Social Institutions In The Modernization Of Russian Basic Education Of The 19th Century


The article reveals the role of leading social institutions such as universities, general educational institutions and families that have influenced education in Russia. Using qualitative research methods, the authors have analysed the role of universities, general educational institutions and families in contributing to the development of education in Russia in the 19th century. Universities are the centers for educating academic personnel from which scientific schools originate as well as general education authorities. The article also describes the process of formation and legislative consolidation of the status for the main social educational institution as a general educational school, Family, which acts as a traditional social institute, has undergone changes which have contributed to the development of the family as a social institution open to the challenges of time, making possible the implantation of innovative trends in traditional popular education. Each of these social institutions have played a certain role in the development of general education, and this process was activated by the state using active legal regulations. These social institutions are a tool by which innovations are implanted in the existing system of education and upbringing of children.

Keywords: Educationpowersocietycommunitiesfamily


The 19th century was for Russia an important period of the institutionalization of education, which gave a national color to the process of modernization of national schools on the basis of progressive principles, aligning this process to similar paths taken in other European countries.

The idea of Russian national education based on a combination of national traditions and European innovations became the basis of the state educational policy. Its main task was to form the interaction of various institutions of Russian society in the upbringing and training of young generations.

The role of social institutions, considered in their classical sense, in the education and upbringing of a person is exceptionally important. In the framework of the classical approach, there is no single idea of social institutions. Some researchers understand them as the political organizations and legally formalized associations; others take the formed system of norms of behavior and livelihoods as the pattern of institutions of society.

Problem Statement

During this time, the three important educational institutions in Russia, such as the university, general educational school and family, began to play an increasingly active role. In our opinion, for a more adequate representation of the role of Russian social institutions in the development and modernization of the Russian education system, it is necessary to have a specific historical understanding of the characteristics that existed in the educational system of the country in the 19th century.

Research Question

What is the significance of the leading social institutions related to education in Russia in the 19th century in solving the problems of modern Russian education?

Purpose of the Study

The article highlights trends in educational modernization that determined the role of main institutions of the Russian society in the 19th century in order to establish the role that these institutions played in the development of modern Russian education.

Research Methods

The research design was qualitative in nature as it involved an in-depth analysis of documents from the historical-sociological and historical-genetic perspective. A system-synchronic and system-diachronic analysis, as well as the retrospective approach were also employed to identify trends and patterns.



The 19th century in Russia was characterized as the century of reforms in a lot of spheres of public life, including education. The process of reforming of the higher education, which began in Europe at the end of the 18th century and early 19th century, influenced the development of Russian universities. Created at the beginning of the 19th century, they were oriented towards an ideal model of university education in Europe at the end of the 18th century and the first years of the 19th century. The University of Gottingen for instance, did not have as its the main goal the training of academic staff, but the training of “those professions that were already firmly established the social structure of society (government workers, lawyers), and who were not required to make advances in science” (Antonov, 1985, p.64).

The founding of Berlin University in 1810 by Wilhelm von Humboldt was a significant event in the history of European university education. His model was based on the idea of a national university. His contemporaries saw in such a university the embodiment of the “national spirit”, source of national pride and factor of further national development (Suponina, 2010).

In the first half of the 19th century, in the history of Russia, despite the differences in educational policy, the government paid special attention to the establishment of university education. From the very beginning, universities had a wide autonomy. A great influence on the formation of the university as an institution of education was the fact that in 1804 they were given the authority to manage the education and censorship at the district level. Prior to that, the universities were deprived of the rights of censorship under Nicholas I. However, after that, many professors of Russian universities were attracted to work as censors. In 1835, due to the adoption of the new University Charter, the reformation of Russian universities began, for which the training of professors related to the reformation was actively initiated. Emperor Nicholas I (1825–1855) brought this process under his personal control. The formation of domestic universities as social institutions was largely promoted by the policy developed by the Minister of Public Education S.S. Uvarov. He did not only proclaim, but also realized the idea of a “Russian university” as an integral part of the national education system (Аndreev, 2009, pp. 9 – 32)

