From Most Well-Read to Most Educated

Moscow State University

Russian education has long been criticized throughout the world as too structured, too easy to obtain, and backward- looking. While this may be true in many regards, it has also made Russia the most educated country in the world, in terms of people with college degrees. This focus on education began after Vladimir Lenin realized the massive spread in literacy rates between rural folks and urban dwellers. Many things changed the literacy rates in the Soviet Union. “…Reading and writing clubs were set up in factories; there was an unprecedented push in education; newspapers were available for next to nothing; in fact one didn’t even have to buy them: they were hung in the parks and along public thoroughfares for passersby to read” (RR 627). This push shot literacy rates through the roof in a very short period of time. “By 1927, 70 percent of Soviet citizens were able to read and write. By 1939, the percentage rose to 94” (627). A government report from 1970 outlined various population data from the Soviet Union, and provided the following: “In 1970 only 170,000 illiterate men and 269, 000 illiterate women were registered in this age group, primarily individuals who were unable to attend school because of physical defects or chronic illness. Illiteracy has been eliminated in all the Union republics” (USSR Council Report 15). There were surely many reasons for the desired growth in literacy throughout the country. Obviously Lenin wanted his nation to be better than before in all aspects, and education is a main contributor to country success. However, reading allowed for the spread of ideas much quicker than other channels during the early 20th century. The government could quickly spread propaganda through the written word in newspapers and books. The government also owned all of the bookstores in the country, so media was very skewed ideologically, and many written pieces surely did not make it into the extensive stacks of books available for sale. This continued until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, but the education rates never dropped from the Soviet-era highs. Currently, 54% of Russians between the ages of 25-64 have a college degree. This number is the highest in the world, and will continue to grow as younger Russians thrive for education. The amount of students in STEM is also growing, and Russia will continue to be a mainstay for engineers and scientists. While the Soviet Union did many things wrong for its citizens, the push towards education was a major positive for the country.



“Report by the U. S. S. R. Council of Ministers’ Central Statistical Administration: THE POPULATION OF OUR COUNTRY.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press [Minneapolis] 18 May 1971, 23rd ed.: 14-18. Print.

Barker, Adele Marie, and Bruce Grant. The Russia Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. Print.



8 thoughts on “From Most Well-Read to Most Educated

  1. For being perceived as such a backwards country, I don’t think many people would have ever expected the literacy rates in the Soviet Union to be as high as they actually were. It’s fascinating and not at all surprising that the government played the biggest part in raising these reading levels and their government owned bookstores and factories were the perfect outlet to spread Soviet propaganda and ideology. This was a great read, thank you for sharing!


  2. I had no idea the college education rate was so high. My question, however, is what is the quality of education that they are receiving? I know there was a large issue with Russian education in the ’60s and ’70s due to the inability for foreign teachers to come into the country with new perspectives, as well as the large amount of censorship that occurred.


  3. Great post! I too find it fascinating how educated the Russian people are. Their commitment to tackling education and literacy is truly amazing. Their literacy and education is heavily under looked and is overshadowed by countries like the US and other European countries–and unjustly so. With world-high college degree rates and one of the highest literacy rates, it’s time that the Russians get the recognition they deserve for their commitment to education. Great analysis–thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was honestly very surprised by this information, I would have never thought that so many were educated in the soviet union and still today. The numbers alone are extremely impressive, especially the increases to literacy made in just a short time. This certainly shows that a free education can certainly help more people get a higher education. I really enjoyed the post, definitely learned something!


  5. You did a great job showing how the USSR’s literacy never dropped. From the beginning it was a high value and remained there. But I wonder if this could have helped with the changing of ideals over the years. People being able to understand ideas that came from outside of the USSR. Good post!


  6. Taylor W says:

    It’s really interesting how many Westerners viewed the USSR as “backwards”, yet education was so easily available. I think that the easy access to newspapers and reading material shows one of the positive parts of the Revolution. However, I feel that the argument can also be made that the newspapers the people had access to would likely contain propaganda, so furthering education could further the Soviet cause. Great post!


  7. Patrick Butler says:

    I never really appreciated how well the Soviet education system built up the country in its early years. There was an incredible amount of growth in both the amount of Soviets who could read and write. It is especially impressive how fast all of these changes took place.


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