Few events in recent history have been as sudden or as dramatic as the collapse of communism and the adoption of parliamentary democracy in those nations formerly under the control of the Soviet Union. Few events of this magnitude have engendered such far-reaching consequences. While political reorientation and the development of a market economy have been immediate and consistent issues at the heart of reform in these countries, many of the institutional underpinnings of society have either been given scant attention or have been ‘liberated’ with little guidance as to appropriate models and procedures to compensate for the absence of central control. With limited resources and a pressing list of priorities, education in general, and schooling in particular, has had to make do with piecemeal reform, major limitations in funding and, in many instances, has suffered serious benign neglect.
This state of affairs, however, has not clouded an acknowledgement of the importance of the educational process in the long-term rebuilding of societies and, as we approach the end of the decade, it is encouraging to see movement afoot to provide legislative frameworks for educational systems which have been undergoing such stress. Václav Havel (1993) highlights the need for a civil society to cultivate the intellect and the spirit, and he sees education as the key vehicle for social progression:
The most important thing is a new concept of education. At all levels, schools must cultivate a sprit of free and independent thinking in the students. Schools will have to be humanized, both in the sense that their basic component must be the human personalities of the teachers, creating around themselves a force-field of inspiration and example, and in the sense that technical and other specialized education will be balanced by a general education in the humanities.
In this vision of society Havel sees the school as the preparation ground for ‘self-confident, participating citizens’. He does not underestimate, however, that change in the national psyche is more difficult to accomplish than change in the finance or manufacturing systems. Decades of economic as well as social repression have created societies which are hungry for material goods, for the instant gratification promised by the envious viewing of Western television programming. But the downside of the free market economy in countries which lack the sophistication and experience of the West and Asia is that people often cannot discriminate between what is good and bad, what is designed to build and nurture the economy responsibly, and what is the product of unscrupulous greed. The winter 1997 riots and civil disturbance in Albania, triggered by the loss of savings resulting from ‘pyramid’ schemes, is a tragic example of Homo Sovieticus, with naïveté and innocence, failing to understand the dark side of capitalism.
The Post-Communist Challenge
The proliferation of old and new states now occupying the region of Eastern Europe and the Baltic Republics has created a tapestry of diversity in educational provision, as in most other areas of civic life. Schöpflin (1993) identifies three models of post communist society:
- The traditional society – defined by the area’s rural past, its ideas strongly collectivist, negatively egalitarian or hierarchical, anti-intellectual, distrustful of politics and, due to its lack of political sophistication, vulnerable to manipulation by populist demagogues. Recurring ‘revisionist’ trends in Russia and its Commonwealth and Poland seem to go along with this definition as, indeed, do sad events in Albania in 1997.
- The socialist society – where communist influence is still to be reckoned with. It is a society where the state is still considered the best guarantor of both individual and collective well-being. It has a sizeable intelligentsia and upper echelons who have converted political power into economic power under post-communism. This is where the phenomenon of ‘chauvino-communism’ emerged, where highly placed functionaries salvage political power by a rapid conversion to nationalism while often embracing market principles. This has been evident in Slovakia, in Romania and in Serbia.
- The liberal society – characterized by its openness to new ideas, to the market, to initiatives, technology and a flexible political system based on compromise and openness to change. Hungary, the Czech Republic and the Baltic Republics provide examples where an effort has been made to overcome the limitations of the past and adopt a ‘liberal’ approach. It is the most difficult route to follow, because it represents the total antithesis of what went before. When it fails to deliver on its promises the penalties are extreme, as Hanna Suchocka, former Premier of Poland, discovered to her cost.
