Staunton, June 21 – Regardless of how well migrant children speak Russian, they are being put in classes with other migrants of the same nationality who may not know it at all, a practice that is increasing the cultural and religious distance between the migrants and the indigenous Russian population, a Higher School of Economics study finds.
The HSE scholars reached that conclusion, one that is at odds with what the Russian government says it is doing and wants to see happen, on the basis of interviews with teachers, administrators, parents and pupils in Moscow, Moscow region, Tomsk and Irkutsk (daily.hse.ru/post/193).
According to an HSE summary, they found that classes in Russian schools are being formed “on the basis of the ethnic origin of the child and not his citizenship or knowledge of Russian. Consequently, even if a child was born in Russia and speaks Russian well, he is put in a class with children who recently came from the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus.”
The impact of this approach is exacerbated by the fact that ethnic Russian parents do whatever they can to transfer their children out of such classes, thus leaving them dominated by migrants and putting the migrant children in a marginal position in Russian society from their earliest years.
Yekaterina Demintseva, the HSE scholar who led this investigation, says that “schools aren’t ready to work with foreign children” so teachers develop their own strategies which often isolate immigrants and parents of migrant children feel discriminated as a result and thus are less and less willing to integrate with Russian society.
And she adds that many Russian teachers are convinced that the problems they face are very much more serious than they were in Soviet times because migrant children do not arrive in Moscow or other Russian cities knowing at least some Russian. As a result, “the cultural and religious distance between local residents and new arrivals is increasing every year.”
The situation is made still worse by another structural feature. Because the schools aren’t integrating immigrant children, parents who want their children to be able to function in Russia increasingly are turning to Muslim institutions who can provide help but inevitably with a Muslim accent.
What that means is that not only are the pupils becoming more ethnic rather than less in the schools but they are becoming more Muslim because of the actions of these structures. Not surprisingly, those who begin their lives with these experiences are going to be far less willing to integrate into Russian life than would otherwise be the case.