Citizenship Education in Ukraine and Russia: Reconciling Nation-Building and Active Citizenship

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In this section of the article we will briefly introduce the changes in the education of citizens in the USSR and the Russian Federation. As in the Ukrainian part, the time to be discussed in the following could be roughly divided into three periods during which three discourses have competed for primacy in the education of citizens. During the Perestroika reforms and the first years after the establishment of the sovereign Russia, education was expected to revive the sub-national identification of various ethnic groups (1985-1992). The second period is concerned with Boris Yeltsin’s time in the president’s office (until 1999). In educational terms, this period emphasised citizenship education for the establishment of a democratic state based on the rule of law. At the same time, since mid 1990s we witness the return of the Russian national ideology. The third period covers the presidency of Vladimir Putin until summer 2005 and is characterised by a co-existence of the democratic and patriotic citizenship education discourses in which the latter dominates.
1985-1992: regionalization and education in the ethnic spirit
The dissolution of the Soviet Union was preceded by some fundamental changes in the political visions of the elites. Within the frame of the communist ideology, Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost aimed at making the Russian society more open, more plural and more critical to the authority of the state and the Communist Party. The developments in the wider society were echoed in the educational sphere, though not without considerable resistance on behalf of the conservative party leaders and some members of the teaching profession. But in 1989 Gorbachev himself referred to education as “his overall promotion of perestroika” (quoted in Webber, 1999, p. 25). Among the main aims of the educational restructuring was the democratization of the educational relations and management, which meant more say in the educational matters for regional authorities and parents. In addition, the nationalization of education was expected to transform schools into cultural institutions reviving and passing on the traditions and languages of various local cultures6. At the same time, the humanization of education emphasised the primacy of the individual in the educational process, whereas the de-ideologization was expected to empty the school of the over-politicised (communist) contents. (Dneprov, 1998; Long & Long, 1999; Webber, 1999.)
According to the reform goals, the educational system was expected to raise an individual, who is strongly attached to his/her ethnic group, but who paradoxically lacks a connection to the whole state and the nation. Isak Froumin (2004a, p. 280) has written that the emphasis on ethnic education was one of the most important features of the Russian education in the early 1990s. In addition, he identified a growing emphasis on the “universal human values” illustrated, for instance, by the Ministry’s recommendation to introduce an interdisciplinary course titled “Mankind and Society” in the upper secondary school (ibid, p. 282).
To use the metaphor cited by Eduard Dneprov, the Russian minister of education in 1990-1992, the country was supposed to grow into a garden where all flowers bloom7. Whereas Dneprov’s predecessor, Gennadi Yagodin, mainly believed that education in the local languages must be expanded, Dneprov insisted on each nationality and region to develop an educational platform in accordance with the local conditions. He stated that “the mission of the ministry must be, above all, not to unify, but rather to stimulate in all possible ways the expeditious development of such programmes”. (Long & Long, 1999, pp. 89-91.) Eduard Dneprov contrasted this initiative with the Soviet times, when the school played a crucial role in the de-nationalization of the people and constituted one of the main instruments in russifying the non-Russians and de-russifying the ethnic Russians (Dneprov, 1998, pp. 47-48).
In line with the reform agenda, the document titled “The conception of the national school of the RSFSR and the scientific and organisational mechanisms of its implementation” adopted in 1990 argued that the system of compulsory education, which affects the entire population of the country, should be re-directed at the revival and satisfaction of people’s national and cultural demands. The document emphasised that
the school will turn into the real agency of cultural revival of the Russian nations only if it will be restructured as national in the true meaning of the word, if the national dimension in schooling and up-bringing will form its fundamental core (ibid, p. 26).
The growing interest in the system of national schools is closely linked to the political context of those years. In 1988, after years of misapprehension or denial, Gorbachev finally identified the nationality policy as “the most fundamental vital issue of our society” (quoted in Lapidus, 1992, p. 46). Amidst increasing critique with regard to the Soviet nationality policies, ethnic conflicts and threats of disintegration, Gorbachev was forced to assert that
we cannot permit even the smallest people to disappear, the language of even the smallest people to be lost; we cannot permit nihilism with regard to the culture, traditions and history of peoples, be they big or small (Gorbachev 1989 quoted in Lapidus, 1992, p. 60).