The communist legacy has resulted in a certain confusion, just as elements long contained in a test tube are suddenly released and explode in a multitude of directions. It will take years, decades, for those elements to re-arrange themselves in patterns which seem appropriate to their changed environment. Of the institutions central to the perpetuation of the communist regime, education was the most jealously guarded because it represented the process of ideological transfer, without which the State had no claim on its citizenry. There is no question that the legacy of forty years of Soviet domination and central planning has been a major inhibitor in the restructuring of education systems in these nations. What is emerging from the efforts of politicians looking at the West, and local leaders uncertain of their mandate, is a disquieting mixture of radical progressivism on the one hand and historical nostalgia on the other. Site-based management and the devolution of central government is producing an administrative cadre suddenly empowered but lacking clarity when it comes to the role of education in either a democracy or in a global economy. For many educators and politicians anxious to dispose of Marxist baggage, the choices were to hearken back to pre-war French or Prussian models of schooling, and/or to move in the directions set by the British Education Reform Act of 1988 and the ideals of Milton Friedman. This approach, as noted by this author (Beresford-Hill, 1994), saw that “the bottom line message was more eagerly received in Central Europe than it was in Britain and America – education, like all other factors influencing economic well-being, should be made more responsive to market pressures, should be more open and, above all, should be more accountable”. It is clear that conservative voices have won out in the debate over what style and tradition of education should be encouraged. But neither conservative, liberal nor socialist ideology offered immediate resolution to the problems which beset education:
The pressing issues are easy to identify and appear to be fairly consistent across the region. They concern the inadequate preparation of school administrators for the complex tasks that lie ahead. Curriculum changes and the scarcity of resources cause confusion in the classroom. The rise of nationalistic fervor results in further fragmentation and poses critical problems for those charged with educating minorities. The borrowing of Western models is not always appropriate to local needs, while attempts to restore pre-communist philosophies in the classroom do little to encourage democratic ideals. The problems of technological and apprenticeship training are many, as is the reality of large scale youth unemployment. And in higher education, which many feel should provide leadership in educational reform, change is often blocked by die-hard hold-overs from the former era who are now claiming the democratic privileges they denied, for so long, to others. Decentralization and increased levels of autonomy in both school districts and institutions, coupled with sometimes drastic reductions in funding, have created serious management problems. Newly appointed school leaders have neither training or experience in dealing with change and its consequences. In an effort to sever links with the old regime, often effective and respected school administrators were replaced in the euphoria that followed the collapse of Communism, thus creating a leadership void which will take many years to fill. (Beresford-Hill, 1994, p. 51)
Privatization and Education in the WestWhile private education has long flourished in the West, and while private organizations and vendors have, for many decades, both served and profited from public and independent education systems, it was economist Milton Friedman who, in 1962, presented a challenge to accepted notions of state-run education and provided a rationale for privatization. In his now classic book, Capitalism and Freedom, he defended a proposal to administer American education through a system of vouchers:
Governments could require a minimum level of schooling financed by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services. Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum they themselves provided on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice. The educational services could be rendered by private enterprises operated for profit, or by non-profit institutions. (Friedman, 1982, p. 50)
The cry for education to be responsive to the market was taken once more to the public forum quite dramatically by Chubb & Moe (1990). Their argument was based less on the economics of education and more on the frustration of many educators and politicians that the decade of reports on the state of American education, highlighted by A Nation at Risk, had failed to realize any appreciable gains and that the rising tide of mediocrity continued to rise, unchecked. Relying on Friedman, and a generation of supply side economists and theorists to bolster their thesis, Chubb & Moe claimed that the key to effective schooling was autonomy. It is only by freeing educational institutions from bureaucratic control, they argue, that the effectiveness characteristics of leadership, clear goals, high expectations, orderly environments and professionalism can flourish:
Effective organizations can only thrive in a context that grants them substantial autonomy, and the current system is built to deny them that autonomy – this is what it does when it works the way it is supposed to work. The problem of school performance is fundamentally a system problem, and it requires for its solution a new kind of system: a system that nurtures and promotes school autonomy and that gives educators incentives to use their autonomy in the most productive ways. (Chubb & Moe, 1992, p. 9)
The recent history of school choice and the ‘quasi-market’ explored recently by Walford (1996) provides a series of interesting contrasts as Western capitalist nations explore the implications of opening educational systems to market forces. The Friedman and Chubb & Moe perspective, enthusiastically endorsed by politicians advocating the free market approach, is that the movement towards choice and privatization ultimately improves education all around. Research and informed commentary would indicate the opposite, however. As Walford suggests: there is growing evidence that the quasi-market is leading to greater inequality between schools and greater polarization between various social and ethnic groups within each society.(Walford, 1996, p. 14)
Education and Privatisation in Eastern Europe and the Baltic RepublicsWhile there is a commonality of experience and a striving to re-create national identity in those post-Soviet nations featured in this volume, there is little unanimity when it comes to restructuring their educational systems. Some trends, however, are almost inevitable, such as the universal commitment to restore national heritage and to reinvigorate the study of literature and local history. This has given rise to charges that the rights of ethnic minorities are not being attended to, particularly in the Baltics, where the Polish and Russian communities claim they are being discriminated against, and in Romania, where Hungarian and Gypsy groups feel that there is insufficient regard for their own cultural identity.
