Cheating In The Unified State Exams

Izvestia writes:

The Ministry of Education have evaluated the results of the Unified State Exam of 2013 and identified the regions with the highest numbers of graduates who got the full 100 points on the Unified State Exam. Contrary to popular prejudices, the recordholders aren’t the Caucasian republics, but Bryansk oblast, Kalmykia, and Chuvashia.

I wrote half a year ago (highlights are recent):

As we can see above, the most suspicious results are mostly from ethnic Russian oblasts such as Stavropol, Kaluga, Rostov, Perm, and Vladimir, with the two big exceptions being Mari El and Chuvashia… In so doing, yet another major region of likely fraud crops up: Bryansk. This oblast, along with Vladimir, produces as many top USE results as a percentage of its 18 year old population as does the intellectual capital, Moscow. Kalmykia, Kirov, and Lipetsk also join the list of Russian regions with suspiciously good USE results…

Not to mention:

To the contrary, Dagestan – the biggest Caucasian Muslim republic – has very few top scores relative to the number of very bright people we can expect to find there relative to most other Russian regions

Hard to argue with statistics. Also why you should continue reading Da Russophile.

Translation: Russia to Build 11 Centers of Tolerance

Russia is to spend 1.5 billion rubles building “Centers of Tolerance” to improve inter-ethnic relations in the next few years. Is this a good use of resources? Pyotr Kozlov examines the issue.

The Ministry of Regional Development to Build Centers of Tolerance for 1.5 Billion Rubles

The Ministry of Regional Development plans to start constructing Centers of Tolerance all across Russia from 2014, where anyone can go to learn more about the culture and traditions of Russia’s peoples. These learning centers will appear in 11 regions of the country: Saint-Petersburg, Omsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Yekaterinburg, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Irkutsk, and Birobidzhan. According to preliminary calculations, as we were told by the Ministry’s head Igor Slyunyayev, the problem will require about 1.5 billion rubles in financing, with the first centers slated to open by the beginning of 2015.

According to the Slyunyayev, all the sites will be built to one standard design. “The main task is to revive the traditions of mutual respect and peaceful coexistence that have always characterized Russia,” he clarified.

“These Centers will help promote dialog, discuss hard issues, and tell people about how Russians live in Dagestan, Jews in the Far East, or Ukrainians in Tatarstan. We need to talk more about religion, culture, traditions, and to once again return to the roots of things – that we are one people, who have always lived as one family,” the Minister says.

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Are Caucasians Stealing Russian University Places? The Data Says, “Probably Not.”

In one of the recent posts on corruption, commentator AP wrote:

Kids from Moscow are having trouble getting into universities now because entrance, based on exam results, skews the chances of acceptance in favor of those students from corrupt regions where they can buy better results. Moscow is less corrupt than, say, Dagestan so Dagestani students perform much better on entrance exams.

Is this true? Seeing as how the Russian state doesn’t release Unified State Exam (USE) results by region, probably due to PC considerations, at first this assertion might appear to be unanswerable. However, there is a way to get round the problem.

(1) We know the PISA-derived IQ’s of some 43 Russian regions (which account for about 75% of its school-age population).

(2) The Russian government DOES release the the numbers of maximum scores in the USE tests by region. In this post we will consider the data for 2012. Furthermore, we know that at least at the federal level, these results tend to form bell curves.

(3) One of the primary “proofs” of electoral fraud in the Russian elections was the presence of spikes at convenient increments of 5%. In the case of USE fraud, we only have access to data for 100% scores and measuring the fatness of that tail should give us a clue as to its relative magnitude. (While it is possible and even likely that school administrators and regions would take care not to create too many maximum marks on the notoriously hard USE tests, far from everybody will follow said precautions. After all, if many regions didn’t even bother to smoothen the spikes to conceal fraud in the elections, is it realistic to posit that they’d take greater care around trifles like exams?).

(4) We know the number of 16 year old’s per Russian region from the 2010 Census, who would have participated in the 2012 exam season.

(5) We know the normal distribution.

