Eastern Europe

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By Jüri Lõssenko of EITF

Experts situated in Eastern Europe


Regional overview

Eastern Europe is defined for VISCED purposes as the countries of the former Commonwealth of Independent States that are mainly or partially in Europe, as judged by cultural as well as geographic frontiers. Thus in particular the countries of Transcaucasia are all included but Kazakhstan is not.

The complete list (including partially recognised countries) is:

  1. Abkhazia
  2. Armenia
  3. Azerbaijan
  4. Belarus
  5. Georgia
  6. Moldova
  7. Nagorno-Karabakh
  8. Russia
  9. South Ossetia
  10. Ukraine

For other groupings of some or all of these countries see Transcaucasia and CIS.

See also the Re.ViCa categories Category:Transcaucasian countries and Category:European former CIS

Education in Eastern Europe

In Eastern Europe, many countries have achieved universal primary education, literacy rates are high, gender gaps in primary and secondary education are small, and enrollment rates in pre-primary education have increased significantly over the past two decades. In 2008, participation in pre-primary education increased 9% since 1999. However, the regional gross enrollment ratio of 66% indicates that many children are still excluded from pre-primary education in 2008.

Over the past decade, progress towards universal primary education has been uneven across Eastern Europe. While many countries have relatively high primary enrollment rates, in some the numbers of children not enrolled are increasing. Despite demographic changes due to declining fertility rates, the regional primary adjusted net enrolment ratios remained about the same over the decade to stand at an average of 94% in 2008. Almost all countries in the region demonstrate improvements in the numbers of children out of school (at an average 32% compared to 1999).

Despite a significant decline in the size of the secondary school age population in Eastern Europe, the region’s secondary gross enrollment ratio has increased by only 1% since 1999, to reach 88% in 2008. Participation levels remained relatively low in some countries in the region, with gross enrollment ratio at 85% in the Russian Federation, for instance. Secondary school attendance and completion are strongly influenced by poverty, location and gender. Among 23 to 27-year-olds in Armenia, those from the wealthiest 20% of households have a secondary completion rate of 34%, compared with 8% for the poorest 20%. In Ukraine, the urban poor are 1.7 times as likely to complete secondary school as the rural poor.

In Eastern Europe, the growth of students who were enrolled in tertiary education in 2008 was up by more than two-thirds since 1999, and the region’s general enrollment ration rose from 38% in 1999 to 64% in 2008.

Armed conflicts and education

Conflicts in countries of the former Soviet Union have been marked by episodes of intense violence over competing claims to territory and government. Many of the conflicts have caused large-scale displacement, social upheaval and physical damage, along with losses in opportunities for education for some vulnerable populations. Tensions between Georgia and the autonomous regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia led to fighting in the early 1990s and large-scale displacement. Some 300,000 Georgians fled, mostly from Abkhazia. Renewed fighting between the Russian Federation and Georgia over South Ossetia led to another wave of displacement in 2008. Today, ethnic Georgians who have returned to their homes in Abkhazia report difficulties in many aspects of their lives, including education. The quality of education is often poor. Problems include a lack of qualified teachers, dilapidated buildings, and textbook and transport costs. Around 4,000 internally displaced children within Georgia attend separate schools. Georgian parents in Abkhazia face problems in getting children educated in their mother tongue.

Azerbaijan and Armenia have yet to resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh, almost fifteen years after signing a ceasefire agreement. Some 570,000 people remain displaced, and many children face acute difficulties in access to good quality education. In Azerbaijan, the government has made extensive efforts to address the problems of displaced children from Nagorno-Karabakh. Internally displaced students are supposed to receive free uniforms, books and access to higher education. Nevertheless, many displaced parents report having to pay for these items, and a survey in 2005 found that 58% reported being unable to send their children to school. The quality of education is also a problem, linked in some cases to the limited training available to teachers.

Schools in Eastern Europe

Further and Higher education in Eastern Europe

Armenia - A system based on two cycles, Bachelor/Master (Bachelor – 4 years; Master – 2 years), was introduced by the Law on Higher and Postgraduate Professional Education (2004) and by a government decree (2004) stating that all state universities should introduce undergraduate and graduate studies. Since 2005 all state universities have transferred their programmes to the two-cycle system. It is planned that by 2010 all universities, including private institutions, will base programmes on two cycles. The status of the previous Specialist’s qualification (5 years) was equalised to the Master qualification. Postgraduate education is conducted through two scientific degree systems: aspirantura (candidate of science) and doctorantura (doctor of science). The duration of Doctorate studies (aspirantura) is considered to be from three to five years for full-time and distant studies respectively. In total there are 26 state higher education institutions, of which 16 with their 14 branches belong to the system of the Ministry of Education and Science. The number of private universities currently is counted to be 67.

