SEATTLE — Belarus remained part of the USSR for seven decades until it attained independence in 1991. Following this, Belarus continued to maintain a political and economic relationship with Russian Federation. Alexander Lukashenko, the first elected president of the country, has steadily consolidated his power since 1994 and prioritized education in national policy.
The Republic of Belarus has a comparatively advanced system of education. Adult literacy among the population is 99.7 percent, and 98 percent of Belarusians have completed primary, secondary and tertiary education. The republic’s higher educational institutions correlate with standards of the EU and the United States university systems.
Education at all levels is free for citizens of Belarus, supplemented by numerous private universities and colleges. The modern system of education in Belarus was established by decree in the 1994 Act of the Republic of Belarus, which still kept some of the USSR educational standards and structures. Modern Belarusian standards are based on the competence approach and allow implementing the ECTS system of educational credits as a necessary tool to support student mobility. Nearly 6000 international students, mainly from Kyrgyzstan, India, China and Venezuela receive their degrees at the universities in the country every year. Generally, fees for those students vary from $700 to $4000 per year, depending on the course and institution.
Despite its success in maintaining a high rate of literacy, Belarusian education has its downsides. One of the biggest challenges the Belarusian educational system faces today is in the transition process between schools and universities. According to the National Education Institution research, about 42 percent of high school students relied on additional tutoring services in 2015. This popular practice occurred after country’s transition into the new educational system that used a standardized test for college admissions.
Education expert Vladimir Dunaev explained that tutoring corrects errors of the high school system, intensively occurring since the 2008 reform when Belarus canceled its specialized education program. At the moment, high school education in Belarus isn’t sufficient preparation to pass the test and enroll in a university.
“It seems that in order to receive qualitative higher education, students must pay for second-level education, and this wrecks constitutional framework,” Dunaev told Belarusian magazine Zautra. “Furthermore, it creates a situation of societal inequality: some parents can afford high-quality tutoring, others – only lesser quality and third cannot afford it at all.”
Many teachers in the country are afraid of being expelled or fired for freely express their opinion about elected authorities. In 2004, the European Humanities University refused to follow governmental orders and was closed down by the Belarusian government. The school relocated to Vilnius (Lithuania) where it continues its operations as a private university.
Finally, in May 2015, Belarus joined the Bologna Process, a series of meetings that resulted in the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). In relation to the Bologna system, which ensures comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications between European countries, the Belarusian government is thought to fear the drift of scientists abroad. The so-called “brain drain” occurs due to the lack governmental support of scientific and technological development in the country. The Ministry of Education claims that almost two-thirds of graduates have a problem finding a job every year.
Despite a few serious expenditures of the system, the future of education in Belarus is promising. Teachers and students expect affluence of technology equipment for schools and universities in near future, as well as expanded international programs of education for Belarusians.
– Yana Emets