Remarkably, in 1989 Uchitel’skaya Gazeta (the Teachers’ newspaper), one of the leading professional publications for educators, introduced a column titled “Ethnos” to mark the importance of education in the ethnic spirit. In the time of political struggles and uncertainty, it was believed that inter-ethnic tensions and disintegration could be prevented with the help of national schools (Dneprov, 1998, p. 48). For the sovereign Russian Federation the nationalization and regionalization of education were also the instruments of building a federal state. The political leaders assumed that stronger national identifications of the regions will help them to achieve firm positions in the political and economic fields. On the societal level, the nationalization was expected to pave the way for the establishment of a democratic civil society (interview with Eduard Dneprov in Moscow 27.5.2005; Srarovoitova 1989 quoted in Ossipov, 1999, p. 191).
At the same time, while stating that the school is the cradle of democracy and humanism, the implementation of democratization was more focused on educational management (shifting the decision-making process from the federal to the regional and municipal levels and from there to the schools) and on the teacher-student-parents relations (more influence on the educational process for all stakeholders). However, on the federal level less attention was paid to equipping children with the necessary knowledge and skills to build a democratic society and to encourage them to take an active role in it. Instead, as a reaction to the over-politicised nature of the Soviet vospitaniye (political and moral education) and the unpredictable situation in the society at large, the educational authorities wanted schools to preserve peace and stability and prevent any political movement or ideology from entering the school. (On the democratization of up-bringing work in comprehensive schools of the RSFSR, 1991.)
1992-1999: the development of legal education
The Yeltsin period (1992-1999) was marked by ambiguities. On the one hand, the reform agenda of Perestroika was carried over and formalised in various legislative acts arranging the introduction of human rights and legal education in the school curriculum. On the other hand and increasingly so from the mid-1990s, we see a return to a discourse stressing unity and loyalty to the state, running in an uneasy manner parallel to the democratic reform agenda in the remainder of the 1990s.
The 1992 Law on Education, which was hailed as the first legislative act of the sovereign Russian Federation, clearly reflected the spirit of reform. The act declared the humanitarian character and the priority of universal human values as the first principles of the state policy in education (article 2). It also confirmed the right to receive comprehensive education in other than the Russian language (article 6, point 2). At the same time, the law stated that Russian should be studied in all state licensed schools, except pre-schools, according to the federal educational standards (article 6, point 5). The federal curricula published in 1993 declared that Russian, being the official language of the Russian Federation, should be taught in all schools, but in varying amounts depending on the linguistic situation in the region and the school. However, such statements do not necessarily imply that all federal authorities were aiming at the purposeful consolidation of the Russian nation. In fact, already in 1992 a group of civil servants from the Ministries of Education and Defence drafted a programme of patriotic education, which was rejected by the Ministry of Finances due to the lack of funds, only to be modified and adopted in 20018.
During the second period in the development of Russian citizenship education the contents of history and the social sciences were revised. More so, the importance of a well-organised citizenship education programme was explicitly stated. The ministerial letter “On citizenship education and the study of the Constitution of the Russian Federation” (1995) claimed that “the establishment of the legal state and the civil society in Russia will in many ways depend on the progress in citizenship education”. The emphasis on law studies is evident in the ministerial materials published between 1994 and 1999 (see also Morozova, 2000; Vaillant, 2001). The issued documents discussed the implementation of constitutional studies, studies in the electoral process and human rights. For example, the letter “On Citizenship and Legal Education of Students in Comprehensive Schools of the Russian Federation” (1996) highlight the need for legal knowledge. It referred to Boris Yeltsin’s speech on 6 March 1996, in which he argued that one of the prerequisites in the transition to a legal state is the legal education of citizens.
