Achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The Russian Federation.
In this article Olga Sheremetova, currently a student in the Master programme Higher Education Research and Development at the University of Kassel, Germany, explains how the Russian Federation is working on the Millennium Development Goals’ implementation.
“Without excellent primary education, we are building our learning society on sand”
- Dominic Cadbury, Ex-Chancellor of Birmingham University
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were approved by the United Nations (UN) aim at structuring all the numerous problems and issues of the modern times, which are urgent and need immediate attention from governments of all countries around the world. These eight goals are the most broad supported and comprehensive goals the world has ever agreed upon. They include goals and targets on income, poverty, hunger, maternal and child mortality, diseases, gender inequality, environmental degradation and the global partnership for development. Because of the different levels of economic advancement, political situation, social development and many other aspects, all the countries have diverse results and progress in the process of the MDGs' achievement (Millennium Development Goals, 2010).
Speaking about the MDGs, concerning their importance for the Russian Federation and the progress in their achievement, it is possible to state that Russia has very good results with regard to some goals, but in the implementation of others it is very far in comparison with other countries. Some of the goals don’t present a big difficulty for Russia to be achieved, while others even with a lot of financial contribution are hardly attainable in the nearest feature. It should be mentioned that the Millennium Development targets have not been widely operationalized by the Russian Government. Though the President of the Russian Federation has announced an ambitious programme aimed at achieving sustainable growth and development of Russia, where MDGs are also taken into consideration.
The Millennium Development Goals in Russia’s context
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Office which is responsible for the implementation of the MDGs began its activities in the Russian Federation in1998, though UNDP had been present in Russia since 1993, when the framework agreement was signed with the Government of the Russian Federation (The United Nations Development Programme in the Russian Federation, 2006).
It is necessary to mention that in Russia internationally accepted MDGs were adopted and customized to better fit the country-specific context. The Russian Federation is a very special case. On the one hand, it is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and member of the G8 club of the world's leading nations. On the other hand the problem of poverty is very serious and particularly visible at the regional level. Russia has significant potential in education, and well-developed health care system but bad indicators in the last mentioned issue are mainly a result of prevailing unhealthy lifestyles. The growing spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, mostly affecting young people, undermines the country's economy and the social sector. The other factors such as poor quality of education in rural areas, high risk of natural and man-made disasters as well as remaining gender and other inequalities in public service significantly slow down the achievement of the MDGs.
The Russian Federation annually publishes the National Human Development Reports, which are prepared by a team of Russian experts and consultants under the joint initiative of the Government of the Russian Federation and the UNDP. It is clearly seen from these reports that practically all of them do not structured according to the MDGs, and every report is devoted to a particular issue, which partly reflects the indicators of the Millennium Development Goals (UNDP. The Russian Federation, 2010). The National Reports do not directly present the information and the statistical data about the results of the MDGs’ achievement, as these targets have not been widely operationalized by the Russian Government. But the figures and analysis that are published on the official website of the UN in the Russian Federation give a sense of the country’s performance on MDGs (unfortunately the data were not updated since 2006).
1. Eradicate extreme poverty
It’s difficult to say that the first goal is achieved: the number of people living under the official poverty line which is around 2.33 USD a day (around 7.07 USD at PPP exchange rate) is now 22.5% of the population.
2. Achieve universal primary education
Primary education enrollment has remained around 99%, so the global goal has already been achieved, however reaching a more ambitious goal of 99% coverage with basic education is still ahead, with current average of 90%.
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
Though Russia has certainly reached the global goals based on such indicators as ratio of girls to boys in primary education (0.95) or female share of non-agricultural wage employment (50/50), latent, not direct gender discrimination problems are to a greater degree topical for Russia. Level of political participation of women remains low. Whereas women amount to 71% of the total number of public servants in the country, they hold only 12% of the highest positions.
4. Reduce Child Mortality
Over the recent years the indicator of infant mortality rate in Russia has been in steady decline. But in spite of this fact the present day infant mortality rate in Russia is as five times higher as in the countries with the least indicator (in 2006 the least indicator was registered in Finland - 3.22%, while in Russia it was 14.6%), and it is 3.5 times higher the average in the European Union. The goal is not achieved.
5. Improve maternal health
Even though the maternal mortality rate in Russia has been steadily declining, its level remains quite high by Western European standards. The present-day maternal mortality rate in Russia is comparable with the rates registered in the European Union countries, USA and Japan in mid-70ies. The goal is not achieved.
6. Combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases
This goal is very hard to be achieved and the results of its implementation are very modest. High estimates of the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Russia at the end of 2006 ranged from 840,000 to 1,000,000 (Federal AIDS Centre). The situation with tuberculosis also takes a turn for the worse. In the course of 11 years (from 1990 till 2001) the number of newly detected cases of infectious form of TB increased by 2.58 times, and the number of deaths caused by TB grew 2.47 times. In spite of the visible increase in leadership and commitment to combat all these diseases the goal number 5 is far to be reached by 2015.
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
Though the coverage of land area by forests remains at a relatively high level (50%) and access to safe drinking water is also high (96%), such indicators as GDP per unit of energy use ($ 1.6 in Russia as compared to $ 3.3 in Canada and $ 4.4 in Sweden) as well as high carbon dioxide emissions show that the economy in the Russian Federation is not yet environmentally sustainable. The Government states that the undertaken measures will make the target attainable in the nearest future.
8. Develop a global partnership for development
As a G-8 member and a member of the Security Council, Russia is continuing to play a major role in the world political affairs, peace keeping operations and combat of terrorism. Economically, Russia is also an emerging donor, both in terms of official development assistance (monetary contributions in 2006 amounted to $ 11 millions) and technical assistance (crisis prevention and recovery, emergency relief). According to these indicators Russia has an opportunity to achieve this goal (United Nations in the Russian Federation, 2010).
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education in the Russian Federation. National Human Development Reports
All the National Development Reports include the chapters devoted to education, but chiefly they don’t present the pure information about the implementation of the second MDG, because it is supposed that this goal has been already achieved and the following indicators prove this.
According to the data for the year 2009, the literacy rate of 15-24 years old for both sexes estimates 99.7%; the literacy rate of 15-24 years old for men is 99.6%; the literacy rate of 15-24 years old for women - 99.8%. The enrolment ratio in primary education (data for the year 2008) for both sexes estimates 94.1%; the enrolment ratio in primary education for boys is 93.7%; and for girls it is a little bit higher - 94.6% (MDGs Indicators, 2011). On the basis of these facts, it is clear that Russia has very good achievements in this goal implementation and for this reason the National Human Development Reports disclose other issues related to education and mainly not only to primary education but higher as well.
For example, the chapter about the education in the National Human Development Report for the year 2001 is dedicated to the theme “The Generations and Education”. It gives the detailed overview on the development of the Russian system of education and the changes in it after the Soviet Union collapse, the change in the attitude towards education and the new demands of the educational system. The new tendencies, innovations and reforms in school and university state education as well as the problems that have arisen because of fast transformation of the educational system are depicted in this chapter (Bobylev, 2002). The National Human Development Report for the years 2002/2003 practically doesn’t include any information about the education as its main theme is the economic growth in the country. The National Human Development Report for the year 2004 “Towards a Knowledge-based Society” regards the human development as the key factor on the way to a new society in the context of ongoing reforms in all spheres of life in the Russian Federation. This report strives to examine human development through the lens of a society based on knowledge, in which people, their educational attainment, cultural heritage, welfare, health, and capacity for free choice determine national potential. The particular attention is paid to such issues as education and the labor market, human development and intellectual potential of Russian regions, and intellectual capital (Bobylev, 2004).
Only the National Human Development Report for the year 2005 has as its subject particularly the eight MDGs and their implementation in the Russian Federation. Chapter 2 particularly deals with questions of the Russian education in the context of the UN MDGs: current situation, problems and perspectives. Quality and conformity of education are perceived as top priority issues for the Russian economy to be competitive, and to improve the well-being and quality of life of the Russian population. Moreover, as it comes from the National Report, for Russia, being very successful in achieving basic educational goals, the target of education development in the spirit of MDGs is to involve socially vulnerable groups and children from low-income families in the education and socialization processes, and to equalize financing and accessibility of the general secondary and primary levels of education between all regions, which will hopefully result in the decrease in regional differences in availability of good-quality secondary education. The other tasks are to update the content of general education and to improve the compliance of vocational and tertiary education with the modern economic environment and labor market requirements (Bobylev & Alexandrova, 2005).
The central theme of the National Human Development Report for year 2006/2007 is encapsulated in its title, “Russia's Regions: Goals, Challenges, Achievements”. Emphasis is put on the diversity of development priorities and of the means, which different regions have at their disposal for improving the quality of life. In this case the particular attention is paid to the importance of the development of education in the regions (Bobylev & Alexandrova, 2007). The National Human Development Report for the year 2008 “Russia Facing Demographic Challenges” and for the year 2009 “Energy Sector and Sustainable Development” are devoted to such acute problems as unfavorable demography in Russia and the impact of the energy sector on the country’s economy, which do not include direct information related to the issue of education.