In 1835, the University Charter was adopted, and it became the Russian equivalent of Humboldt’s university initiatives in Germany, where for the first time, a new university was created based on the principles of priority of national interests, full state support and patronage, as well as combination of research and teaching of an ever wider range of students. In the public mind, the mission of the university began to be seen in the preservation and multiplication of scientific and academic culture and education on its basis of dignified citizens who benefited the Fatherland. Thus, at that time, the background for the formation of the main mission of the university as an institution of education for a “cultural personality” was formed in Russia, about which the well-known philosopher Kh. Ortega-i-Gasset wrote in the modern period, highlighting the three main functions of a modern university which were: “I. Cultural transmission. II. Job training. III. Scientific research and scientific training of new people” (Ortega-i-Gasset, 2010, p.144).

In this regard, it should be noted that the development of a university as a social institution is inextricably linked with the formation of an independent cultural system, in which innovative social schemes were designated, based on the implementation of the principle of autonomy and the execution of the will of state power enshrined in legislation. In the process of developing universities, this principle was ignored by the political and administrative power of the Russian Empire, which led to certain crises. Nevertheless, in the course of the 19th century, the active and progressive development of domestic universities as a new social institution of Russian education took place. The Russian state has managed to provide a high level of training for professors, as evidenced, for example, by the historical experience of the Derpt Professorial Institute.

Hence, universities became the centers for the formation of scientific schools in Russia which had a significant impact on the cultural and economic development of the country.

General Educational Schools

The most important educational institution in Russia is the primary and secondary school. Its formation and development proceeded in the context of a combination of traditional spiritual and legal traditions of Russian education and the Western tradition of natural law, which was reflected in the legal acts of the 19th century. Despite the diversity of normative acts in education, it was possible to identify the main political and legal ideas, on which the modernization orientation of basic education in the country was based.

The institutional development of secondary schools in Russia in the 19th century occurred by expanding the circle of people who had the opportunity to participate in the organization of schools. Throughout the century, the possibility of coordinated decisions on educational issues by central, regional state authorities of Russia and local governments was expanded. This circumstance provided the possibility of the democratization of education at this level. The reforms in the field of education at this level in the second half of the 19th century actually formed the institute of the ideal sample of the general education schools of the state, which was a way of modernizing the institution.

An important factor in the institutionalization of the education system of the second half of the century was the strengthening of the legislative regulation of church-state relations in the field of basic education, which certainly became an important factor in the democratization of school education. At the same time, no matter in which departmental subordination the institutions were located, by the end of the century almost all of them had the same criteria by which their activities were evaluated. This circumstance also made it possible to show the strengthening of the social and cultural certainty of education as a social institution at the national level and the main task definition in the context of early modernization.

The fact that the growth of the initial useful knowledge in the country took place on a high religious and moral basis which was traditional for Russia also showed the active process of the institutionalization of basic education. At the same time, it was repeatedly pointed out that the understanding of the religious basis should not mean the unconditional subordination to tradition, ritual and canon, but should promote the rational use of the cultural and educational potential of religion to solve practical problems of education in the context of the country's modernization. Additionally, the general national idea of Russian education, was preserved, which was education itself. Adherence to this idea contributed to preserving the balance of the traditional character of the national school and the implementation of training and educating of new ideas, mainly in the Western liberal format.

As a result, an important place in the institutionalization of basic education in Russia was the change in legislation, which was more flexible and better adapted to the rapid changes in the education system over a large area with diverse cultural and historical traditions. It harmonized the process of modernization of education at the regional level, when the differences in the mentality of Russian society were clearly manifested, which generally interpreted and implemented it differently, while accepting the general idea of education. In such conditions, without institutionalization, the development of the educational system of Russia in the course of modernization would be problematic. Moreover, having developed a legal framework for the modernization of the educational sphere, neither the government nor the society had a single developed mechanism for its effective implementation in school practice for a long time.

