Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Clericalization of Schools Said Undermining Russia’s Ability to Compete

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 23 – Pressured by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian education ministry is preparing to dramatically expand the number of hours school children spend studying religion, a move that “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says will reduce the number of hours they spend on other subjects and ultimately Russia’s ability to compete in the world.


            In an editorial yesterday, the paper says that the ministry is preparing to include religion as a subject every year in the second through the ninth class. Now, it is taught only in the fourth class. And this despite clear indications that the Russian people are not interested in such a development (ng.ru/editorial/2014-09-22/2_red.html).


            Last year, the editors note, “the majority of pupils were not interested” in taking courses on a specific denomination, with 46 percent of them electing civic ethnics and 19 percent a survey course on world religious cultures.  But despite this the ministry says it is “fulfilling an assignment of the government” rather than responding to the demands of the church.


            “However,” the paper continues, “it is well-known that as soon as this subject appeared in the schools of the country, the [Orthodox] Church immediately began to push a variant” of it that reflected Orthodox values rather than those of anyone else. If the new clericalization of the instructional program goes through, that effort will only expand.


            Historically, as the church hierarchs insist, the Russian Orthodox Church did play a major role in the spread of literacy in Russia, “but in our time,” the paper says, “it is not enough just to be able to read and write.”  In the course of their time in school, pupils must master “an enormous sum of knowledge and skills.”


            The amount of instructional time is not flexible, the paper points out, and if more is given to religion, less will be available for other subjects, subjects Russian schoolchildren need to learn if the country is to be competitive and to make its way forward among other countries around the world.


            Without such skills and knowledge, it concludes, “Russia will lose in the global economic and political competition. The task of a state school is to prepare the new generations for this very harsh competitive environment rather than to teach young people to turn away from progress.”


            Unfortunately, in Russia today, deference to obscurantist groups is greater in some quarters than is concern about where the country is or should be heading.

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