" RICHEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD" A Demonstration for Tourists
From Our Russian Correspondent
An alleged conversation between a Soviet parachutist and a British officer at the recent manoeuvres of the Soviet Army in White Russia is given prominence in
Isvestia. Wishing to question a young parachutist, the visitor asked for an interpreter, whereupon the young man addressed him in perfect English : " Sir, no interpreter is necessary. I speak English, which 1 learnt in the Red Army." --Further, the amaaed• foreigner heardailaat his interldcutor was not even an officer,bataa private, the writer of the article implying that a perfect knowledge of foreign languages is quite common among the rank and file of the Red Army.
"Were you impressed by our descent, Sir?" inquired the Soviet linguist. " Very much," the Englishman replied, " but it must be very expensive?" to which he received the haughty answer that " the Soviet Union is the wealthiest country in the world."
The above story is printed on the first page of the paper; but, with the inconsistency and defective editorship characteristic of the Soviet press, page 3 of the same issue contains an article entitled " Ignorant Pedagogues." It speaks of the dearth of qualified teachers in Stalinsk. The schools are staffed by people who had been expelled from their schools for backwardness or even by quite illiterate persons. So to coach them summer schools have been instituted, at which they are expected to master a course of studies.
But, though 84 per cent. of them are granted teaching certificates, the results are in nowise felicitous. Their spelling is uncertain; in the realm of geography their ignorance astounding. Thus a teacher of geography had no idea of the capital of the U.S.S.R.; another, asked about the whereabouts of the capital of England, replied it was " in Vienna " and so forth.
Some were unable to explain the difference between prose and poetry; a teacher of German, asked to name the objects around him, confessed that he knew not a single German word, and even his stock of Russian words was most limited.
Shortage of Teachers
" How can we be surprised," says the writer of the article, " that half of our school-children were unable to pass their examination in 'the Russian language?"
The Soviet government has recently acknowledged that one of the most acute problems facing it was the shortage of teachers. Of the 270,000 primary-school teachers in the U.S.S.R. 160,000 have no secondary education. In other words, they know but little more than the pupils committed to their charge.
This makes one somewhat sceptical as to the fluent English of Red soldiers; and if the " conversation near the parachute" did actually take place, it was but another instance of skilful Soviet propaganda.
A few short years ago Mr. Bernard Shaw, Lord Lothian and Lady Astor went on a tour to Russia. They were taken to see a model farm, where the peasants conversed in perfect English with their delighted guests, who naturally carried away an impression of the extraordinarily widespread culture in the Soviet State.
But what they did not know was that this particular farm was an exception left unmolested to be displayed to the " innocents abroad." It was worked by Russian Dissenters who had emigrated to America, where they did well and acquired knowledge of scientific farming, and also of the English language.
When the revolution came, and the provisional government proclaimed " freedom of conscience," they returned to their old country with money and machinery. The Soviet government was quick to see the propaganda value they presented, and this is why their farm was made a showplace for tourists.