Nationalists blast education reform as failure, urge scrapping of unified state exam

Alexey Malgavko
MPs representing LDPR, a Russian nationalist opposition party, have drafted a bill that would scrap the unified state exam, based on multiple choice tests, and reintroduce separate graduation tests in schools and entry exams at institutes and universities.

When the Unified State Examination (USE) was introduced, it was supposed to eliminate corruption and ensure that graduates’ knowledge is tested effectively and without bias. But today we see that the reform that started in 2002 by introducing the USE brings no results manifested in quality of graduates’ knowledge, broader access to higher education and reducing corruption,” the bill’s sponsors wrote in their explanatory note.

They emphasized that the current form of the unified exams is based on multiple choice tests and this “does not reflect the students’ real knowledge” and “only teaches the children to tick the boxes.” Another flaw pointed out by the lawmakers was that the rules of the unified exams were constantly changing and this turned the reform into “an inadmissible experiment with children and schools used as subjects.”

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The MPs said that canceling the unified exams would help to save funds allocated for the purpose in the federal budget. LDPR lawmakers also claimed in their note that currently Russian colleges and universities could offer more places than the overall number of students. “Russian higher educational establishments can accept all who want to study there and there is no need for any unified exams,” they wrote.

Earlier this month, LDPR lawmaker Roman Khudyakov blasted the unified exams as an ineffective and even harmful step that led to the waste of millions of dollars in state funds. He claimed that the experimental tests held in 2003 demonstrated that the unified exam based on multiple-choice tests was completely unviable. “Our children have become dumb because of this system and sometimes commit suicide,” Khudyakov told RIA Novosti.

In the more than 10 years of its existence, the Unified State Examination has become a standard target of criticism from Russian parliamentary opposition and traditional academics. The head of the Russian Communist Party, Gennadiy Zyuganov, said in December 2015 that the system was “preparing mediocre gray personalities with fragmented thinking, incapable to grasp global problems and form minds capable of answering the challenges of the modern era.”

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In November, the rector of Moscow State University, Viktor Sadovnichiy, said in a speech to the Russian Upper House of Parliament that the unified exam opened higher education to poorly prepared schoolchildren without any motivation. Leading institutes and universities have had to turn to various contests in the search for talented students, he added.

Vladimir Burmatov, a representative of the parliamentary majority party United Russia and deputy head of the Lower House Education Committee, said in January that despite all problems the hasty cancellation of the unified exam could bring more harm than good. “The USE is simply a tool. Shall we ban all hammers because some people smash their fingers with them? The problem lies in the civil servants who carry out this program,” Burmatov told reporters. “Why should we change the mechanism, put the whole country head over heels and disrupt everybody? The early USE tests are just a few months away,” he added.

Burmatov has dismissed LDPR’s bill to scrap the USE as a PR stunt.