Azerbaijan - The new Law "On Education" adopted in June 2009 introduced a three-cycle higher education system. Since then the higher education system of Azerbaijan is comprised of the following levels: undergraduate (bakalavriat, post-graduate (magistratura) and doctorate (doktorantura). Undergraduate courses generally take four years (five years for part-time programs) and cover a wide range of domains. Their content and organizational standards are defined by the relevant executive body. Post-graduate courses typically last for 2 years (two and a half years for part-time programs), provide students with training in a certain field of study from scientific research or professional viewpoints and enable them to engage in professional activity, scientific research and pedagogical activity. The system of higher education institutions includes mainly universities (universitet), academies (akademiya), institutes (institut). There are 53 higher education institutions in Azerbaijan. 37 of these institutions are public, while the other 16 are private institutions. Some 141.697 students study at higher education institutions in Azerbaijan.

Belarus - Tertiary education includes two levels. First level: higher education providing training in areas of expertise and specialisation, confirmed by the corresponding qualification and specialist’s diploma (Diplomirovannyj Specialist 4, 4,5 or 5-year curriculum). The period of study in complex area of expertise (medicine and military) will be increased by no more than one year. Second level: higher education providing training in area of expertise, confirmed by the corresponding qualification and Master diploma (Magistr, 1 or 2-year curriculum). Graduates of higher education institutions also have the possibility of receiving postgraduate education, e.g., Candidate of Science (equivalent to a PhD) and Doctor of Science (doktorantura). In total there are 53 higher education institutions (43 state institutions, 10 private institutions), which are under the jurisdiction of 12 ministries and state bodies.

Georgia - The three-cycle higher education system has been implemented in Georgia. Bachelor, Master and Doctoral programmes have already been introduced in all accredited higher education institutions. Almost all students below doctoral level are enrolled in the two-cycle degree system (except for certain specific specialisations such as medicine). Higher professional programmes (umaglesi profesiuli ganatleba) have been introduced as a short cycle within Bachelor studies for students who are interested in acquiring practical skills. Upon completion of this type of programme they receive a qualification for a certified specialist. These programmes correspond to 120 to 180 ECTS credits. These credits can be recognised for Bachelor programmes if students continue their education. Bachelor programmes (bakalavriati) cannot comprise less than 240 ECTS credits whereas Master programmes (magistratura) comprise 120 ECTS and doctoral programmes (doktorantura) 180 ECTS. Currently there are 67 higher education institutions recognised by the state (accredited and newly licensed): 21 public and 46 private. The total number of students is 93.792 (as at November 2009) and 50% of students are enrolled in the four biggest universities.

Moldova - Higher education breaks down into two types of education – initial education and continuing training. Initial higher education is structured into three higher education cycles: first cycle - the Bachelor degree; second cycle – the Master degree; third cycle – the Doctoral degree. At the beginning of the academic year 2009/10 the higher education system in Moldova comprised 30 higher education institutions, including 17 state institutions subordinated to the Ministry of Education and some other ministries and 13 private. The total number of students involved was about 106 900 (excluding foreigners), 96 500 students in the first cycle and 10 400 in the second cycle.

Russian Federation - Higher education establishments (at ISCED levels 5A and 6A) deliver Bachelor, post-graduate Master and doctoral programmes as well as traditional one-cycle higher education programmes, leading to Bachelor, Master, candidate of sciences degrees and specialist qualifications, respectively. The duration of the programmes is: four years for Bachelor, two years for Master, three years for full-time post-graduate programmes (the postgraduate degree is known as the ‘candidate of sciences’ which is compatible with the doctoral degree of Western education systems), five-six years for one cycle traditional programmes, depending on the area of training. At postgraduate level there are programmes preparing candidates of sciences (compatible with the doctoral level in international terminology). The two-cycle system, compatible with the Bologna requirements, is new in Russia and universities are currently in the process of transition. Hence, the total number of students enrolled in the two-cycle degree system was, in 2008/2009, only 9.4% of the total number of students. Total number of higher education institutions is 1134, among them 660 state-, and 474 private institutions. Students are divided as follows: 6 214 820 students – state institutions, 1 298 299 students – private institutions.