The blue bars below show the number of top-scoring exams per region as a multiple of Russian 18 year olds there with an expected IQ of 130 or more, based on the region’s average PISA scores and a standard deviation of 15. The red bars show the same thing, with the major exception that an average IQ of 96 – that is, the national average – is assumed for ALL Russian regions.


As we can see above, the most suspicious results are mostly from ethnic Russian oblasts such as Stavropol, Kaluga, Rostov, Perm, and Vladimir, with the two big exceptions being Mari El and Chuvashia. To the contrary, Dagestan – the biggest Caucasian Muslim republic – has very few top scores relative to the number of very bright people we can expect to find there relative to most other Russian regions.

Finally, the reason that the red bar is a lot higher than the blue bar in Moscow, and to a lesser extent Saint-Petersburg, probably doesn’t have anything to do with foul play, but with the fact that their average IQ’s are about 106.6 and 102.6, respectively (i.e. considerably higher than the national average of 96). So while they generate a relatively disproportionate number of top USE scores, that is presumably because they attract the bulk of Russia’s most intellectual families (the so-called “cognitive clustering” effect).

Of course one problem is that we don’t have PISA data for all Russian regions. Maybe the Chechens do all the cheating then?

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Minorities’ Cognitive Performance In The UK

Here is data from the Cognitive Abilities Test for UK students in 2009/10 via Ambiguous.

Some interesting things to take away here:

(1) The sample is very large. Verbal IQ has the highest correlation with academic performance in most subjects, followed by Quantitative IQ, and then Non-Verbal Reasoning (recognizing patterns and such, I imagine).

(2) Indians do almost as well as Whites, although the structure of their cognitive abilities are a bit different: About 4 points lower than Whites in Verbal, but almost 2 points better in Quantitative. As rec1man said, “The Patels and Sikhs are Upper-Shudra / Vaishya and this is 80% of the diaspora in UK.” So this is highly encouraging for India’s eventual prospects; in indicates that the broad middle can in principle build a reasonably wealthy, middle-class society.

(3) The Pakistanis and Bangladeshis also don’t do too badly – certainly better than I would have expected (I visited a Pakistani school once in the UK and it was horrific).

(4) This might imply we are actually looking at the following average-IQ groups in India: Lower 40% – 93; Middle 40% – 99; Top 20% – 105, for an overall average of 98 (once Flynn Effect is done with them). That’s better than Greece today and certainly good enough  to have a developed society. But there’s tons of challenges: Malnutrition, slums, poor education, widespread vegetarianism (both voluntary and involuntary – due to poverty) that have to be sorted out for India to perform to its potential.

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Is The Ukrainian Children Learning?

According to a recent Vzglyad article by Olga Gritsenko titled Universal Stupefaction, no they are not. Here are the cold raw facts:

  • Libraries stock 4% of books published in Ukraine, compared to 18% in Russia and 40% in the US and Canada.
  • The average Ukrainian spends $2.5 on books in one year, compared to $22 in Russia.
  • In 2010/11, the average Ukrainian spent just under 3 hours reading newspapers and journals per week, down 25% from 2007/08. The equivalent figure in Russia is 7 hours.
  • In fairness, their universities are rated higher than Russia’s (as well as Poland’s and the Czech Republic’s) by an outfit called Universitas 21.

Obvious counter-objections don’t explain these shortcomings. Russia has a higher Internet penetration, but nonetheless Russians read a lot more books and newspapers. Nor can a nearly tenfold difference in per capita book sales be purely or even mostly a reflection of lower book prices in the Ukraine.

That said, in a sense these statistics aren’t surprising. According to international student assessments, the level of human capital in Ukraine appears to be similar to the lowest ranked ethnic Russian provinces in Russia. This does not bode well for Ukraine’s future economic growth, given the tight interrelationship between human capital and development, and might go some way to explaining the already big – and growing – prosperity gap with its Moskali neighbors.

