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The language of excellence: Insights from shadow education in imperial and post-Soviet Russia
University of Gävle, Faculty of Education and Business Studies, Department of Educational sciences, Educational science, Curriculum studies. (SEP)
2019 (English)Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Introduction: The history of private supplementary tutoring (PST), or shadow education, in Russia dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century. The notable expansion of formal education after the liberal reforms of 1860s and increased importance ascribed to educational credentials were accompanied by the growth of tutoring markets. It was around that time that the word repetitor, that is, the modern word for a private tutor, appeared and gradually gained currency in Russian educational discourse. Since then, the practice of PST underwent many changes simultaneously adopting the language and ideology of the ever-evolving education policies. Today, private tutoring – or repetitorstvo – is perceived as an essential part of education by the majority of Russians.

Objectives: The present study seeks to contribute with knowledge on the interrelations between education policies and the practice of PST. More precisely, by focusing on assessment policies developed in Imperial and respectively post-Soviet Russia the study explores how those policies were translated into a specific language of excellence used for promotional purposes on the tutoring market.

Data and methodology: The study consists of content analysis of policy documents and tutoring advertisements from both Imperial and post-Soviet Russia. The historical part concerns the introduction of the number system for measuring students’ achievement and the subsequent assessment policies in the second half of the nineteenth century. A special emphasis is put on the regulations for Maturity Examination issued in 1873. After that, I examine tutoring advertisements published in the daily newspapers Novoe Vremya between 1869 and 1910. The second part deals with the introduction of the Unified State Exam (USE) during the 2000s and proceeds with an analysis of tutors’ profiles collected in 2018 from on one of the largest online PST platforms in Russia.

Findings: The so-called number system (ballovaya sistema) for grading students’ academic achievements came into Russian schools’ daily practice in the mid-nineteenth century. The need for replacing previous practice of verbal evaluations was justified by the assumed capacity of numbers to serve as a unified and objective measurement device that could protect children from personal bias. Regular measuring of individual achievements by means of tests and examinations was intended to provide a ‘fairer’ and more efficient basis for transition between different levels of education system. Eventually, a whole apparatus for centrally administrated nation-wide examinations – Maturity Examination – was developed to serve as a tool for final certification and selection to tertiary education.

A century and a half later, in the early 2000s, a rather similar transition policy was launched; responding to global neoliberal discourse, Russia introduced the USE as a common test for both school leaving and university entrance. By means of unification of assignments and testing procedure, USE was supposed to provide students throughout the country with equal opportunities for pursuing further education.

The analysis reveals some striking similarities between the assessment policies of the Imperial and post-Soviet Russia. However, the language of excellence created through those policies has considerably changed over time. This becomes evident in the practice of PST where references to academic achievements are frequently used to demonstrate the existing expertise of a tutor. In the nineteenth century, tutors put forward their academic awards and degrees, which implied highest scores in all subjects, without explicitly naming their original numerical value. In contrast, today tutors highlight their expert knowledge in one or two subjects by referring to “pure” numbers, which largely correspond to the USE’s 100-point scale. In both cases, the highly specialized - categorical or numerical - language of excellence might be unintelligible for the uninitiated.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
National Category
Educational Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-30944OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-30944DiVA, id: diva2:1370067
Conference
Culture and Education, ISA Middle-term conference. Moscow, July 24-26, 2019
Available from: 2019-11-13 Created: 2019-11-13 Last updated: 2019-11-14Bibliographically approved

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Mikhaylova, Tatiana

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CiteExportLink to record
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Citation style
  • apa
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