Moscow Kicking off Russia's school year Saturday, President Vladimir Putin said that for the first time next year the government was set to spend more money on education than on defense.
Russia's education system is chronically underfunded, and university admissions are plagued by corruption. Long-planned reform initiatives including extending school education from 11 to 12 years and introducing standardized tests for high school graduation have yet to move beyond the discussion stage.
In an address to students at the Moscow State Pedagogical University, Putin said schools are given priority over military spending in the draft budget that has been submitted to parliament, according to Russian media reports.
"Nothing is possible not building a democratic society, not creating a market economy nothing is possible without educated people," he said in televised excerpts of the speech. "We have to be honest: The state has not been giving enough attention to education in recent years."
The audience applauded vigorously when Putin repeated the government's pledge to double teachers' salaries, which currently average around $35 a month.
"Your applause ... only goes to show how undemanding the average Russian is. After all, the increase is not that great in absolute terms," he said.
Sept. 1 is traditionally celebrated as Knowledge Day in Russia, and even though it fell on a Saturday this year, students across the country gathered for opening ceremonies and meetings with teachers.