Russian Schools: Soviet Era (1917-92)


Figure 1.--This photograph shows boys and girls in a Soviet primary school about 1978. Notice the hairbows, pinafores and pins. Also notice the book bag. The girl;'s pinafores here are rathr plain. We have noted some images where the girls had pinafores with extensive lace trim and frills.

We still have only limited information on Soviet school uniforms. Most of our information comes from the photographic record. We note a few children wearing school uniforms in the earliest years of the Soviet Union, but not very many. We see a lot of boys wearing military styled uniforms in the Tsarist era, but this disappeared with the Revolution. It seems to be primarily a economic matter. Many parents could not afford uniforms. Abd we are unsure abviout availbility. These uniforms seem especially prevalent in the cities. Children in the country side because of the widespread poverty may not have worn the inifotm as commonly. Presumably as conditions improved after World War II (1939-45). The War damage was enormous and the immediae pot-War years were diffuicult. Condiriibns were improivig in the 1950s ahd we begin to see more uniforms. Wearing the perscribed school uniform became common place throughout the country (1960s). Assessing Soviet schools is a little complicated, becaus it basically consisted of the old Tsarist Empire with many ehnic groups and nationalities. Today what was the Soiviet Union is 16 independent countries. Rather than create a special section on the Soviets, we will assess them as part of the Russian section, but when non-Russian Soviet schools are identigfied, deal with them a part of the specific coynbtry school pages.

Education System

The Soviets built a very impressive public school system offering a free public education to all. It had its weaknesses, but also strengths. There were no dark holes such as the inner city schools in the American system. Academic standards did, however, vary across the country. The principal difference was betweem urban anbd rural schools. Another problem was social class. Many children without the preferred background (worker and peasant origins) were disadvantaged in access to higher education. As to high academic standards. This is a tough one. In the humanities, how do you measure high academic standards? The students were given the answers and they learned them. I wholly agree that they were not encouraged to think, even punished for it. So how you measure high academic standards I do not know. In the sciences it was a different matter. The Soviets had very impressive scientific achievements. You don't get that without high academic standards. And I worked with Soviet fishery scientists and can tell you that they were every bit as competent, but not as well funded as our scientists. Even here, ideology siometimes intervened. Sobiet biological sciene were significantly harmed by Stalin's support of ideolically based approsaches. And any assessment of the Soviet education system as to be put in perspective of our American system with substantial numbers of children leaving school functionally illiterate. And the fact that even well educated American kids leaving school with no appreciation of the importance and value of capitalism in our history and the world economy. This is the result of the pervsive left-wing ideology taught as fact in American schools, quite similar to Soviet ideological education. One undeniable achievemnent of Soviet education was the education of women.

Chronological Periods

We have had trouble assessing the Soviet school uniform trends. Before the Soviet era many schools had uniforms, especially city schools. There was no national uniform, but were detemind by each shool. They varied, but were military style uniforms. With the Revolution we no longer see these uniforms. We see fewer individual studio nportraits. Most images we have found before World War II show class groups with children that are not wearing uniforms, but do have red scarves. One major shift we see in the Soviet era is the increasing education of girls, especially secondary education. There were uniforms and often illutrations show the children wearing uniforms. We believe that it was baically a matter of parents not bgeing able to afford to purchase uniforms. We suspect that uniforms were most common in special schools for the Soviet elite in the big cities. We have not been able to find much written information so are basing our assessment primarily on the photographic record. Enormous damnage occured during World War II. And the immediate aftermath was very difficult, but conditions improved in the 1950s and we see more Soviet school children weating uniforms. Boys wore military style suit jackets, we think mostly blue. Girls wore bsaic dresses, often with pinafores. As the economic coinditions improved we see more children wearing uniforms. This continued throiugh the 1970s as the economy began to stagnate. In the 1980s the economic situation worsened and we see older students by the end of the decade becoming less compliant with uniform regulations. Older girls in particular increasingly objected to wearing pinafores.

Gender

One of the few important successes of the Soviet Union was education. The Tsarist education was substantially expandee. This included both the education of girls and of the working-class. Of course the system was tainted with ideological bias, but the schols for the first time covered the entire population and the in a short period viurtually the entire population was literate. Girls for the first time advanced beyond primary education in mumbers. Gradually girls began approaching the same level of educational achievemnt as boys. Despite this women were excluded from leadership poditions. Women could advance in technical areas such as schools and researchg institutes, but not leadership positions. We also see few women as directors of economic units such as factories and collective farms. We see a shift from single gender to coed schools. The Soviets had very destinctive uniforms for boys and girls. Many of these trends are similar to trends in Europe and Amrrica. One noticeable difference is that we do not see Soviet girls gradually diversifying their clothing by adopting traditional boys garments lkike jeans and other types of pants. Soviuet girls rather went inthe other direction. They not only kept on wearing dresses only, but added smartly starched white pinafores. This was not unknown earlier, but by the 1950s was a common unifiorm item throughout the Soviet Union.

Vintage Garments

We note some vintage school uniforms. What we have found so far is 1980s uniforms.

Reader Comments

A reader noted photographs of Soviet school children in an article entitled "The Soviet Union Today", in National Geographic (??, 1990). He writes "Those pictures always asthounished me. I never understood why girls uniforms stayed so old fashioned until then. Note that I find them really charming. The fact is they are clothed like in my childhood if not my mother's! Why? Do you have an answer? Do you know some Russians able to answer my question. I feel that today American style is up-to-date . Anyway, I am curious." We are unsure why the Soviets had such a school uniform. Hopefully our Russian raeders will have some insights.






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Created: January 19, 2000
Last updated: 1:48 PM 11/30/2018