The main social and political outcome of the institutional formation of basic education at that time was also the search for a balance between Westernized and liberal, based on the traditions of natural law and traditional imperial principles. The legal norms that ensured the process of modernization of education were ideally created from the point of view of the legislative practice of Western civilization. The normative acts based on the principles of natural law were implemented with certain difficulties in the context of Russian reality, which led to a decrease in their value potential and contributed to the development of legal nihilism among some participants in the educational legal relations.


One of the most important social institutions of the Russian Empire, experiencing the influence of the modernization processes of this historical time, was the family. The process of institutionalization of the family was carried out under the influence of state and legal regulation of marriage and family behavior and was of a positive nature, which was due to the desire of the state to maintain traditional values and form new ones that did not contradict traditional ones.

The objects of state interest were those spheres of family relations, the legal rationing of which reflected the state’s understanding of the value basis for organizing family life based on the norms of the Christian “matrimony-parenthood-relationship” model which was mandated by law. This circumstance contributed to the institutionalization of the family as a factor in the modernization of Russian education in its traditional understanding of education.

The Russian legislation took effective measures to strengthen the institutional status of the family, balancing between the innovations of the time and the traditions of Russian society. Thus, according to the existing legislation at the time, the sancitity of family relations was recognized only upon condition of a religious marriage. Articles 38 and 42 of the Civil Code of the Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire laid down certain requirements for marital life where extramarital relationships were branded as caused by the lasciviousness of the spouse indulging in such extramarital relationships (Sobranie, 1912, pp.10,19). These criteria emphasized the importance of preserving chastity in the interpersonal relationships. Mutual commitment (“physical and moral unity”), focus of the clergy on the consent of the intending spouses during the wedding ceremony, confirmation of this consent by the best man and bridesmaid; all these factors testified to the recognition of love as the main spiritual source in the creation of a new family (Sobranie, 1912, pp. 3, 5, 6).

The recognition of marriage as legal only in the case of church marriage "in accordance with the rules and rites of the Orthodox Church" was an affirmation of the value of the Orthodox faith in family education (Sobranie, 1912, p. 6).

The law was more relaxed in relation to marriages between Christians of different denominations, hereinafter referred to as “civil” ones (Zagorovsky, 1902, pp.51–52) which was the result of foreign and domestic political activities of Russia. In an effort to take a strong position on the world stage after a failed performance in the Crimean War of 1853-1856 and with the end of the Russo-Turkish war of 1877–1878, relations with European and Oriental countries were regulated on the principles of partnership and good neighborliness.

A separate area of regulation of family relations was the status and role position of family members. The status in the family and the set of rights and obligations connected with it were initially linked to the moral aspect of the role realized in the family. As the definition of marital status in the normative acts, the following categories were distinguished: husband, wife, spouses, parents, father, mother, children and genus.

Such notions as “husband”, “wife” and “spouses” mostly covered the sphere of intimate relations connected with the duty of mutual help, and were associated with the categories “marriage”, “chastity”, “family harmony”: “A husband must love his wife, as his own body, live with her in harmony, respect, protect, forgive her weaknesses and relieve her sicknesses” … “A wife must obey her husband as the head of the family; treat him with love and respect” (Sobranie, 1912, p. 19). Such notions as “parents”, “father”, “mother”, “children” and “genus” filled the value sphere related to the very foundation of a marriage and the creation of a family in the full sense of the word. The genus was recognized as a symbol of family strength: “The genus is the connection of all family members, male and female, from one common ancestor, even if not all of them have his name or nickname” (Sobranie, 1912, p.33). The requirement of reverence for the memory of departed parents, which “must continue even after their death” as an obligatory ritual, actualized the meaning of blood relationship (Sobranie, 1912, p.29).

The analysis of legislative acts on the differentiation of the rights and duties of father and mother allowed us to draw a number of important conclusions. First of all, the procedure of differentiation of rights was connected, on the one hand, with the legislator's idea of the educational ideal and combined with the category “duty”, and, on the other, with the degree of authority of each parent individually (“father”, “mother”). The role of the father was traditionally considered as the main householder. According to the law, the authority of the father obliged him to provide economically for the home: “He is obliged to provide food and supplies according to his condition and ability” (Sobranie, 1912, p.19). The essence of the unity of the father’s and mother’s role as a condition for the success of a “good and honest upbringing” (1912) was expressed in the notion of “parents” (Sobranie, 1912, p.28).