The strong reaction to communist central control of education is evidenced by the way in which so many countries have embraced the concept of decentralization of education and have moved towards the local management of schools. This has been a mixed blessing, as greater local control has been accompanied by a diminution of central funding of educational institutions. Local tax increases, and the need for school boards to supplement their funding by resorting to a variety of hitherto unknown fund-raising activities, continues to cause a strain on the relationship between central and local government.
The chapters in this volume are divided into three groups. The first three chapters discuss educational change and the privatization movement in the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The second group reflect developments in Hungary and the Czech Republic, while the final grouping is concerned with progress in Poland and Romania.
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are three Baltic countries which, through a series of annexations and invasions were once part of the Imperial Russian Empire. They broke away from Russia following the Revolution in 1918 and experienced independence for little more than two decades, until the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. At that time all three nations were integrated into the Soviet Union, and remained under Soviet subjugation until independence was restored to them in 1990.
All chapters reflecting the Baltic experience address issues involved in the re-structuring of educational systems and discuss the problems of integrating markets and educational policies. Quality control and the assessment of performance indicators, particularly as they relate to institutions which are not part of the state system, are also priorities for educators in this region. The problems inherent in offering provision for Russian and other ethnic minorities in the three Republics is an on-going issue.
Jucevièienì & Taru?kienì, writing about educational developments in Lithuania, stress that there is still a degree of uncertainty about what privatization actually means. The provision of independent schools and the opportunities for parents to exercise choice in the selection of schools for their children is, of course, an important dimension of this. But for many educators, policy makers and citizens in Lithuania, as in other countries throughout the region, there are still important questions concerning the meaning and implications of those freedoms which have now been restored. Educational reform in Lithuania, according to the authors, is based on four principles. These stress the value of the human being and the rights of parents to choose, the importance of democratic values, the preservation of the national cultural heritage along with respect for other cultures which are part of Lithuania and, finally, the need for society, and educational institutions in particular, to be open to change and the power of new ideas. While these principles are not unique to education in western democracies, in the context of nations which have emerged from the controlling influence of a dominant superpower, they represent significant change. Jucevièienì & Taru?kienì tell us that there is an unsettling spin on the Lithuanian reception of this agenda for change. Among the problems encountered is a question about the moral dimensions of the market economy, its part in the creation of an unequal distribution of wealth and the fact that capitalism in Lithuania has contributed to unemployment and attendant social issues. These include the neglect of large numbers of young people who should be served by the reformed educational system. While reforms have encouraged and facilitated the creation of independent and privately managed schools and tertiary institutions, voices are still raised questioning whether resources, some of them in private hands, should be allocated to private educational institutions when there are such pressing needs in the state sector.
The economic problems facing education in the Baltic is explored in more depth by Kreitzberg & Priimägi, writing from the experience of Estonia. The message here is that while education may be an important priority, it is not the most important one, and very often is relegated to the back seat of economic and social development. They refer to Bîrzea’s comment that “the under-financing of education has made the idea of [education as a] national priority a dead letter”. It is in answer to this lack of national priority that they, and others, observe the development of private education and the push by the more affluent for greater choice, even if they have to pay, as both a positive and a negative development. Of particular interest in the Estonian experience is the ideological struggle which occurred in the Ministry of Education, both prior to, and following, independence. It represents a fascinating footnote to the evolution of educational policy making at a time of bewildering political and economic change. According to Kreitzberg & Priimägi, considerable tension existed between policy makers on the one hand, many of them part of a government bureaucracy still influenced by the former Soviet model, and practitioners who were anxious for change and the opportunity to develop a new and dynamic educational system representative of the new democratic model which was being formed in Lithuania. While the politicians and economists where establishing a market model for the future of Estonia, educators, on the other hand, were compromising with a White Paper stressing both the need for education to sustain a national morality and encouraging the participation of both public and private initiative. This chapter, however, also implied that strictly market models can diminish the humanistic role that education should play in a free society arguing that education should imbue life with all the values and aspirations expressed in the saying ‘man does not live by bread alone’. The scenario that evolved through the 1990s is one which saw the dominance of free market ideals and, according to Kreitzberg & Priimägi, a strong effort to present everything in the context of market models, including the educational system. The desire among politicians and others to see Estonia align itself closely with the European Union and, in so doing, move away from rediscovered nationalism, has been a further cause of tension within the educational system there. In exploring the interface between education and the economy they note that those skills and competencies taught in schools which sustained the communist economy are no longer of any value, now the call is for a newly trained workforce. The demands of a modern vocationally oriented educational system, involving both privately sponsored schools and programmes as well as those operating under the authority of local districts, appears to conflict with the preference of many young people for expanded opportunities in higher, rather than vocational, education.
