Here is my adventure to back to the USSR Education (1973 – 1983)
I was born and grew up in Soviet Union or in the USSR, a country which doesn’t exist anymore. My daughter, my foreign friends often ask me about my childhood, what was the Soviet school classroom like, what subjects we studied, what uniform we wore, how we spent our time after school and how we spent out three months summer vacations. Personally I am proud and admire of the education in the Soviet time, I have to compare with the education after perestroika (1985 – 2006) when my daughter attended the school.
Schools in Russia, Ukraine, Armenia, Kazakhstan and other Soviet republics (15 in total) were absolutely the same. A typical classroom in a Soviet school looked the same in every school. It had a black blackboard in the front, chalk, a wet cloth, and a teacher’s table facing the classroom. On the wall above the blackboard, in every classroom, there was a big portrait of Lenin. Sometimes there was also a big round clock.
There were three rows of wooden desks with benches or chairs. Each desk sat two pupils, and the teacher assigned the seats. Some teachers would sit troublesome kids in front; others would put them in the back. In the elementary grades, teachers usually sat shorter kids closer to the front, and taller kids towards the back.
In the Soviet time we started to go to school at the age of 7 years. From 7 to 10 years we had the same subjects which became more complicated each year and they were taught by the same teacher. At the age of 10 we had to say good bye to our first teacher and move to another level where we had to change classrooms for different subjects and each subject class was taught by a different teacher.
Soviet school uniform
Every child had to wear a uniform to class in the Soviet Union time.
Daily uniform for girls was a brown dress and an apron. The apron was black for every day, and white for holidays and special occasions. The dress had white, often lacy or trimmed with lace, collar and cuff covers. The white collar and cuff covers were removable (they were sewn on with a running stitch), and usually removed, laundered and sewn back on twice in a week or weekly.
Boy’s uniform was a blue suit – pants and single breasted jacket – made of wool, and a white shirt to wear under the jacket. Sometimes the boy’s uniform suits also came in brown.
Uniforms were sold in stores, but some families made their own. It was hard to procure (match) the right color fabric to make your own uniform.
A soviet pupil had one uniform set for a year, sometimes for two years, depends how you can grew for summer. In fact we all looked as a similar mass, but in reality every girl has her own bow in hair and collar and laces on apron and everything was very nice, romantic and suitably.
Soviet school supplies
In the Soviet Union, there wasn’t much variety of consumer products. Every school pupil in every republic, in every large city, small town, or a tiny village, had access to basically the same handful of stationery and school supply products. So our books, pencils, rules, even notebooks look the same. Funny! We wanted to be different from each other and our parents tried to be creative with us doing some design on out cover books or whatever.
If there were 20 pupils in the classroom – 20 definitely had the same model of briefcase or”portfel” ( it didn’t have shoulder straps), or “ranets” if it could be worn like a backpack and had shoulder straps. When we were 14-15 we changed our portfel for fashion bag. Regarding the rules it was not allowed, but teachers usually turned a blind eye.
Here there is an example of pencil box called “penal”, with pens, pencils and erasers inside.
Here is an example of ranets
Soviet school year
Soviet school year started on the 1st of September. There were no classes on this day. Children wore their holiday uniforms, and brought flowers to school teachers. For those who went to school first time, the day started with the ceremony of the “First Bell”.
Many proud parents attended this event. A tenth-grader carried a small first-grader, who rang a decorative brass bell. There were speeches and congratulations, and an organised line-up of all the grades. Then the pupils went to their classrooms to meet their teachers and classmates.
School year was divided into four quarters, each quarter was a grading period, and pupils got their grades in an official transcript called “tabel'”. Between each school quarter was a school break. There were four school breaks – an autumn break, a winter break (which always included the New Year holiday), a spring break, and a three months long summer break. It was just Fantastic!
School year ended at the end of May. Pupils at the age of 14 had exams at the end of year and could decide if to stay at school for 2 more years or go to the college where they can start to get further occupation degree. Those who decided to stay at school for 2 more years (15-17 years) were considered as the best years in school. In this age group we had a lot of activities in schools: balls, disco parties, concerts and walking tours. We visited theaters, galleries together with class leaders. Not all subjects were tested every year. Exams at the end of the last grade were called “graduation exams”.
Did you know?
Soviet schools had a six-day week – Saturday was a school day!
Soviet school day
Soviet school day typically began at 8:45 AM.
Some schools were too full, and worked in two or more shifts. Second shift started in the afternoon, when most students from the first shift went home. I was a student in such a school, and for some of my elementary grades, my class was assigned to the second shift.
Soviet school lesson
Each class in the Soviet school lasted 45 minutes. Each class period started with a school bell, and ended with a school bell. The bell in my school was electronic and heard in all the classrooms.
There was a small break between each class period, called “peremena” (literally, “change” in Russian). One break was longer and was for lunch. During the long break pupils usually went to the school canteen for lunch.
Did you know?
Soviet schools in Soviet Union had a number
Soviet school diary
A school academic diary was in every pupil’s schoolbag, from the first grader to the senior.
School diary is a pre-printed notebook for recording daily assignments, classes schedule, and grades (marks).