The most important value of family education, such as “the authority of parental power,” based on the natural dependence of children on parents, was associated with the notion of “parents”. The authority of parental power was strong until the end of the 19th century. Such a position of the state with respect to parents proceeded from the understanding by the authorities of the obligation of parents “to give underage children food, clothing and education” (Sobranie, 1912, p.28). The state highlighted their responsibility for “preparing children for useful activities” (Sobranie, 1912, p.19). The need for moral education as “the contribution to the types and morals of the government”, as well as the establishment of the obligation of parents to raise children “from 10 to 18 years within Russia” (Sobranie, 1912, p.19) proclaimed the value of the Empire, Fatherland and Homeland and the associated concepts of national dignity, civic duty, and orderliness.

During the historical period under investigation, Russian legislation paid special attention to issues related to the legal status of the child in the family. In the course of analysis of the content of legislation, the idea of the complete dependence of children on parents appeared, which was supported by the centuries-old custom of the unquestioned authority of adults. The state, proclaiming the duties of parents to take care of the spiritual health of children, did not offer new legal forms of relations between parents and children, except for unconditional obedience: “Children should show their parents sincere respect, obedience, humility and love; ... speak of them with respect” (Sobranie, 1912, p.19). At the same time, it looked after the interests of the child. It was reflected, first of all, in the legislative establishment of the obligation of both spouses to support and raise children, in the introduction of the guardianship system and the system of testamentary succession.

Confirming the previous restrictions on parental power, the child’s right to life was proclaimed: “Parents do not have the right to the life of children, and for their murder they are judged and punished according to criminal laws” (Sobranie, 1912, p.28).

In case of abuse of their powers (exploitation of children, coercion to beg for alms, embezzlement of property inherited by children, intentional involvement of children in a crime, etc.) parents were deprived of parental rights (Sobranie, 1912).

In total, the documents contained about 50 acts. All of them were specific and close to the norms of customary law based on the traditions of national life. The idea of the normative acts were perceived by the Russian family as values. The desire of the Russian government to strengthen the family institution formed over the centuries would make it possible to consider it the basis of the national culture of family education. The norms and values of family life, provided by the state in laws and regulations, subsequently became the norms and values of the family itself, determining in the future the values of family education.

Thus, the Russian state throughout the 19th century pursued a deliberate policy to strengthen the family as the most important social, economic and educational institution of Russian society.


To sum up what has been said, it should be mentioned that each of the observed social institutions in education in a particular country and in a particular historical era played a certain role in the overall structure of the system for transferring socially significant knowledge to the younger generation. During the 10th century, the University, General Educational School and Family were the main educational institutions on which the educational system of modernized Russia was built and to which it owes a debt of gratitude.

Each of these institutions contributed to the formation of social values ​​of education, which quickly changed under the influence of the processes of modernization that actively proceeded in Russia of this time.

Despite the complex and controversial development of these social institutions, it should be noted that the democratization process was common for them, caused by the voluntary or involuntary perception of Western values that had taken root in Russia as a result of the intensification of modernization processes throughout the 19th century.

It should also be noted that over the course of the 19th century, practically the entire educational system of Russia became the sphere of legal regulation. The pre-state level of educational relations almost slipped out of existence. And this circumstance, in many respects contributed to the formation of basic education as the most important social institution; the arena of the formation of a balanced social and state cooperation.


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28 February 2019

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Ovchinnikov, A. V., Volodina, L. O., & Karnaukh, N. V. (2019). Social Institutions In The Modernization Of Russian Basic Education Of The 19th Century. In S. Ivanova, & I. Elkina (Eds.), Cognitive - Social, and Behavioural Sciences - icCSBs 2018, vol 56. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 57-65). Future Academy.