Soviets call for quiet classroom revolution
The Soviet Union is undertaking a massive restructuring of its educational system. The effort, which has long been forecast by the Communist Party leadership, apparently has a number of purposes. Among them:
* Trying to keep the Soviet Union from falling further behind in the high-technology competition with the West.
* Clearing up a mismatch between laborers and jobs that is throwing a wrench into the Soviet economy.
* Fulfilling certain ideological goals, such as ensuring the primacy of the Russian language in a sprawling empire that is increasingly non-Russian.
This is all part of an effort to make the school system serve the needs of the state more closely - a theme that Soviet leader Yuri Andropov has been proclaiming since shortly after he came to power over a year ago.
And it is also an admission that, as the leadership of the party's Central Committee concluded earlier this year, ''The present system of education has fallen behind life's demands.''
For children like 18-month-old Vanya, some things will remain the same. He will follow the tough six-day-a-week classroom schedule that is the norm here now. He will wear a uniform, as children currently do. And he will be schooled in the virtues of Marxist-Leninst philosophy.
But there will be some key differences. For one thing, Vanya will start school a year earlier than his parents did - at age six, not seven. He will be steered - even by the age of 11 - to make some decisions about his career. The virtues of work will have been drilled into him. He will have undertaken various ''work projects,'' and have visited a factory floor.
That is meant to correct a glaring inconsistency in what is supposed to be a ''worker's state.'' According to published figures, roughly 1 in 4 young people enters the work force without any substantial vocational training. They take jobs requiring few skills and get little in the way of continuing on-the-job training.
The result? What the Soviet Union calls a labor shortage, but what is really a shortage of skilled labor.
This has created problems for the Soviet economy, such as finding people to run complicated machinery and to install and maintain modern equipment.
This has serious implications for the Soviet economy. Lack of the proper ''psychological mind-set'' among workers has been blamed for the Soviets' failure to develop and use new technology.
So the vast majority of young people will be required to have some vocational training by the time they complete 11 years of schooling.
Earlier, the party had been signaling that the quality of such technical education would have to be improved. Old, rigid ways of training would have to be eradicated, said various party officials. New textbooks would have to be written. And teaching would have to be better.
Under the new plan, teachers will have to take five years of teacher training , not four, in order to be certified as a teacher.
It is a mammoth undertaking for the Soviet Union, which maintains 142,000 primary and secondary schools.
The unique problems of governing this far-flung domain were apparently considered in the formulation of the school reforms. The changes specify, for example, that students must be fluent in Russian.
That presents no problem for Vanya, since both parents are Russian. The impact on other children is less certain. The Soviet Union has over 100 nationalities in 15 republics. Only about half of some tain ethnic groups are fluent in Russian. Among some Muslim groups in the south, the figure is less than a quarter.
The Communist Party is insisting that the flag and emblem of the Soviet Union be prominently displayed in classrooms, and that the national anthem be sung.
That will be no problem for Vanya, because he likes music. Whether he will like - and profit from - the rest of the educational curriculum remains to be seen.