Kremlin Dreams Sometimes Come True

This April, Michael Bohm, editor at the Moscow Times, published the article New Kremlin Dreamers, which questioned Russia’s stated intention of becoming an advanced industrial nation by 2020. I wasn’t much impressed by its pessimistic assertions – for instance, regarding Russia’s hopes of becoming the world’s fifth largest economy by 2020, he falls into the frequent Kremlinologist fallacy of applying standard GDP growth rates to nominal GDP (as opposed to purchasing-power parity GDP, which corrects for exchange rate fluctuations). He similarly passes over that countries in the process of economic catch-up typically grow much faster than the leader nations, because they have greater returns to investment. Soon after Yevgeny Kiselyov wrote Dreaming of Modernization and Innovation on a similar theme.

I disagree with them on two fundamental points. First, I don’t share in their pessimism and I believe that on purely objective factors, Russia – and much of the rest of East-Central Europe for that matter – is well set to converge to Western living standards by 2020 (which will by then probably be stagnating in light of peak oil and intensifying competition for energy resources from other emerging-markets). This is a point I made a long time back in Towards a New Russian Century? and Education as the Elixir of Growth. Second, even if that were not the case there is still a lot to be said of the power and utility of positive, optimistic thinking – ambition is no sin in my eyes, and in the case of government a moral duty to their citizens. Hence this rebuttal. 😉

Two recent articles in the Moscow Times took issue with the “Kremlin dreamers” for their rose-tinted views of Russia’s destiny, alleging that the main goals of “Strategy 2020”, like becoming the world’s fifth largest economy or doubling GDP per capita, are nothing more than utopian pipe-dreams. Yet an objective look at key current trends – in educational attainment, economic growth, resource depletion and climate change – suggests that these “fairy tales” have the potential to become reality.

First, Russia’s educational profile resembles that of a First World country, unlike most of its emerging-market competitors. Around 70% of Russians go into higher education, compared with just 20-25% of Brazilians or Chinese. The quality of its primary education is substantially higher than in developing nations, as attested to by the results of international student assessments like PISA or TIMSS. For instance, in the 2006 PISA science assessment, only 15.2% of Brazilians possessed skills beyond those needed for purely linear problem-solving, compared with 47.6% of Russian and 51.3% of American students. A country needs to have sizable cadres of skilled workers to move into added-value manufacturing or complex services. Brainier nations will also assimilate technology more easily and thus their economic “rate of convergence” to developed-world status will be that much faster. In this respect, Russia and east-central Europe are in a different league from East Asia, let alone Latin America or the Middle East.

Second, while there’s no denying Russia is plagued by corruption, to suggest it is endemic like in a failed state, as suggested by Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, is ludicrous – and would frankly be obvious to anyone who has visited both Russia and some of its neighbors on the list. Its problem is that it’s a survey of outsider businesspeople and their subjective perception of the situation, which differs markedly from the experiences of ordinary people. When asked, only 17% of Russians admitted to paying a bribe to obtain a service in 2007, according to TI’s Global Corruption Barometer – putting them in the same quintile as Turkey or the Czech Republics, i.e. slap bang in the middle of world corruption, not the end. The effects of corruption must also be set in context against a panoply of other, equally important growth factors. Goldman Sachs compiled an index called the Growth Environment Score, which aggregates a wide range of stats on macroeconomic, institutional, educational and technological conditions to assess a nation’s potential for economic “catch-up”. In 2007, Russia came in at 66th out of 181 countries, tied with China and ahead of Brazil and India.

Third, to fulfill one of the main goals of “Strategy 2020” – to become the world’s fifth largest economy, all Russia has to do is surpass Germany in purchasing-power parity GDP. Since according to the IMF Russia’s GDP was 2.26bn $ and Germany’s was 2.91bn $ in 2008, this can be achieved merely by maintaining an average growth rate of 2% points higher than Germany to 2020 – which seems entirely feasible considering that from 1999-2008 this difference was more than 4%. Doubling the GDP per capita over the next 11 years is trickier and requires continuing the average 1999-2008 growth rate of 6%. Though complicated by the current economic crisis, coming close is still entirely possible.

