Varieties of Educational Transformation: The Post-Socialist States of Central/Southeastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union

  • Iveta Silova
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE, volume 22)

The former socialist countries of Central/Southeastern Europe and the Soviet Union share many commonalities, while forming an increasingly diverse region of the world in terms of sociopolitical development. Among the most striking commonalities are the shared socialist past, as well as the sheer scale and significance of the political, economic, and social transformation since the collapse of socialism in 1989. Although all countries of the region have declared their aspiration to embrace the new values of democracy, capitalism, and market economies, the transformation process has been uneven across the region. By 2007, ten countries became new member states of the European Union (EU) — Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, and Slovenia — signaling the emergence of open, liberal societies at least partially rooted in respect for the rule of law, human rights, and economic freedom. In some countries of Southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, however, democratic and free-market characteristics have shared the stage with “a high degree of authoritarianism, corporatism, cronyism, and state involvement in economic life” (Freedom House, 2005). This region also includes repressive autocracies, such as Belarus, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, in which there is “little or no space for opposition political groupings and independent civic activism” (Freedom House, 2005). Approximately one third of all countries have experienced armed conflicts during the transformation period, resulting in devastating effects in all spheres of life.1

Given the diversity of these sociopolitical contexts, it is difficult to talk about the countries of Central/Southeastern Europe and the former Soviet Union as one homogeneous region. Nevertheless, these countries share several educational characteristics, as reflected in a number of educational legacies inherited from the socialist regime and a proclaimed aspiration to embrace Western educational values. Among the positive socialist legacies are solid infrastructures for educational provision and administration, fee-free education for all children, nearly universal general education enrolments, and high literacy rates. For all the concerns about its quality and comprehensiveness, the mass provision of socialist education undeniably helped to create a level of social cohesion (Heyneman, 1997, 2000), as well as very real compensatory legitimacy for the regime. During the socialist period, education also established a widely shared public expectation for the provision of mainstream schooling at little or no cost and on a fundamentally egalitarian basis (Silova et al., 2007). For all these achievements, the education systems of the post-socialist bloc were also rigidly bureaucratized, and narrowly and involuntarily vocational (Johnson, 2004). They were also institutionally fragmented, with different hierarchies of educational provision and training divided between different branch ministries, resulting in severe inefficiencies. The system was also characterized by uniform and exceptionally rigid conceptions of pedagogy and formal “didactic,” authoritarian and teacher-centered learning, overloaded and centrally mandated curricula, and insufficient attention to the quality and nature of individual student learning (Johnson, 2004; Silova, 2002). Finally, the educational systems had acute ideological weaknesses, including an imposition of socialist political indoctrination in schools.


European Union Educational Reform Accession Country Bologna Process Central Asian Republic 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Iveta Silova
    • 1
  1. 1.Lehigh UniversityPennsylvaniaUSA

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