Monday, June 1, 2015

Moscow Officials Say Non-Russian Language Education Now a ‘Luxury’ Russia Can’t Afford

Paul Goble


            Staunton, June 1 – Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed program for the optimization of the Russian education system is supposed to solve “two major tasks” – reducing the amount of money the government has to spend on education while raising the quality of education, according to Matvey Storchkov.


            “Unfortunately,” the writer notes, “in the majority of cases, the pursuit of the first goal makes the realization of the second impossible;” and among those who particularly suffer from cutbacks in state support for schools are non-Russian children in regions far from Moscow (


            Indeed, Storchkov says, Putin’s “optimization” program represents a threat to schools in non-Russian languages and increasingly is making education in the native language of those who speak a language other than Russian “a luxury” that the current Russian government has decided it cannot afford


            But what makes this attitude and its consequences especially insupportable and infuriating is that while Moscow is cutting back support for non-Russian language education in the Russian Federation, it has announced plans to spend two billion rubles (40 million US dollars) to promote Russian-language instruction abroad (


            “One of the most unpopular measures of optimization as far as parents and teachers are concerned,” Storchkov says, “is the unification of schools and the closing of ‘ineffective’ educational organizations.” In big cities, that means simply the redrawing of school districts; but in non-Russian areas, it can mean the destruction of non-Russian education.


            The journalist gives three examples, each of which threatens the future of non-Russian communities and each of which has generated protests from parents and teachers.


            The first concerns a boarding school in the village of Russkinskaya in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District. There, “’the optimizers’ have suggested that such a schools is an excessive luxury” and that the children should simply be put in local schools. But that argument ignores two things, the journalist says.


            On the one hand, all the children in the boarding school are Khanty whose parents live a nomadic way of life and who are unlikely to get any schooling if the boarding school is closed. And on the other, without such a school, they will not only lose their own language but lose the chance to gain skills to integrate in modern life.


            The second case involves educational arrangements in Timoshino near St. Petersburg. There officials want to close local schools and put all the children into a boarding school because the roads are too bad to travel on. But the consequence of that is that the children, most of whom are members of the Weps nationality, will be taught in Russian rather than in their native tongue.


             Parents and teachers of those who will be affected have organized protests and sent letters, so far without result, complaining that this educational reform must not be implemented lest it destroy their Finno-Ugric people. As Storchkov points out, these two cases show that Moscow has not adopted any consistent policy and regional officials are pursuing their own.


            And the third case involves parents, teachers and students in Sakha. Several weeks ago, parents marched through the streets of Yakutsk to demand that officials reverse their decision to ignore the ethnic and linguistic needs of children in making decisions about the languages used in schools.


            In the past, officials had supported Yakut language schools in Yakut majority areas and Russian language schools in others. But now, the former are under threat of closure because officials believe they can save money by amalgamating non-Russian schools with Russian ones. Parents say their complaints about this are being ignored.

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