Fourth, Russia’s economy is not overly dependent on natural resource exports – they have stagnated since 2003 and the bulk of growth came from retail, construction and manufacturing. They are however crucial to replenishing government coffers, allowing the Kremlin to spend lavishly on things like military modernization, infrastructure expansion and prospective sunrise industries like nanotechnology – thus turbo-charging its plans for an “innovation economy”. (Granted, some is wasted like the 1bn $ project on the bridge to Russki Island, i.e. to nowhere). Fortunately for Russia, there’s no reason to believe oil prices will remain low. Even now, in the depth of the biggest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, prices never fell below $40 a barrel and have now rebounded to over $60. With oil production close to or already past its peak and Chinese voraciousness unquenched, a second oil price spike is only a few years away.

Finally, according to researcher Trausti Valsson, further in the future global warming will unfreeze remote energy resources in the Far North to exploitation, open up the Arctic to shipping, bolster Russian crop yields and increase the carrying capacity of Siberia and the Far North. Russia could literally end up on top of the world.

Wells may have ridiculed Lenin as a “Kremlin dreamer” in 1920, yet precisely a decade or so later the Soviet Union began to produce aircraft, tanks, trucks, machine tools and chemicals, boasting growth rates far higher than that of any other industrial nation. And though the USSR did set over-ambitious goals for the Five Year Plans, the achievements were impressive nonetheless.

By 2020, Russia will experience increasing problems due to adverse demographic trends, slowing growth due to (paradoxically) successful “catch-up”, and perhaps waning European demand for its natural gas and dissatisfaction with an increasingly atrophied and unresponsive descendant of the “Putin system”. As such, far from being a fairy tale, the “Kremlin dream” is a strategy for maintaining Russia’s geopolitical relevance well into a troubled 21st century.

Translation: The Case of the “Stalinist” Textbook

Ever since the publication of Filippov’s (in)famous textbook A History of Russia 1945-2006 in 2007, the state of Russian history teaching drew a fair degree of negative commentary in the West, some of it reasonably lucid, most of it superficial or hysterical. What the latter have in common is that they almost invariably haven’t read the actual, controversial chapter in question (Debates about Stalin’s Role in History), let alone the textbook itself, and as such can do little more than spout inane rhetoric about the imminent “rehabilitation” of Stalinism. As such I thought it fitting to do what the pundits should have done long ago, but couldn’t be bothered to – actually translate the chapter in question so that Anglophone readers could make up their own minds. Now that I’ve done so (scroll below), and bearing in mind the recent furor over Medvedev’s commission to battle the falsification of Russian history, I would like to make several comments of my own:

First, it is flat-out wrong to say that this textbook is the new standard of history teaching in Russia. It is just one of dozens of merely “approved” history textbooks (whereas the vast majority of Russian schools use a few “recommended” texts), has had only a very limited print run and was being trialled in only a few schools in four Russian regions as of the 2008-2009 academic year. Nor is it true that it received approval from the Presidential administration – in 2007 when it came out, Putin’s aide Dzhokhan Pollyeva criticized it for unprofessionalism (and I quite agree with her – the text is turgid and belabors its points using questionable examples). The most controversial authors, Filippov and Danilin (the latter of whom wrote the chapter on sovereign democracy), were not present at the meeting when Putin aired his views on how Russia was unfairly castigated for its history by professors and Westerners whose heads were filled with “porridge”.

Second, the book’s major sin is one of presentation – not omission. Dark chapters in Russia’s history like collectivization, the Gulag and political repressions are covered in both this chapter, and the preceding ones on Stalin’s postwar rule. As such, it is either dishonest or ignorant to focus on out-of-context sound bites like how Stalin was an “effective manager” or the “greatest Soviet leader”. The main issue the more serious critics have with it, is that instead of issuing blanket condemnations, it seeks to “rationalize” Stalin’s decisions within the as Filippov himself replies to this charge, “I was always annoyed by the belabored moralizing foisted on us in Soviet textbooks. I wanted to avoid this. And it seems I’ve over-succeeded in this, seeing as folks are now accusing me of amorality. I really wanted to avoid phrases like, “and this is the lesson we must take from this episode”, and it seems I may have tried too hard”. Though its inherent patriotic bias and you-can’t-be-neutral-on-a-moving-train-like approach is undeniable (in this respect, Filippov actually jumped Putin’s gun), it constantly urges its readers to make their own conclusions – an attitude far less Stalinist than that of some of his liberast and Western critics. Also, as Sean Guillory pointed out, many of its eyebrow-raising claims can act as good springboards for class discussion.

