The Education Reform in Russia and Its Impact on Teaching of the Minority Languages: An Effect of Nation-Building?

By Zamyatin, Konstantin | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Education Reform in Russia and Its Impact on Teaching of the Minority Languages: An Effect of Nation-Building?


Zamyatin, Konstantin, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


Public minority-language schools have a crucial role in the preservation of the societal culture of the minorities. This article explores the institutional position of the languages of the minorities of the Russian Federation in the education system and its transformation as a result of the latest education reform. In the area of language education the reform was justified by the need to ensure the free choice of languages in education by citizens. However, it is argued that those who developed the reform were not as concerned with the rights of citizens as with a nation-building agenda. The analysis of policy documents and legal acts demonstrates that the education reform has not institutionally affected the modes of language education. It is further argued that the reform actually discourages teaching of minority languages and, therefore, will inevitably produce further decline in the numbers of students learning their "native language".

Keywords: Russia, education reform, language education, minority languages, nation-building

In many countries of the world language education policy is implemented in situations of linguistic and cultural diversity. The Soviet education system addressed issues of linguistic and cultural diversity within a separate structure of 'national education' (natsionalnoe obrazovanie). Russia's education system mostly began to take shape at the beginning of 1990s, and it inherited many educational structures of the Soviet period. Its construction continued for a decade. From the beginning of the 2000s the dynamics of language education in Russia began to be determined by preparations for a new educational reform. As in some other countries, the need for modernization was used as justification. It began through systematic attempts by the Russian Ministry of Education to change federal and regional educational policies and practices towards the recentralization of power in Moscow and 'restoring the role of the central state as a major "player" in school affairs' (Eklof, 2001: 16-17). In 2007 the reform was launched by the adoption of the amendments to the Education Law (Federal Law, December 1, 2007). Among other changes, the education reform eliminated 'national- regional' and school components from the state educational standards, which had previously served as a framework for teaching the history and languages of Russia's peoples. The authorities of Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and other republics expressed their concern that this elimination might hamper the teaching of history and language (Federalnyi standart, 2010: 7-14).

The problem is that, while the impact of the reform on teaching of history in the regions has been studied at length both domestically and internationally (see Eklof, 2001: 3, 10), its impact on various modes of minority language education has yet to be evaluated. How has education reform affected the institutional status of languages in Russia's education system today? To answer this question, the article will begin with an analysis of policy statements and legislative regulations1, along with official international and domestic reports2, expert opinions and other secondary sources. Second, it will explore Soviet language education legacies, before examining the position of languages in the Russian education system prior to the reform. Third, it will look at the ideological foundations for restructuring language education as part of the reform, as well as the content and the course of the reform. Finally, based on the data obtained, the impact of the education reform on modes of language education will be evaluated. The analysis is restricted to an investigation of the modes of language education in primary and secondary general school (obshcheobrazovatelnaia shkola) and does not address the issue of changes to the content of teaching, its volume or quality. Neither pre-school nor higher education, nor the teaching of foreign languages, are included within the scope of this study, which is designed and interpreted from a 'legal-institutional' perspective (see Kymlicka and Grin, 2003: 5- 7).

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