Education Reform Under Alexander II



This image taken by famous Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii depicts a group of students in Samarkand, Uzbekistan.  Prokudin-Gorskii was particularly interested in recently acquired territories of the Russian Empire such as Turkestan (present-day Uzbekistan), which he visited on a number of occasions, including a trip in 1907 that focused on the ancient cities of Bukhara and Samarkand.

Following the emancipation of serfs carried out by Tsar Alexander II in 1861, a number of other notable reforms were implemented throughout the remainder of the 19th century.  Some of the most influential reforms pertained to the education system in the Russian empire.  One of the main concerns of the state after the emancipation of serfs was the issue of properly assimilating these newly freed citizens into  Russian society and eliminating widespread illiteracy.  Through the work of the Orthodox church, the Ministry of Education, and the zemstvo (local government body) a series of elementary level schools were constructed in order to educate the former serfs.

In addition to the creation of these elementary schools, changes were also made at the secondary education level with the help of the University Statute of 1863.  This statute turned Russian universities into self-governing bodies with greater freedom than those during the rule of Tsar Nicholas I.

Unfortunately these reforms were not universally welcomed by all in Russian society, particularly nobility.  The opening of new schools enabled former serfs and non-nobles to become educated enough to take positions in the military and civil service that were previously reserved for nobles.  The enhanced education of peasants also created a more politically informed lower class (which had originally been the purpose of educating them) that could now speak out to the bureaucracy about its needs.  This created tension and political unrest among former serfs that would continue for years after emancipation.

Sources Cited

Picture Title: Studenty v Mudaris. Samarkand (Students in Mudaris Samakand)

Permanent Record:,_1855-92.html

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 209-222. Print.

11 Responses to “Education Reform Under Alexander II”

  1. September 2, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    I think this is a great post. I was intrigued by the educational reforms in Russia as well and hit on it in my blog this week also. The emancipation of the serfs created a catch 22 of sorts in terms of education. The newly freed serfs needed to be educated in order to be capable, productive members of society, yet, providing education to them gives them the knowledge to question the government and effectively organize against it. The Russian government had no choice but cultivate the seeds of its demise.

  2. September 2, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    I agree with Connor as well. If the serfs remained uneducated after being freed, they would still be dependent on the imperial government. If they became educated, they would begin turning the social and political norms upside down. The empire had no choice but to educate them because their continued dependency was not an option. In turn, this fueled the fire leading up to the revolution and demise of the imperialist government.

  3. A. Nelson
    September 2, 2013 at 7:39 pm #

    Connor’s post ( works well with this one to highlight the importance of educational reform after the emancipation. For the madras students pictured here, how significant was gender and religion to their experience of Empire? How would their experience differ from and be similar to that of Prokudin-Gorskii and Mendeleev?

  4. September 2, 2013 at 11:34 pm #

    In order to keep up with the rest of the world powers at the time, Russia needed to free its serfs and see to it that they were properly educated. This post effectively describes many of the reforms instituted by the Imperialist government, and the effect they had on the larger Russian lower classes. By educating the peasantry and teaching them to do even the most basic thing such as reading, eventually you will cultivate a society that wants to better itself by continuing to improve their standard of living and freeing themselves of the oppression of the upper class. As Connor has already mentioned, it is obvious that the Imperialist set the stage for their own undoing but that they had no choice. Eventually, either Russian was going to fall severely behind the rest of the developing world, or the Russian people were going to become educated to allow them to compete with other world powers, but at the cost of the nobility losing their power base over the lower classes. Eventually, the Russian Empire was going to collapse no matter what, it was only a matter of time.

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