You see 2nd grade of Moscow school in 1969. Students are 8-9 years old. There were 48 students in the classroom. You can see only 45 students on the photo (you can count all of them yourself), three students were absent on the day of taking the picture. Because of the lack of desks, it was not uncommon for three students sitting at two-student desks. You can see three students sitting at one desk on the right row at the third desk. Not all Moscow schools were crowded as this one but it was not untypical school at this time as far as I know.
In the Soviet Union, elementary, middle and high schools were located in one building and were placed under unified administration. Because of shortage of space some schools were operating in two shifts. For example, in the school depicted on the photo, students from 1st and 5-10th grades attended school in the first shift starting at 8:30 am and ending about 2:30pm (depending on grade and number of lessons). Students from 2nd to 4th grades attended school in the second shift starting at 3:30 pm and ending about 7:30pm.
Students' desk placement in the classroom was the teacher's careful consideration. The teacher tried tightly control the classroom to minimize unsanctioned communication among the students. Friends were not allowed to sit closer than at least one desk in between them. In the classroom above, friends were sitting at least two desks apart. You may notice that boys and girls were placed in the "checker" order again to minimize same-gender contacts among the students. On average, there were rather hostile relations among boys and girls. The most problematic students (from the teacher point of view) were placed at the first desks (e.g., ones that smiled). Hands were supposed to be on the desk as you see. On the desks, students had to have a textbook, the report book ("dnevnik") where the teacher put current grades and notes for parents, a notebook, and a pen.
There were other types of competitions that were promoted in Soviet schools that were often called “socialist competition”,
The [Soviet pedagogical] manual begins with instructions for the teacher standing before the class on the first day of school:
It is not difficult to see that a direct approach to the class with the command, “All sit straight,” often doesn’t bring the desired effect since a demand in this form does not reach the sensibilities of the pupils and does not activate them.
In order to “reach the sensibilities of the pupils” and “activate them” according to principles of socialist competition, the teacher should say, “Let’s see which row can sit the straightest” (Silberman, 1971, p. 129).
All students wore uniforms (different for boys and girls). The class was divided onto several "Little Stars" with some formal structure set by the teacher. Almost all the 2nd graders (but not all) belonged to the Children of October Communist organization (you can see little pins on the students in the form of star with a picture of young Lenin in the center).
The classroom was ethnically diverse consisting mainly of Russians but also Ukrainians, Tatars, Poles, and Jews. Minority children were often verbally and physically harassed and abused by other kids (including other minority students). Some parents told children to distrust and to stay away from minority kids (e.g., "Don't play with them!" "Tatars are thieves and dirty," "Jews are cunning and treacherous"). Parents of the students were either workers or college graduates (e.g., engineers). There was no much division among the children based on parents' education or type of their work.
This picture was probably taken in the Museum of the October Revolution in Moscow (judging by the background). The students were from a school specialized in English (some subjects were taught in English). In typical school, English began to teach in the 5th grade but in the students in specialized school started learning English from the second grade. The students were chosen after passing special tests. In schools specializing in foreign languages, there were much more girls than boys. Not all children were initiated to join the Young Pioneer organization but only those who "deserved" it (i.e., chosen by the teacher) -- that made the whole issue of who could and who could not be a pioneer a tool of teacher's control. However, having too many non-pioneers could also harm the teacher in eyes of the school administration and the local party organization in school.
The picture was taken in the school (specializing in teaching English, described above) in the special hall where important events and ceremonies took place. Often the hall was decorated with Lenin's picture and ideological slogans (see on the walls). The occasion of the photo was the end of academic year. The teacher is in the center with the students (in the second row).
The photo was taken during a history lesson in a history classroom. All students moved from one lesson to another, from one classroom to another together. This was school specialized in math. There were often more boys than girls in such schools. The students were chosen at the end of the 7th grade after they "passed" math exams. The exams had 5th rounds of in-class and at-home problem solving of non-traditional math problems lasting more than a month. At the end, all children who persevered and did not drop from the exams were accepted to the school. Classes were relatively small: about 30 students (I taught physics in Moscow traditional schools and had typical high school classes with 40-42 students in the mid 1980s). Many school policies were more "liberal" than in traditional schools. Some teachers were dissidents and gave students "samizdat" (forbidden literature) to read (which was very dangerous for the teachers and the students).
In the school specialized in math, calculus were fully designed and taught by undergraduate students (on the left). There were about 3-4 teachers per classrooms. They gave the high school students a list of math problems reflecting historical development of calculus. The students were supposed to solve the problems either by themselves or in small groups (in the classroom or at home). The students could freely move and talk in the classroom. After solving the problem, the students had to discuss the solution with one of the teacher and send a written report. Sometimes, the teachers made presentation in a respond to a common concern indicating by the students.
On the photo, a teacher (left) was thinking on a solution of a math problem presented by the two students.
The webpage developed by Eugene Matusov