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Russia makes stride in education reform

MOSCOW, January 26 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's parliament passed in a final reading Friday a bill introducing a common exam system for high school graduates, authorizing a major shift from Soviet-era to Western-style educational standards.

The new system, which has already been applied in some regions on an experimental basis, is expected to curb corruption at university entrance exams, making education more accessible and improving its quality.

Final-year students in high schools across the country will take common state exams, whose results could subsequently be filed with colleges and universities. Under the bill, the new requirements will become generally binding by 2009

Some universities, however, would be allowed to require additional specialized exams as a concession to critics who have said multiple-choice tests used in the single-exam system are not a proper assessment tool for disciplines in the humanities, which do not lend themselves to definitive answers to questions.

Critics have also argued that the proposed changes do not help students develop their critical thinking skills and only train them to memorize facts and dates.

The bill outlines provisions for high school graduates who would benefit from special consideration at the entrance exams, including parentless children, disabled children, children from low-income families, Olympic champions, school contest winners and others.

Russia's educational system has remained largely unchanged since Soviet times, when it was free. However, spending on education plummeted following the collapse of the Soviet Union, affecting professors' salaries and fostering corruption.

Many state institutions have introduced commercial courses of study in recent years, above all in economics, law and other disciplines in demand in modern Russia, compared with an earlier focus on science, technology and art.

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