schools is closely related with the notion of “a small motherland” and should have a practical application. However, teachers should go further and involve students in dealing with global environmental problems by means of project-based activities.

Today, we observe an intensive spread of information technologies into all spheres of life including education. Nobody needs to be convinced that information technologies may dramatically change the process of education by creating favorable conditions for young people’s personality development.

The discussion of educational problems related to IT is widely covered in professional and general publications. Among the most common issues are the following: young people’s addiction to virtual reality, especially social nets; online versus face-to-face communication; a threat of websites promoting violence, pornography, religious cults, drugs, suicide, etc.; computer game addiction especially in connection with games which create the illusion of easy murder and promote various ways of violence.

It is also worth mentioning the changes in children’s behavior which are directly caused information technologies. John Palfrey and William Glasser say that children, who they call digital generation children, spend a great part of their life online and often do not see the difference between a real and virtual life. They have different ways of dealing with various information, they need different means to develop their identities, and they perceive their communities differently. They prefer to use the network environment as a primary source of practical information (4). 

Regrettably, the aforementioned is not actively applied either in family education or/and in other types of social education, especially in character building as part of general education system. Modern parents and children seldom put forth the task of reforming the process of social education which would take into consideration both positive and negative influence of information technologies.

Now let us focus on educational problems proper that call for urgent changes in the system of social education. Here are a few of them:

Firstly, educators cannot ignore the newly declared goal to reform Russian society. They are undoubtedly concerned with a number of problems, particularly, a lack of morality typical of the current youth for which parents and the general public must bear responsibility.

Secondly, the changes in education at large cannot but influence the system of social education. Social education is impacted by the unified exams, federal standards, and new ways of financing schools. These changes have radically modified the hierarchy of goals as well as school psychological and emotional climate.

Thirdly, it is vitally important for the process of children’s development to understand all these past and present changes related to them.

In his paper at the offsite session of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Education in Nizhy Novgorod (April 19-20, 2010), D.I. Fel'dshteyn singled out sixteen significant changes. The most important for social education among them are: lack of children’s enthusiasm or wish to be active or lack of inquisitiveness and imagination among teenagers; insufficient social competence typical of 25% of elementary schoolchildren, their helplessness in dealing with peers, and their inability to settle simple conflicts; computer and TV screen addiction and, as a result, an inability to concentrate on some activity, lack of interests; ADHD; poor and limited socialization with peers; increased cases of loneliness, rejection, and poor communicative competence. There is an increasing number of children suffering from emotional problems and being in constant state of tension and vulnerability, lack of support in the immediate environment resulting in helplessness. There are many children whose psychological development takes place in the unfavorable and uncomfortable atmosphere. Instead of leisure activities, modern teenagers are obsessed with looking for their own special meaning in life; they are more selfish and critical to adults. On the whole, there is a tangible shift of young people’s value orientations not only in comparison with the mid-1990s but also with the beginning of the new millennium.

Among the positive changes we can mention the increased number of gifted children including those with advanced thinking capacities, with leadership skills, with artistic talents, and, finally, children with impressive occupational abilities (8, p. 7-11).

Lastly, it is necessary to consider parents’ increasing desire to take an active part in social education within educational institutions.

Social education issues that need to be resolved

Now let us turn to the problems which, in our opinion, need urgent attention and resolution in theory and practice. They include the analysis of scientific and pedagogical paradigms; social and cultural context of social education development; interrelation of fundamental cultural values and those of contemporary social education; moral issues of life and students’ moral experience; shaping various aspects of students’ social and cultural identity; multicultural and multi-subject social education; gender issues in personality development; teachers’ purposeful social education work and their personality and professional development rather than formal execution of their responsibilities; definition of innovativeness in the sphere of social education and implementation of innovations into the social education process; analysis of social education potential of collaborative community activities, social education environment and social education space; possibilities of networking in building various social education objects; social education quality criteria and indicators.

What can serve as foundation of social education in Russia today?

We will start with the idea of open education because it is especially important for an individual’s growth at any age. Open education provides unique opportunities for creating such socially vital qualities as self-reliance, resourcefulness, initiative, responsibility, independence, and critical thinking.

So far, the advent of information technologies into the social education process looks rather modest. However, Russian researchers have already showed their potential for social education. First of all, it concerns the development of students’ information cultures. Technology also makes it possible to generate a global information environment in an educational institution in order to develop students’ creativity, independence, cognitive inquisitiveness, as well as the ability to obtain, analyze and assess the incoming information. All these aforementioned could be considered to be a positive potential for changes in social education.

In turn, the reform of social education calls for change in legal norms on various levels. For example, it will be necessary to introduce criteria and indicators characterizing the condition of social education into the efficiency assessment of the work done by executive power and self-governance bodies. Quality assessment may constitute a separate field of the social education theory. Public assessment of social education with the subsequent system of the integrated government and public assessment is gaining more weight as well.

No doubt, a social education potential depends on its scientific and methodological support. However, qualifications of teachers as social education providers remain one if not the most important requirements.

Even today we might hear that a teacher uses his/her class as a primary tool of social education. This can be explained by the fact that the role of social education is underestimated, and social education is still considered to be some kind of supplement to teaching a class.

Many educators today consider social education to be a part of moral and spiritual activities. If so, then a teacher should deal with meanings, values and relationships with another person, a student which brings even more importance to the necessity to provide future teachers not only with knowledge and technologies but also to concentrate their efforts on “shaping” their own personal and professional standings as social educators.

As much as it is important today, it will be more important in time to come, the development of social education largely depends on the design of a new system of teachers’ professional training in this field. This system must be based on the following principles:

  • orientation towards “shaping” teachers’ personal and professional standing as social teachers (rather than equipping them with knowledge and technologies), shaping their attitude towards themselves as participants in the dialogue among their colleagues, as carriers of knowledge or lack of knowledge in the professional area;
  • professional development through interaction with various trade communities which involve teachers into different types of social practices;
  • teachers’ participation in genuinely innovative practices of educational institutions;
  • using various approaches to provide teachers’ professional development with regards to differences in their professional activities;
  • orientation towards an individual trajectory of further professional development;
  • its implementation on different levels (federal, regional, and on the level of the educational institution);
  • realization of the goals and content within a self-defining professional community.

Both professional educators and the general public are beginning to understand that changes in the present-day social education are necessitated by time and urgency; and it is the renewed social education, as it has been for a long time in the history of the Russian state, that will serve as a foundation of each individual’s fruitful development.


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This publication was supported by the grant from the Russian Humanitarian Science Foundation, Project # 14-06-00089.

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