The National Project “Education” and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in its framework
In the special report “The MDGs and Russia’s National Projects: Strategic Choices”, published in 2006, the main attention is paid to the National Projects that were launched by the Government of the Russian Federation in order to fulfill the MDGs. The Project “Education” was directed to achieve the new targets in sphere of education that were defined by the Government in the context of the MDGs adapted for Russia:
- bolstering human potential by updating educational content and reorienting it to meet the requirements of the labour market, and
- increasing access to education at various levels for socially vulnerable population groups and residents from various regions throughout the country.
The National Project “Education” and the MDGs are closely connected with the economical and social aspects of education. The measures of the National Project for updating the content of education and improving compliance of education with labour market requirements are mostly evident. According to the National Project the updating of educational content is fulfilled through public support to schools and universities, introducing innovative programmes and developing modern approaches, supplying schools with computers and designing educational Internet resources. Additionally, educational content naturally will be updated through the establishment of national universities and business schools in some districts. Such aspects of the National Project as, for example, the awarding of grants to talented young people could indirectly increase the access to education for all groups of the population. The introduction of supplementary payments for class supervision, when teachers work and help more children from socially vulnerable families, might also have a positive effect. The development of a system of vocational training in the army and the purchase of school buses for rural areas could also improve the situation with the access to education (Kiseleva & Kononova, 2006).
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to monitor the results of the National Project “Education” as no other data were published on this issue after 2006. But some indicators as the expenditure of 300 million rubles on the purchase of 100 distance-learning programmes in 2006–2007 allow to make the conclusion that some real measures are undertaken.
New State educational standards for primary school education in the Russian Federation
As it is stated in the MDGs adapted for Russia, to update the content of general education is among the targets of high importance, that’s why the Government put a lot of afford to modernize the education, primary school education in particular.
On the 6th of October 2009 by the Order of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation № 373 the new Federal State educational standards for primary school education were approved. Every educational establishment, failure being not an option, has to introduce the new standards of education from the 1st of September, 2011 (Fursenko, 2009).
In the conception of the modernization of primary education the following principles were formulated:
1. The principle of humanistic nature of teaching, which is build on the norms of respect and friendly relationships to each other, the exclusion of violence and the creation of favorable conditions for the development of students’ personality.
2. The principle of democratization of the educational process, which means that teachers treat students as equals, and choose various methods and forms of interaction.
3. The principle of activity in the educational process, which presupposes the development of the personal qualities of students and abilities to produce knowledge on their own. Students should learn themselves, a teacher should only help and support in the process of acquiring knowledge. The process of teaching and learning should be creative in order to improve children’s imagination and thinking.
4. The principle of standardization of education; all the educational programmes taught at schools must correspond to the current requirements of state educational programmes (Leontev, 2001).
5. The principle of the importance of each development stage, when a student can fully use all opportunities, which are characteristic for this age period.
6. The principle of individualization of education, which allows every child to display his/her individuality and creativity, taking into account their physical and mental capabilities.
7. The principle of social and cultural openness of education, which means respect for the norms and traditions of different cultures (Vostrikov, 1999).
In view of these innovations and changes of the educational process, the following new goals of teaching in primary school were formulated: development of moral features, skills of communication and cooperation between students; strengthening of physical and psychical health; shaping of educational self-determination; support of children's initiatives in all activities; and the development of each child’s individuality (Kiselev, 2000).
The Russian Federation represents a special case for the MDGs’ implementation, because in some issues it has good indicators, in others it has very unsatisfactory results. For this reason the MDGs-based targets have been adapted and modified for Russia according to its needs.
Analysis of Russia’s progress towards the adapted MDGs shows some improvement in equal access to education for all social levels. However, trends in education quality are negative. Such problems as the differences in quality of general education between various regions and the failure of the quality and content of professional education to meet the needs for the labour market and the modern economy are mostly evident.
The Russian Government seems to be fully familiar with these problems. Documents, which have been developed and approved by the Government and the Ministry of Education, should hopefully change the dramatic trends in the nearest future. The success will mainly depend on the systematic introduction of these measures and on the cooperative work between all governmental and regional levels.
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About the author
Olga Sheremetova is currently a student in the Master programme “Higher Education Research and Development” at the University of Kassel, Germany. She has already obtained a Diploma in the sphere of Linguistics at the Kostroma State University (Russia). In her research works she is mainly focused on internationalization, international relationships in the sphere of education and international student and academic exchanges.
She worked as an assistant of a methodologist at the Kostroma Teachers Training Institute and was responsible for the development of partnerships with the British and French educational institutions, which are oriented on additional education for teachers. The interest in the development of the international relationships between countries in the sphere of education motivated her to undertake an internship in the International Office at the University of Applied Sciences at Frankfurt am Main.