You think blended flex with a touch of hybridity is tough? Try a Soviet-era correspondence course

By Danny Millum – BLDS Metadata and Discovery Officer

One of the many consequences of the pandemic has been to accelerate the development and adoption of new teaching methods, with all the associated stress for teachers and students of having to hurriedly adapt to new approaches and new buzzwords. It’s hard to know which has been more of a headache – having to understand the difference between asynchronous rotation and blended hybrid or to listen to people complain about them.

Image of front cover of Report on the system correspondence course for teacher training in the USSR 1968
BLDS India – Ministry of Education – Correspondence Courses USSR – 1968

So it is in fact a bit of a relief to retreat to our BLDS Legacy publications and come across a more old school approach from the late 1960s, an era of close Indo-Soviet ties and exchanges, and where the cutting edge was the humble correspondence course.

This rare pamphlet from the Indian Ministry of Education details the visit of a three-man delegation of Indian educationalists to the USSR between 30 March and April 27 1967, as the world’s second most populous nation sought inspiration in reducing its high rates of illiteracy. The reason they were looking to the Soviets was two-fold – the close relationship between the two countries during the Cold War and the apparent success of the USSR using correspondence courses to overcome their teacher shortage [1], a vital step in in eradicating literacy and one which the Indian government also needed to solve.

The delegation certainly seemed to be impressed by what they found, gushing that;

‘through this extensive campaign of adult literacy work, carried through numberless persons trained through correspondence course that illiteracy had been practically wiped out of the country in the course of two decades’

Propaganda? Almost certainly – evidence for this is that Russian correspondence material was being reported by the 1990s to be often unreadable![2] But were the Russians pulling the wool over their guests’ eyes? Or did the Indian delegation want to report the successes of socialism for their own purposes? And before we get too judgemental, examples of nauseating triumphalism – I mean ‘huge success’ [3]– are just a quick UK Department of Education Google away.

Anyway, for those sick of Zoom breakout rooms and interested in finding out more about the Soviet Zoom alternative, the BLDS team ( will be happy to answer any follow up questions. Asynchronously of course.


1. Myers, Peter, (no date). ‘Can the Soviet education system help developing countries now?’, [Accessed 6th May 2021]

2. Kourotchkina, Anna & Zawacki-Richter, Olaf, (June 2012). ‘The development of distance education in the Russian Federation and the Former Soviet Union’, The international review of research in open and distance learning, Vol 13, No 3, pp. 165-184.

3. Department of Education, (March 2016). ‘DfE strategy 2015-2020
World-class education and care’, pp. 1-39.

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Posted in BLDS (British Library for Development Studies), IDS, The Library

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