Ukraine - There are four qualification levels in higher education: junior specialist, Bachelor, specialist and Master. They cover the 1st and 2nd cycles of higher education according to the Bologna Principles. The statistics data for 01.09.2009 state that 2,6 million students currently study at 861 higher education institutions, including: 21% in the junior specialist programmes, 60% in the Bachelor programmes, 14% in the specialist programmes and 5% in the Master programmes. Research programmes (assigned to third cycle) are implemented in a “non-Bologna” format, beyond the HE system: 1st stage – Aspirantura (postgraduate Doctorate programme), on completion, the degree of a Candidate of Sciences is granted (similar, but not equivalent to a PhD degree). 33,344 thousand Aspirantura students are currently studying at 245 higher education institutions and 276 Research Institutions. 2nd stage – Doctorantura (post-Doctorate programme), on completion, the degree of a Doctor of Sciences is awarded. 1476 Doctorantura students are currently studying at 157 higher education institutions and 92 Research Institutions.

Education reform

Majority of reforms in the region can be described with four main characteristics. 1) depolarization of education; 2) breaking down of the state monopoly in education by allowing private and denominational schools to be established; 3) increased choices in schooling options; and 4) decentralization in the management and administration of the education system (in particular, the emergence of school autonomy). Remarkable progress has been made in reforming areas such as curriculum, textbooks, and pedagogy: curricula have been updated; a private textbook industry has emerged vigorously; and significant changes were made in teacher training and evaluation practices. Other areas are fraught with many difficulties and are, accordingly, more difficult to improve. They include: rationalizing the number of institutions, establishing coherent education legislation, redistributing educational property, and redefining local finance and administrative control. In addition to budgetary restraints, issues related to equity, equality of opportunity, quality and efficiency, accommodation of demographic changes, the growing social and economic inequalities among students, pose constant challenges to the reforms. In many countries still the reforms are largely supported by programs such as the EU’s Phare or World Bank projects, as well as from bilateral schemes sponsored by Western European and North American governments and/or private foundations, e.g., Soros.

Administration and finance

Several countries in the region backed up stronger economic growth between 1999 and 2008 with increased commitments to education, but the recent financial crisis had an impact on government spending in education in some countries. Plans to reduce fiscal deficits among donor and national governments in coming years also threaten future increases in education spending. Eastern Europe reported a notable increase in the commitment to education, with education spending as a share of regional GNP rising from 4.6% in 1999 to 5.1% in 2008. Almost all countries increased their education financing effort over the period, and in the Republic of Moldova it grew by nearly three percentage points to 7.5%.

The period from 1999 to 2008 was marked by high economic growth. The rate at which growth is converted into increased education spending depends on wider public spending decisions. In more than half of the countries in the region, real growth in education spending was higher than economic growth rates. However, the remaining countries converted a smaller share of their growth premium into education financing. In Azerbaijan, for example, the economy grew at 16.3% a year on average, yet real spending on education rose by 7.8% a year.

Quality assurance

Levels of learning achievement vary widely across countries in the region. Progress in education quality depends on having sufficient teachers and ensuring that they are properly trained and supported. In 2008, Eastern Europe had a 17% decline of primary school teachers since 1999. Declining primary school populations lowered the pupil/teacher ratios to 18:1. Teacher recruitment at secondary level showed an 11% decrease. The average pupil/teacher ratio in secondary education was 11:1 in 2008.

International learning assessments have highlighted large differences in learning achievements between some countries and deep inequalities within countries. The 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) assessed reading skills of grade 4 students in forty countries across the world against four international benchmarks. In middle income countries such as Georgia, a majority of students had not acquired basic reading skills even after four years of primary school. In contrast, the Russian Federation was among the top performers among the forty countries, with a majority of students scoring at the two highest benchmarks.

School selection processes often influence variations in performance. High-performing schools often draw students from more advantaged catchment areas. In many cases, they also apply selection criteria that have the effect of excluding children from disadvantaged homes.