A school week record was on two pages; the page on the left was for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and the page on the right was for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Pictured here is the right page of the weekly record – it includes classes and grades for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and space at the bottom for a teacher’s and a parent’s weekly signature.
Each day’s space had a date on the left, a schedule of classes in the left column, and a space for recording a homework assignment for each class. On the right, there was a column for a grade entered by a teacher, and teacher’s signature. At the end of the week, a teacher and a parent signed the school academic diary on the bottom of the right page.
Subjects taught in Soviet schools you would not learn anywhere else
In higher grades, there was a class called “NVP”, which stood for “Nachal’naya Voennaya Podgotovka”, or “Introductory Military Preparedness”. This class was taught for both boys and girls, and my teacher was a retired officer who had all the habits of a drill sergeant.
In the Initial Military Preparation class, we learned about chemical, biological and atomic weapons, we learned to hide in a bunker and go through an obstacle course, we learned to use a gas mask, and we even learned to load, service and shoot a real rifle! The Kalashnikov machine gun was one of them and we learned to disassemble and then reassemble within a given time. Yes, we had a stock of rifles in our school and targets for practice just for this class. We also had a bunker where we could hide in the case of a nuclear war.
There was another interesting subject taught in Soviet schools, called “Labor”, which we usually didn’t take seriously. It was a class where for many lessons, boys and girls were taught separately. Girls were taught to cook, to sew. Boys learned woodwork and metalwork skills. Labor classroom was equipped with several sewing machines, and there was a workshop for boys with the necessary equipment for metalwork and woodwork.
In one of the last years of school there was another subject called “Ethics and Psychology of Family Life”, where we learned psychology and sex education. there was not a special book for this subject and class for this subject was read separately for boys and girls. It is important to understand that the majority of Soviet youth married early, many right after high school or during Institute / University.
History of the Soviet Union” or “History of the Soviet Communist Party” is another subject that you will never study in another country. this subject was completely re-written after perestroika.
Gym class in a soviet school
In Soviet Union, pupils get number grades in gym, not just pass or fail grade. Also, boys and girls have different standards for achieving a certain grade.
Pupils did the following in a gym class:
- Climb a rope hanging from the ceiling to the very top
- Boys would have to do a certain number of pull-ups; girls did not do pull-ups
- Long jump after a run-up to a line
- Jump over a bar of a certain height without kicking it down, after running up to a line in front of it
- Jump over a leather apparatus similar to a pommel horse in gymnastics, after a run up to it
- Do a certain number of push-ups
- Throw a ball a certain distance
- Run short, medium and long distances for time
- Run 100 meters competing with a classmate
- In the winter, instead of running outdoors, Soviet pupils in many places would cross-country ski for a timed distance. My school had enough skis for everybody in the class; but you could bring your own skis. I brought my own because they were waxed right for the weather, and fitted me well.
Grading system in Soviet schools
Soviet grading system was a five-point based system. Children got marks starting at the very beginning of school, in the first grade.
5 was the highest grade, meaning “excellent”
4 means “good”
3 means “satisfactory”
2 means “unsatisfactory”
1 means “fail”
A student who got mostly fives was called “otlichnik”, from the word “otlichno”, meaning “excellent”. A student who got mostly 4 was called “horoshist”, from the word “horosho”, or “good” in Russian. A student who got mostly threes, was called “troechnik”, from the Russian word “tri” that means “three”. A student who got twos and ones was called “dvoechnik”, from the Russian word “dva”, meaning “two”.
Soviet school rules
School rules varied by location, but those are some of the rules in the school I went to:
- Girls could not wear make up, jewelry and watches in elementary school.
- If girl’s hair was longer than shoulder length, it had to be plaited.
- Pupils had to stand up when the teacher entered the classroom, and could only sit down when the teacher allowed.
- Pupils had to greet the teacher loudly when the teacher entered.
- Pupils had to raise their hand when they wanted to talk, and could only speak when called upon.
- Pupils could only write with a blue pen.
Soviet school events and activities
In Soviet schools, pupils collected “makulatura” paper – used paper and “metallolom” – used metal for recycling.
Another common event was a “subbotnik”, “Saturday event” in Russian. Those were volunteer events to clean or beatify the school or school grounds. They were not mandatory officially, but everyone was expected to participate. They were usually held on Saturdays or Sundays.
School choir was not compulsory, but almost everyone who could carry a tune was recruited for it and obliged to attend frequent rehearsals and competitions.
Academic and sport competitions for the region, city, republic and whole country were called “Olympiada“. The best pupils in each subject were sent to the subject Olympiads for the local region, and if they won, they would move up to the next level. Olympiads were always held on Sundays, the only school-free day of the week.
Sometimes Soviet pupils went on class trips out of town. Those trips were mostly for higher grade pupils.
Soviet school canteen food
Soviet school canteen food was the same everywhere you go. The recipes were standard, and if the cooks were honest and didn’t steal much milk, butter, meat and other school lunch ingredients for their families, the food was nutritious and the taste was not too bad. The school omelette was exceptionally thick and didn’t lose its thickness when cool.
In the USSR, a pupil could bring their own lunch, or buy lunch or breakfast for a nominal price in the school canteen.If they brought their own food, they were not allowed to have in the class, they should go to the canteen.