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Tuesday, May 26, 1998 Published at 09:11 GMT 10:11 UK


Schools decline in post-Communist era

Russian children do much worse than their parents in Soviet times

By Claire Doole in Geneva

A United Nations report says millions of children in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are losing out on a quality education in the race for economic reform.

The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, says there are fewer children attending schools and the education they receive is worse than before the collapse of Communism.

It says the situation in the former Soviet republics of Armenia, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan is particularly alarming.

The transition from Communism has for the most part not benefited the children of the former Soviet bloc. Education for all was one of the more successful achievements of the Communist era.

Teaching methods may have been authoritarian but attendance levels and academic standards were generally high. That, says the Unicef report - which covers 27 countries - is no longer the case; most children, it says, are receiving a worse education than pupils did 10 years ago.

Less money for education

The reasons are numerous. As governments struggle to liberalise their economies, they have less money to spend on education while at the same time they are faced with increasing costs of teachers' salaries and building maintenance.

The report says the situation is particularly alarming in the former Soviet republics of Georgia, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan as well as Bulgaria, where government spending dropped by more than 75%.

In Georgia one in five schools is unfit for occupation; nearly half need major repairs - and one operates out of a railway carriage.

Unicef says that not only is the education often worse than in Communist times but fewer children are enrolling - parents, it says, cannot afford to send their children to school.

Classroom attendance slumps

Nearly two-thirds of secondary school pupils are kept away in Kyrgyzstan because of a lack of winter clothing; and in Georgia, where a set of textbooks costs on average two months in wages, school attendance has slumped.

The report - which covers a region where tens of thousands of children lost their lives or have been orphaned by war - says the future of all countries depends on the education they provide to all of their children.

Education, it says, is vital to economic growth and should not be neglected in the race to bring about market reforms.

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