The Origins of modern Russian education are transparently clear. Old Muscovy had only religious schools of little consequence. Peter the Great traveled to Western Europe and upon his return to Russia, imported teachers and books, opened the first modern schools, and abandoned the older traditions. The hallmark of the new Petrine educational policy was a fanatical emphasis on technical training. Reinhard Wittram, author of the finest biography of Peter the Great, contrasted the religiocentrism of Muscovite education with the practicality of the great reformer in the simple phrase, ‘Mathematick statt Katechismus,’ which suggests the radical secularization of the new schooling. James Billington merely echoed the conclusions of generations of earlier historians when he wrote that
[Peter the Great's] efforts to advance Russian learning were almost completely concentrated on scientific, technical or linguistic matters of direct military or diplomatic value. “To Peter's mind, ‘education’ and ‘vocational training’ seem to have been synonynlous concepts.” … Peter the Great was important not for introducing foreign technical ideas into Russia, but for making them the basis of a new state-sponsored type of education.