August 15, 2013 / 10:41 AM / 6 years ago

Russia to close hundreds of schools after population drops

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia will close more than 700 state schools this year, its top health official said, responding to a drop in birth rates and life expectancy in the decades since the Soviet Union collapsed.

“We are planning to shut down 733 schools this year” including 466 in the country’s central heartland, Surgeon General Gennady Onishchenko told Interfax.

The education ministry said it was unable to verify the figure.

A 2010 census showed Russia’s population fell by 3.4 million over the previous decade, despite the economic boom that President Vladimir Putin presided over from 2000 to 2008.

That demographic slide is expected to take 1 million employees out of the workforce by 2017, hurting the Kremlin’s bid to compete with other major emerging economies like China and India.

The decline started in 1995, during the brutal economic and political transitions that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Since then, Russia has implemented measures to try to stabilize numbers, including giving additional benefits to mothers and tightening laws that govern the sale of alcohol or tobacco use.

Statistics since the 2010 census suggest the population may have leveled off and could be growing again.

Russian state schools take pupils aged seven to 18. For the remaining 44,000 institutions, the academic year begins on September 1, Onishchenko said.

Reporting by Thomas Grove; Editing by John Stonestreet

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