The Latvian experience, outlined by Natasha Kersh, is somewhat similar, as education responds to the fact that new employment opportunities need to be linked to skills which the population does not have. The solution is to adapt existing models to reflect future needs, a development which calls for more financial investment than the nation can afford. The appearance of a private educational sector in Latvia, however, has had some impact on this situation both in providing a quality-oriented alternative system to the state sector schools, as well as offering a greater range of training and vocational opportunities, often in conjunction with institutions located abroad. The problem of accreditation and quality control, however, reappears in Latvia as it does in other countries represented in this volume, as the regulation of the private sector of education emerges as a relatively new item on the agenda of both educators and policymakers.
In Hungary, Gábor Halász discusses the broader issues of markets and education, citing deficit budgets and cuts in public spending, as reasons for the encouragement of a private sector. Britain’s 1988 Educational Reform Act exercised some influence on the deliberations of Hungarian policy makers as they sought ways to finance educational provision, provide more opportunities for parent choice and decentralise schools. While some of the mechanisms for decentralisation were already in place prior to the collapse of Communism, there is still considerable controversy in Hungary concerning the efficacy of this movement. Halász provides an insightful analysis and offers some observations on the direction this debate is taking. Budgetary issues, however, prevail and have created additional debates concerning the degree to which parents in Hungarian schools should be expected to pay for ‘extra’ services, over and above statutory provision.
The difficulties involved in implementing educational reform within the framework of traditional Communist-centered legislation is discussed by Jana ?vecová in her analysis of education and ideology in the Czech Republic. Amendments to the Basic Education Law of 1984 have tried to keep up with the social and economic changes following 1990 but there are serious gaps which impact on both the state sector and the burgeoning private educational sector. Primary among these is a delay in the enactment of any legislation regulating the creation and operation of non-profit entities. This, however, has not prevented the growth of a prominent private educational sector and ?vecová identifies those factors which have led to this development. Chief among them is discontent with the quality of state sector schools, concern about the need for adequate training and vocational education to equip young people for employment opportunities resulting from economic change, and the demand of a growing middle class to have choice when it comes to the education of their children.
Some of the most innovative and interesting examples of private educational provision in Eastern Europe appear in Poland, pre-dating the progressive governments of the Solidarity movement. Beata £aciak’s chapter discusses the efforts of grass-roots educators and reformers to provide a diverse range of alternatives, many of them established under the auspices of respected educational and social organisations such as the Civic Education Association. The government support in providing financial subsidies to these independent schools has been a determining factor in their success. The existence of strong and reform directed parent groups, and opportunities provided through government legislation for teachers to experiment and innovate in curriculum and teaching methodologies, has created unique opportunities for the privatisation of educational services. £aciak stresses that these private schools, both elementary and secondary, are providing what parents want. The effect on the State sector ranges from a total attitude of laissez faire to one where a more competitive approach prevails and where teachers and administrators are taking advantage of the many opportunities available to them. These include establishing their own mission statements, creating new and modifying existing curricula, and exercising greater autonomy. The recurring concern over the financing of public education, however, creates problems, as state sector schools scramble for limited resources while their non-public counterparts enjoy the benefits of both state subsidy and school fees. School districts, according to £aciak, seek creative ways in which to maximise a financial return on their facilities, renting out classroom space and seeking private sponsorship. Here again the absence of adequate legislation providing tax incentives for individual and corporate giving does not encourage a climate of voluntary support for either private or public educational institutions.
Writing about the Romanian experience, César Bîrzea, describes the rapid growth of private higher education in his country as a reaction to the former regime and as a popular movement contradicting the policies of the post-communists. The strict controls of the communists created a situation where Romania trailed every European country in respect of the numbers of students in tertiary education. Over a two year period following the fall of the Ceausescu government in 1989, there occurred a rapid explosion in higher education leading to the creation of over seventy private universities and colleges. The political leadership in Romania has been steadily left of centre, still constrained by an ideological past which proved very difficult to shed. Among the consequences of this situation is a much slower rate of economic change. The rapid growth of a private educational community, on the other hand, has caused policy makers to re-think some of their strategies and play ‘catch up’, through interventionist legislation directed at limiting the growth of private institutions, particularly in higher education, and providing for the accreditation and the quality control of these schools and colleges. Bîrzea goes on to explore the basic conflict between political ideology which has not liberated itself from Communist influences, and the popular ideology of economic and social reform. Until the Romanian elections in 1997 it appeared that a resolution of this deadlock would be unlikely. The election of a more rightist government in 1997 may resolve the impasse.
