Friday, December 28, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Schools Hope to Overcome Their Pupils’ Dislike of Migrant Children

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 28 -- Seventy-five percent of pupils in Moscow schools say they are “negatively inclined” toward children whose parents have arrived in their city from non-Russian areas, but school officials have been stymied in their efforts to address this problem by a lack of funds, scheduling difficulties, and the opposition of parents.
On Wednesday, the capital’s education department held a press conference to show off two new textbooks its staff have prepared to help integrate the 30,000 pupils in the Moscow school system who do not speak Russian as a native language, Komsomol’skaya Pravda reported yesterday (
The books, one for kindergarteners and a second for those in the first several grades, are intended to help the non-Russian arrivals adapt to Russian realities, but they also present a picture of multi-cultural cooperation that sadly is not very much in evidence either in the schools or in the society at large.
On the cover of one of the textbooks “little children of all skin colors are smiling,” the paper said. Inside the pupils are told what the Russian state shield is, who the president is, and why people need a government. And the pictures on its pages are signed by ethnic Russians, Buryats, Chechens and Tatars.
School officials said that they had devoted four years and some 350,000 rubles (14,000 U.S. dollars) to the preparation of these books which they hope will reduce the tensions between native Muscovites and new arrivals that are reflected in the poll results mentioned above.
But so far, they have not been able to overcome not only the consequences of such low levels of funding but two other problems as well. On the one hand, “Komsomol’skaya Pravda” reported, officials say that there is no gap in the curriculum for a new class where these texts could be employed.
And on the other, both the pupils themselves and their parents -- both native Muscovites and the migrants -- have been vocal in their objections to introducing tolerance courses because that would reduce the amount of time the students have to acquire the knowledge they need to succeed in more advanced grades.
Native Muscovite parents frequently have opposed the opening of special schools for migrants, believing that such institutions take funds away from the education of their own children. And migrant parents generally appear to believe that their children will get more benefits from normal courses than from any tolerance program.
Consequently, as the newspaper pointed out, the good intentions of the school system seem likely to founder on the harsh realities of the world in which Moscow schools exist -- unless, as some teachers have suggested, these texts designed to produce tolerance might be included in existing courses on “the world around us.”

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