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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

School within a School

Language policy, the Crimean way
13 September, 2005 - 00:00

The Crimean authorities have approved a decision to increase the number of bilingual schools on the peninsula. According to the autonomy’s Minister of Education Oleksandr Hluzman, for the current school year the Ministry of Education opened 25 bilingual Russian-Ukrainian schools despite initial plans to open 15 Ukrainian schools. Hluzman says that his ministry has not received a single complaint from parents objecting to their children being taught in Ukrainian. This year the peninsula’s schools are better prepared than last year. Although until now there were always hundreds of vacant teaching positions at the beginning of every school year, this year Crimean schools are short only 20 teachers. This is due not so much to larger numbers of graduating teachers as to the fact that every year enrollment in Crimean schools has been dropping by 12,000. Educators have used this opportunity to diversify the peninsula’s schools linguistically.

In recent years the Crimea has undergone complex demographic processes that have made reforms in the system of education an increasingly urgent necessity. The problem of language in education tops the list of problems in terms of complexity and importance. According to the 2001 census, the percentage of Slavs has declined in the Crimea as opposed to a 6.4-time increase in the number of Crimean Tatars, a 4.6 increase in the Uzbek population, and a 73% rise in the number of Azerbaijanis, who live in the Crimea. The Jewish population in the Crimea has shrunk by 70% over the past 12 years. At the same time, the influx of Armenians, who currently represent one of Crimea, is accelerating.

Minister Hluzman says that his ministry is consistent in its efforts to implement the national language policy in the sphere of education. In 2004, Crimea’s parliament endorsed a resolution “On the Program to Develop and Promote the Use of the Ukrainian Language in the Autonomous Crimean Republic from 2004 to 2010,” which is being implemented by various ministries and departments, local executive and self-governing bodies. With a view to harmonizing educational interests and opportunities for various nationalities residing in the autonomous republic, in 1996 the Crimean Ministry of Education developed a uniform program to reform and develop a network of schools with classes taught in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages. Educators used this program endorsed by the Crimean government in 1997-2004 to conduct annual studies of the national composition of school populations, poll parents in the regions, and decide whether to open schools with classes taught in the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages.

Experience has shown, however, that schools with two or three languages of instruction are most popular with children and parents: existing Russian-language schools have added Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar language classes. Such classes are created wherever there are at least 8 requests from parents in city schools and 5 in village schools. Smaller classes have enabled teachers to better focus on vocabulary and language practice of individual students. Proof of the attractiveness of this form of implementing people’s constitutional right to freely choose the language of instruction for their children is the growing number of such classes. Whereas in the 2002-2003 school year there were 264 such classes, this number rose to 361 in 2003-2004 and to 434 in 2004-2005. Multilingual schools are a godsend in small settlements, where there is only one school.

The ministry primarily supports the creation of schools with Ukrainian as the universal language of teaching. Such schools are real methodological centers that place students in a language environment and shape a positive image for the Ukrainian language and culture. Students who leave these schools do better on admissions tests at major Ukrainian universities where Ukrainian is the language of instruction and admissions testing. Today the Crimea boasts 173 magnet Ukrainian language and literature classes as well as 119 classes majoring in Ukrainian philology. Last year 14,787 schoolchildren studied in such classes. Considerable attention is also paid to the Russian language in the Crimea, where taught in Russian.

The number of Crimean Tatar schools is growing with each passing year; today there are 14. This year another Crimean Tatar school opened in the village of Kamenka outside Simferopol. An overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars want their children to attend Ukrainian-language schools, since this opens opportunities for study at Ukrainian universities. However, they are demanding that elementary schoolchildren be taught in their native Crimean Tatar language to preserve their national identity. Speaking at a recent news conference in Simferopol, Safure Kadzhametova, head of the Maarifchi Association of Crimean Tatar Educators, discussed the difficulties of organizing teaching in the Crimean Tatar language. The Maarifchi Association has asked the Crimean Ministry of Education to forward to the peninsula’s educational departments a letter of instruction “On the Peculiarities of Teaching the Crimean Tatar Language at General Secondary Schools with Russian as the Primary Language of Instruction.” The association is demanding the introduction of the Crimean Tatar language as a mandatory subject for all Crimean students in the 2005-2006 school year. In the current school year many Crimean schools offer extracurricular or optional classes in the Crimean Tatar language. Before World War II the Crimean Autonomous SSR had 371 Crimean Tatar schools and 55 bilingual Russian-Tatar schools, and Crimean Tatar teachers were trained at teachers’ colleges in Yalta, Totaikoisk, and Bakhchisarai and at the Simferopol Pedagogical Institute. Meanwhile, today nearly 87% of Crimean Tatar children attend Russian-language schools, and the Maarifchi Association has voiced concern over their rapid linguistic assimilation — a threat to the Crimean Tatars’ national identity. For this reason the association has asked the Crimean Ministry of Education and Science to reorganize the Simferopol Teachers’ College into the Crimean Tatar Teachers’ Institute and grant official bilingual status to 75 secondary Russian-language schools, which have 172 classes with the Crimean Tatar language as the main language of instruction. Safure Kadzhametova believes that a bilingual school should become a school within a school, where two systems of education would develop side by side. The association has also requested that ministry officials consider granting the status of “schools with Crimean Tatar as the language of instruction” to schools built in communities densely populated by Crimean Tatars with funds supplied by the Republican Committee of the Crimea for Nationalities and Deportees.

By Mykyta KASYANENKO, The Day