Drawing on the findings of a research study sponsored by the US Department of Education in 1990, following the collapse of Communism, Charles L. Glenn provides a theoretical framework in considering privatisation and choice in post-Soviet educational systems. He warns against the pédagogie d’état favoured by political regimes of both the right and the left, arguing that the domination of educational systems under totalitarianism destroys the human spirit and acts in direct opposition to the concept of the civil society. For him, and for many others, the privatisation of education and the opportunity for parents to exercise choice, even if the private element is subsidised by the state, is an essential expression of freedom. His descriptions of the early years of the privatisation movement in Poland offer additional perspectives on the growth of popular educational initiatives and provide an essential backdrop to the views of Beata £aciak in her analysis of more recent events.
But perhaps the most interesting observations provided by Glenn are those he quotes from Czech educator and philosopher, Oldrich Botlik. His rationale is clearly influenced by Friedman and the market economists, its context is rooted in Czech culture yet the vision he presents is not dissimilar from the ideas of the proponents of the Charter School movement in the United States.
The pictures presented by the authors in this volume represent a variety of perspectives on education systems in various stages of evolution. All of the nations discussed here, however, share the common problem of inadequate funding to sustain educational systems. If there is a lesson to be drawn from the experiences of these countries it may be a warning that propelling schools and colleges into a free-market system of competition and choice, while the national economy is still under construction, may be courting disaster. Decentralisation may have important pedagogic and community benefits, but if it is instituted to shift the financial burden from the centre to the periphery, then many advantages of local management will be lost, as local authorities struggle to make ends meet. Sponsorship of private educational initiatives can be attractive in such circumstances, as reduced state support is augmented with private funds and parents develop a sense of ‘ownership’ of the new institutions. But despite the enthusiasm of those who promote the idea of markets, privatisation and choice in these developing nations, advice from established systems with a longer track record of both democracy and market economies is relevant. Peter Cookson (1996), reflecting on the United States experience, comments that:
Education is a strategic institution; if it loses its independence from the private sector, the public will have lost one of the few remaining public institutions that can intervene between the market and the individual. In one sense, market solutions to educational problems misdefine the purpose of education in a democracy. Creating a public trust through schools is part of a genuine social contract from which there is no escape if democracy is to survive into the next century. (Peter Cookson, 1996, p. 108)
Michael Ignatieff, writing about the intellectual basis of Eastern Europe’s revolutions in 1989-1990, remarks that “Civil society may be a flawed ideal, but in one central aspect there is no gulf between promise and performance.” He goes on to remind us that “In a civil society, no paradise beckons. Church and State are divided; no civil religion is enforced or endorsed. Protected by a web of mutually restraining institutions, individuals are free to pursue their own private visions of paradise. The chief attraction of civil society to the East European intellectual was that it renounced an enforceable vision of the good life towards which unhappy souls could be force-marched” (Ignatieff, 1995, p. 129).
The pursuit of private visions of paradise is not peculiar to civil society, and at times may act against it. Education serves two purposes, as an instrument of community growth and the transmission of a shared culture and as a vehicle for individual development. It would be a shame if the self-interest of the individual overshadowed the greater needs of the community and if the positive aspects of choice were subverted into a dual system of education where the effect of privatisation was to limit rather than expand opportunities and visions available to students.
Notes Václav Havel, Summer Meditations (New York: Vintage Books, 1993), p. 117.
 Ibid., p. 118.
 George Schöpflin, ‘Culture and identity in post-communist Europe’, in Stephen White, Judy Batt & Paul G. Lewis (Eds) Developments in Eastern European Politics (London: Macmillan, 1993).
 Paul Beresford-Hill, ‘Educating homo Sovieticus’, Education Today, 44(2), (1994), p. 50.
 Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1982), p. 50.
 John Chubb & Terry Moe, A Lesson in School Reform from Great Britain (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1992).
 Geoffrey Walford, Introduction, in Geoffrey Walford (Ed.) School Choice and the Quasi-market (Wallingford: Triangle Books, 1996), p. 14,.
 Peter Cookson, ‘School choice in the United States: progressive individualism, educational deregulation and the public good’, in Geoffrey Walford (Ed.) School Choice and the Quasi-market (Wallingford: Triangle Books, 1996), p. 108.
 Peter Ignatieff, ‘On civil society – why Eastern Europe’s revolutions could suceed’, Foreign Affairs, (March/April 1995), 74(2), p. 129.