Information society

Over the last 10 years development of the information society has been gradual and the digital divide has been shrinking in terms of numbers of fixed phone lines, mobile subscribers, and Internet users. The mobile penetration levels, for example, are at about 40% in the entire region compared to about 90% in the Western Europe. However, the percentage of fixed-line users still exceeds the figure for mobile subscribers. Russia is Europe’s fastest growing mobile market, with the number of cellular subscribers more than doubling as far back as in 2004 from 36.5 million to 74.4 million. During the same year, Russia overtook Germany, France, Spain and the UK to become the largest mobile market in Europe. While Eastern European mobile penetration levels are slowly catching up to those in the rest of Europe, its Internet penetration level still lags behind, at some 18%. There is a clear need to take up new technologies and practices as well as train more workers in the field of information communication technology, but the development of an Information Society within these countries is anything but uniform.

ICT in education initiatives

Virtual initiatives in schools

Deer Leap Programme

Deer Leap was launched in 2005 by the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia as a national programme for integrating ICT into teaching and learning in Georgian schools. The aim of the Program was defined to facilitate the modernization of the education system in Georgia by creating a country-wide school-based ICT infrastructure and building capacity in modern information technology. The Deer Leap was approved to be a three-year programme (2005-2008) with a strong prospective of at least one more 4- year extension phase. Prior to Deer Leap program (data from 2003/2004) Georgian schools possessed 2600 unequally distributed outdated computers. Internet connection was very rare with a very low speed (33kbps) and high cost (sometimes up to 20 times higher than in the EU). Informatics was a compulsory subject in all secondary schools, the content of this subject was programming– frequently taught without computers. ICT was rarely used in other subjects and in school management.

After the needs assessment Deer Leap initial phase (2005-2008) was established to provide:

  • access to computers and Internet in each school;
  • availability of educational software and services;
  • availability and quality of technical support;
  • ICT skills of teachers and students;
  • integration of ICT into curriculum;
  • integration of Education Management Information System on school, district and national levels.

During the three-year period (2005-2008), the programme has been financed mainly from the state budget (36,7 MGEL), with additional support from private sponsors (7,8 MUSD).

By the end of 2008 the main achievements of Deer Leap programme were as follows:

Development of ICT infrastructure in schools: more than 26 520 new computers were provided to schools, increasing the average pupil/computer ratio from 250 to 22. All computers were equipped with Linux operating system and a set of open-source software applications. Internet connectivity was provided to more than 300 schools so that 60% of all primary and secondary pupils have access to Internet at school. Web-based collaboration environment for educational projects was developed and integrated with LeMill.net portal in order to support authoring and sharing the learning objects.

Teacher training: introductory-level computer literacy courses for teachers were developed and implemented nationwide, 21 540 teachers (out of 70 000) have passed these courses.

Digital learning resources: 310 Web-based learning resources have been developed for literature studies, music and art; 70 Web-based school journals have been published, 70 Web sites have been produced by pupils under social sciences project ‚My Environment‘. Georgian teachers have contributed 173 digital learning resources to the largest international educational repository LeMill.net.

Administration and support: most of the schools have hired IT managers.

Educational projects: Deer Leap Foundation has conducted several successful projects on the national level for integrating ICT into teaching and learning. In addition, schools have participated in international projects of iEARN and Global Gateway. Some collaborative learning projects have been carried out between Georgian and Estonian schools.

My First Computer program: 8 158 laptops have been provided for excellent pupils under presidential programme “My First Computer”

An action plan for 2009-2012 was also provided but the programme has been now scrapped.

Телешкола (Teleschool)

Non-commercial partnership Телешкола is fully accredited and licensed distance teaching institution, offering primary and secondary education in the general education system of the Russian Federation with the right to issue secondary school graduation certificates. Телешкола provides education and develops online educational resources for other institutions since 2000.

Центр дистанционного образования «Эйдос» (Eidos)

Distance Education Center "Eidos" is a non-profit private educational institution. They are engaged in distance education and professional development of students and teachers since 1998. The purpose of the Center is to develop and implement distance learning technologies in order to assist students and teachers in pursuing their educational needs. Eidos is nationally accredited as an educational institution. Teachers, students, administrators and other staff are located in different cities and even countries and carry out their activities using ICT. The Center works with thousands and in some cases even tens of thousands of people from different cities and areas. Currently more than 350 distance learning courses are offered in four categories: courses for all, advanced training of teachers, courses for students, job seekers, professionals, and courses for students.

Virtual initiatives in post-secondary education

See the separate country entries done by Re.ViCa authors.

Lessons learnt

General lessons

Notable practices


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