The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW YORK—Forty years ago, before the Revolution in the Soviet Union, only about 10 percent of the people could read and write. Today education is free.

It is a little difficult to divide Soviet education and health and social welfare into completely separate departments, because the training of a doctor comes under education and certain medical institutes come under social welfare.

Actually, education starts in the first year of a child's life. From the time it is born the mother takes the child to the district center once a month for medical attention and is trained herself in ways of exercising and training her baby. Then the baby goes to a nursery, after that to a kindergarten.

From the kindergarten the child begins seven-or 10-year-school. At 14, when it completes seven-year-school, the child may decide to take a technical education. Here there may be three or four years of training leading toward some kind of a skilled job. A nurse, for instance, would have seven years and three or four more in specialized training.

If a child goes on to 10-year-school, it then must make up its mind whether it wishes to be an engineer, an architect, a teacher, or a lawyer. Five years are needed to prepare for a chosen profession. If the child decides to be a doctor, it must have six years after which three years are given to the state, wherever the state decides, though at present an effort is made to consult the wishes of the student. After that, the doctor may specialize and higher examinations must be taken.

Anyone who goes to technical school for three or four years may take an examination if he decides to go on to a university.

In Moscow, I visited Moscow University, a new building with a tall tower which gives a beautiful view of the city. There is a separate building for engineering and for other faculties.

In 1955-'56 there were 22,000 enrolled in the university, 16,000 on full time and 6,000 in correspondence or evening courses.

In the country as a whole, there are 1,800,065 enrolled in 765 universities and colleges. The students are divided as follows: Engineering, science and architecture, transport and communication operators, agronomists, economics and law, teacher training, medicine and sports. There are 3,800 technical institutions.

A student is granted 290 rubles ($29) to live as a student for the first year and 780 rubles, in the higher grades. Twenty-one rubles pay for a room and three rubles, three kopecks for a meal, three meals a day.

My main impression of Soviet education was the fact that the pattern laid down in Moscow is actually carried out throughout the whole country. Nurseries exist everywhere—on state farms, collective farms and in factories. So do the kindergartens; so do the schools.

Actually, in a country as big as the U.S.S.R. with a varied population, there have to be educational adjustments in various parts of the nation, and each republic, they told me, is independent. In many cases, where the language is different, the schools teach the local language with Russian as the second language. I will tell you how this is accomplished in Tashkent, in the Republic of Uzbeckistan, which is as far as I could get from Moscow.

The organization of education, medicine or social welfare is much the same everywhere. In Tashkent, as I went through an academy of music, I was told they had 30 schools of music in the Uzbeck Republic. Specializing in music at the academy requires five years of training.

This academy has 350 students and 150 teachers. Its purpose is to seek out young people gifted in music to become teachers or enter into any of the many musical careers open to them throughout the Soviet Union, where there are many orchestras and music is provided in the amusement parks and many of the city squares.

I was told that 40 years ago there were no music schools and the music of the area was handed down from generation to generation. While the music of all countries now is taught, the playing of national instruments is still preserved.

This particular academy in Tashkent has a philharmonic orchestra with two divisions, and the state provides 6,000,000 rubles a year to run the academy. The academy is not only interested in music, however. There are 30 theatres in the Republic of Uzbeckistan, providing employment for youngsters who take drama.

A new development in the U.S.S.R. school system is the boarding school, and I went to visit one in Tashkent. Here children enroll as they leave kindergarten, going home to their families on the weekends.

I surmise these boarding schools were established largely for political reasons, to control the thought of young people. But I was told they were set up to make life easier for the families because, as yet, housing is difficult and, since all the women work, it is not easy to look after the children at home.

There are 12 boarding schools in Tashkent and 19 in the whole Uzbeck Republic, as well as 85 orphanages for the very needy. The republic has 72,000 teachers.

Samarkand, near Tashkent, is a very old city. The oldest part was destroyed and only the ruins are left, but much is being restored and some of the colors of the old mosaics have remained brilliant.

In Samarkand, there are 41 schools with 26,000 pupils. They have 16,000 students in four colleges and 1,400 students in the medical institutes. They have six scientific research institutes.

I would like to stress the fact that the government of the U.S.S.R. is interested in research in every possible field and the advances being made are due to the fact that both money and men are available to these research institutes.

Samarkand is the center of a great agricultural district. It has, however, 55 factories. Some make cinema apparatus, but they concentrate on the food industry and spare parts for agricultural machinery.

I went through a Samarkand hospital where 260 children suffered from bone TB and had come from throughout district.

In Tashkent, I went through a factory which makes cotton and thread and employs 18,000 workers, of whom 75 percent are women. The average factory wage is 750 rubles ($75) a month. But for engineers the wage is 1,200 to 2,000 rubles a month and the chief engineer who showed us around makes 2,500 a month.

The factory runs on three shifts and, while I was assured that the air is kept free from lint, I was not convinced that this was done to the point of absolute safety.

This will give you some idea of the extent of the organization of education and of the way health, education and social welfare all impinge on each other.

It is well to bear in mind that everything in the Soviet Union is planned in Moscow and carried out along much the same plan in every part of the country, except for minor adjustments that may be absolutely essential. But whatever form is adopted, it is compulsory.

There were many questions in my mind that could not be answered in my short stay in the Soviet Union. I am trying, however, to give you a picture of conditions there as they are today. But, remember, we have to look at this from the point of view of people who had very little of either education or medical care in the days before the Revolution.

There are many things that Americans would get very little out of and would resent, because our background and opportunities have been entirely different. But it is a mistake not to recognize what is happening in the U.S.S.R. so that we may be better prepared to meet the challenge and show the real gains that can be made in a free country to the benefit of the world.


(Copyright, 1957, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New York (N.Y., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 12, 1957

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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