Thursday, May 19, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Muscovites Want Their Children to Study in Schools without Migrants

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 19 – Now that “up to 60 percent” of the pupils in the primary schools of the Russian capital are children of migrants who do not speak Russian well, an increasing number of Muscovite parents are doing whatever they can to ensure that their children go to those schools which have few or no migrant children, according to a Moscow newspaper.

Educational officials in Moscow prefer that parents send their children to the schools that are closest to their homes, but the parents of many believe that their children will have a less successful academic experience if they are surrounded by other pupils for whom Russian is not a native language (

As one father put it, an article in “Komsomolskaya Pravda” today reports, he would rather have his child be in a school nearby so that he and his family would not have to get up so early. But that school is “”full of these … How can the teacher teach if half of the pupils do not speak Russian!””

Such attitudes undoubtedly reflect both xenophobia of some parents and worries about the well-being their children, but the situation has already reached the point, the paper says, that Muscovites now speak about “’white’” and “’black’” classes because in many schools on the outskirts of Moscow half or more of the pupils are “children of migrant workers.”

The low Russian language competence of many of the migrant children puts a serious burden on classroom teachers, the paper continues. Those who complain about the difficulties of keeping the interest of native Russian speakers while developing Russian language skills among others are told by their directors: “’You’re a teacher; teach!’”

Such problems in the classroom are creating “a serious problem for many school directors” in the Russian capital, “Komsomolskaya Pravda” says. Some believe that the best thing is to segregate those with poor or non-existent Russian language schools while others are convinced that the best way for such pupils to learn is to be thrown in with Russian pupils.

And many of these directors are upset because, the paper notes, “in essence, the only social institution which adapts [migrants in Moscow] if not the adults then at least their children for life in the Russian capital is the school,” an institution that is already asked with ever fewer resources to carry out other tasks as well.

There is a network of special classes where Russia is taught as a foreign language. In Moscow at the present time, there are 211 such groups, but they cannot hope to serve the hundreds of thousands of migrant children. And there are only ten schools entirely devoted to this task in Moscow in which are enrolled all of 417 children.

There are many reasons for this shortage besides the obvious financial difficulties. Many parents “often don’t want their child to lose a year,” as they assume those in such schools do. Others don’t want to take the trouble involved in getting their children into such schools. And still a third group resists because its members are unsure of how long they’ll stay in Moscow.

Some Moscow teachers report that in springtime, they suddenly lose “half of their pupils” if these are from Central Asia because the children are sent home to work in the fields of their relatives. And others say that female Muslim pupils are often pulled out of class because their parents don’t believe they need much education at all.

Most teachers involved with such children, however, are committed to providing them with the instruction they have a right to as residents of the Russian Federation. But unfortunately, they sometimes face a problem: “There is no legal foundation” for insisting that a foreign child study Russian. Indeed, the paper says, “no one has the right to do that.”

Many observers are likely to view all this simply as evidence of nationalism among the pupils, but the reality is more complicated. According to the Moscow journalist, “teachers, directors, and the children themselves assured [him] that there is much less nationalism in the capital’s schools than there is outside their doors.”

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