Third, contrary to Western claims, the fact of the matter is that history is politicized everywhere – and I’m not even talking of Japan’s reluctance to acknowledge its war crimes in the “East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere”, or Turkey’s de facto criminalization of Armenian genocide affirmation. Closer to home, as argued in Patrick Armstrong’s essay Airbrushing History, the Visegrad nations, Ukraine and the Baltics are busy rewriting their histories to create national victimization myths based on Russian occupation – while airbrushing prominent local Communist collaborators and anti-Semitism out of their rosy, kitschy paintings of the past. An example is Latvia calculating a bill of Soviet-incurred losses to present to Russia, while eliding over the contribution of the Latvian Rifles and non-Russian internationalists to the establishment of Communism in Russia; or Ukraine’s criminalization of denying the genocidal nature of the Holodomor, a risible view in light of the fact half its casualties were in non-Ukrainian black earth regions. Even in Western nations there is a strong prevailing belief in the absolute validity of their historical missions that frequently diminishes their less positive manifestations (though it is true that they are modulated by anti-colonialist, Marxist and postmodern views on the part of some of their intelligentsia, they do not present an existential spiritual threat as in Russia).

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Education as the Elixir of Growth II

A while ago I wrote Education as the Elixir of Growth on DR, in which I noted that in most countries the educational profile is closely correlated to their level of productivity. The major exceptions are nations with resource windfalls (inflated productivity) and socialist legacies (deflated productivity). Furthermore, the greater the gap between the ‘potential productivity’, as suggested by the human capital level, and actual productivity, the greater will be the rate of economic convergence. This rate in turn depends on the openness of an economy (i.e. the rate at which it can absorb the latest know-how). Some countries, however, cannot converge to advanced industrial levels, since their human capital is set at a low level – they have reached an asymptote relative to the developed world and cannot converge without improving their educational profiles relative to the latter.

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Education as the Elixir of Growth

What are the reasons behind the wealth and poverty of nations? Since this question has exercised the minds of thinkers from Adam Smith to David Landes, Jared Diamond and Richard Lynn, I decided to take a look at it myself. I came to the conclusion that while geography, macroeconomic policies, resource windfalls and the microeconomic environment do play important roles, by far the most important factor is the state of a country’s human capital – things like literacy rates, school life expectancy and performance on international student assessments.

This is not a new idea. A Goldman Sachs report, Dreaming with BRICs, noted that:

Many cross-country studies have found positive and statistically significant correlations between schooling and growth rates of per capita GDP—on the order of 0.3% faster annual growth over a 30-year period from an additional one year of schooling.

However, I think education is much more central to this. The problem with using years of schooling as a yardstick is that in many middle-income countries, like Argentina, Turkey or Brazil, the amount of schooling is converging to that of the developed world, but the quality isn’t. This is attested to by their performance on international student assessments like PISA. For instance, in the 2006 PISA Science assessment, only 15.2% of Brazilians were at Level 3 or higher (the threshold for moving beyond purely linear problem-solving), compared with 47.6% of Russian, 51.3% of American and 66.9% of Australian students. Is it really then surprising to discover that from 1997 to 2007 purchasing power GDP per capita in Brazil and Russia, both medium-income countries, has grown at 1.3% and 6.0%, respectively, i.e., that Russia is playing the game of economic catch-up much more successfully?

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Core Article: What We Believe

In the first 5 days of its existence, this blog has been priveleged to receive more than more than 200 page views from more than 100 visitors from 18 different countries. We have also been linked to by the Winthrop88 blog and Marginalia (probably the leading English-language blog about Latvia) – of those that we’re aware of, anyway.

We have also also been receiving mail. While most of it is constructive, some is of a negative character, along the lines of us being ‘unreconstructed Stalinists’, a Nashi-sponsored ‘Kremlin mouthpiece’ and ‘shameless apologists for Putins dictorship (sic)’.

To clear this up, we will compile a list of our opinions on various topics, Russia-related and not. This will make up a Core Article. This is so that you, dear reader, don’t have to waste your time on deconstructing our articles.

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