Monday, May 5, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Schools Shifting from Ukrainian to Russian as Language of Instruction

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 5 – Ostensibly at the insistence of parental demands and despite Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration that there are three official languages on the peninsula, Russian is replacing Ukrainian as the language of instruction in schools there, according to a report in “Izvestiya” today.

            The Moscow paper says that parents in Sevastopol, Simferopil, Yalta, Yevpatoria, Feodosia and Kerch and in “dozens of others” have asked school officials to change the language of instruction from Ukrainian to Russian and to use Russian government produced textbooks rather than those from Kyiv (

            According to “Izvestiya,” half of the schools in which Ukrainian was used have already decided to go over to Russian. Others have “not yet taken official decisions” but are expected to hold parental assemblies in the coming days. The paper says that only a handful of parents are objecting to the change.

                                                                       Using parental assemblies where voting is rarely by secret ballot has a long tradition in Soviet and Russian education as a favored means of introducing changes the authorities want. A few opinion leaders signal what the authorities favor, and most parents get the message and vote in the appropriate way.  That appears to be what Moscow has done in this case.

            In the new Russian-language curricula, which are to be introduced this fall, Ukrainian will be an optional subject, but the authorities have not yet decided how many hours of instruction in that language will be offered. 

            Natalya Goncharova, the education minister of the occupation regime, says that “all schools of the peninsula can choose any language” but insists that “few are prepared to exercise that right and keep instruction in Ukrainian.” As a result, she foresees a wholesale shift from Ukrainian to Russian.

            But more is involved than just a change in language, the paper noted.  Principals and teachers need to familiarize themselves both with Russian laws and with the content of Russian textbooks.  The problems are greatest for history teachers because now they must teach not the history of Ukraine but the history of Russia.

            Few changes are required for those teaching mathematics and physics, educators said, adding that they expect the transition to go smoothly because “the majority of teachers worked already in the times of the Soviet Union so it will be simple for them to re-orient themselves” in the new direction.

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