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Catherine the Great's Reform of Russian Education

Catherine the Great brought fundamental changes to the way education was viewed and implemented in Russia by changing the ideas of who should receive an education, who was responsible for education, and what type of education they should receive.

Published onDec 11, 2021
Catherine the Great's Reform of Russian Education


At the core of education there are three main questions. Who is responsible for education? Who should receive an education? What type of education should people receive? These questions are still being talked about today. Back in eighteenth century Russia, Catherine the Great was already exploring these issues and creating education reforms that would answer them for Russia. These reforms that she created may seem narrow minded by our standards but they opened the way for massive changes in Russia.

In response to these three core questions, Catherine the Great created incredible reforms that changed education for all Russia. She created state schools for girls and boys throughout the country that taught independently of the church. This type of secular education was revolutionary for the time and followed along with the enlightenment thinking of the era. Catherine wanted to ensure that the state was in charge of education for the masses and not the church. She wanted people to be taught how to be good citizens and most of all she strongly believed that women should receive an education along with men. These ideals were at the core of Catherine’s reform of education and they answer the three basic questions of education.

At the start of her reign Catherine outlined grand ideals about education for the masses. Her schools were to be a place where common people throughout Russia could learn and women could gain some independence. These goals were in response to the question of who should receive an education. Catherine was revolutionary for her time and situation as women in Russia were seldom given time or freedom to gain an education before being married. Catherine wasn’t entirely progressive though in her reform of women’s education. She did not believe that all women should receive the same education. She believed that schools should cater to the women’s situations in life.

The schools that Catherine created catered to those who attended them. One of her first schools, the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens, was only open to the nobility. This meant that those without a title could not receive an education. At this school the young girls learned a variety of different subjects including painting, singing, and the sciences. Catherine chose this education for them because she believed that a woman’s station determined the type of education she should receive. She believed that a common woman should not have the same education as a noble woman and a serf should receive a different education from either of them. This belief points to the fact that Catherine believed there were fundamental differences in womens stations and that a woman should be educated not to rise in society but to fulfill her role in it.

One thing that all of Catherine’s schools had in common though were that they operated independently of the Russian church. This was a very intentional decision on Catherine’s part. She did not want the students to be indoctrinated in all of the ways of the church and, in fact, closely regulated the curriculum of all schools to ensure that they followed her enlightened ideals. Catherine wanted to create a society that was moral and that would progress past their old superstitious ways. In order to do this she wanted to create a population that was well educated, that way they would be able and willing to serve the state.

Catherine the Great created an education system that was progressive for her time, though some of her ideals were not progressive in a way we would recognize. She answered questions for Russia that we are still figuring out today. She opened education to many people in her country and created a system that operated outside of the direct influence of the church. In her answers to these questions she set a foundation for education reform that impacts not only Russia but how people around the world view education to this day.

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