The first references to the Council of Europe’s activities are found in a document which urged comprehensive schools to teach about human rights (On the study of human rights in the comprehensive schools of the Russian Federation in the school year 1998-9, 1998). The document claimed that since Russia’s membership of the COE, the country has been adopting the organisation’s instructions in the field of citizenship education, i.e. the Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on teaching about human rights. The section on human rights was incorporated into the compulsory syllabi for social studies in the secondary school. During these years we also witness the emergence of innovative courses like “The basics of law studies”, “Citizenship education”, “To school children about the law” and others, many of which were developed in co-operation with foreign partners. However, these courses were not part of the federal (compulsory) curricula and their implementation depended and still depends on the regional authorities and the school (the regional and the school curricula)9. The first federal standards of higher education also contained courses related to citizenship education. The federal standard for primary teacher education (1995) introduced courses in political and law studies and, remarkably, exchanged the course of homeland history for the “The history of world civilisations”.
Nevertheless, this period is also marked by a slow return to the unifying national ideology. In line with the ideas of the early 1990s, “The development strategy of historical and social science education in comprehensive schools” published in 1994 acknowledged the importance of teaching about ethnic, Russian and universal values, but assigned primacy to the national Russian ones. The following quote illustrates it well:
When working on the content of school history education, it is necessary to guarantee the balance of political, cultural, ethno-national and other values but the national ones should prevail.
The reading of the document leads one to think that the aim of education was converted into strengthening the national Russian identity and lessening the role of the local ethnic ones. And indeed, the above-quoted document expressed worries about the uneven illustration of national vs. ethnic aspects in the regionally published textbooks. It claimed that such an imbalance may lead to the “deformation” of interethnic relations. These changes closely followed the general political atmosphere in the centre. As has been well documented, in 1996 Boris Yeltsin appealed to the entire society to search for a new “Russian idea”. Most suggestions, published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta - the official periodical of the Russian government - supported state patriotism (Tolz, 2001, p. 256, our emphasis).
The renewed drive to inculcate collectivist loyalties must be seen in the political context of the mid 1990s which was characterized by intense political rivalries in the centre and by movements for more autonomy in the peripheral regions. The elite in Moscow watched the nation-building attempts of the ethnic minorities in these regions with great concern, fearing that they “moved from cultural revival to well-organised political movements” (Tishkov, 1997, p. 241). This concern was not unjustified. Whereas the secessionist actions of the political elite of the republic of Tatarstan were still kept under control and were finally resolved in a peaceful agreement, the separatist tendencies in Chechnya have had much gloomier consequences (ibid, pp. 242-243). At the same time, the amount of votes received by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party and the communists, whose primary election slogans referred to the restoration of the Soviet Union, patriotism and the inferior position of the ethnic Russians, forced liberal politicians to pay more attention to the questions of national identity (Tishkov, 1997; Tolz, 1998; Simonsen, 2001).
1999-2005: the rise of patriotic education
In the context of political struggles and fears of national disintegration, the new administration chose to focus on patriotic education of the Russian citizens. One indication of such a trend lies in the growing emphasis on vospitaniye (political and moral education), as one of the central responsibilities of the state educational system. In 1999 the Ministry of Education, for the first time since the break-up of the USSR, adopted “The Up-bringing Development Program for 1999–2001,” followed by another program for 2002–4. The key message of the programmes is the re-consolidation of the people: social, ethnic, cultural, generational and political. According to the programmes, citizenship and patriotic up-bringing are among the main goals of state educational policies. In the institutions of higher education we witness the return of homeland history in the second generation of the educational standards adopted in 2000. The federal curricula for the comprehensive school published in 2004 contain more hours of Russian language and introduce Russian in the upper secondary school10. But at the same time, foreign language is now to be taught from the second grade of the primary school, which indicates a greater importance assigned to learning international communication competences.
On the basis of the documents produced in 2001, especially the “The State Programme of Patriotic Up-bringing”, it could be suggested that Vladimir Putin and the current administration adhere to the idea of state patriotism, which first appeared under Yeltin’s presidency. Without a doubt, there is a growing tendency to stress a uniform national identity in educational policies. This is demonstrated by the fact that in 2001 the Ministry of Education issued a letter titled “On the official rituals related to the use of the state symbols in comprehensive schools” and in 2002 the Ministry distributed another letter that aims at improving teaching about the national symbols (About the Organisation of Up-bringing Activities Aimed at Familiarisation with the History and Implication of Official State Symbols of the Russian Federation and Their Popularisation). The Ministry of Education classifies this activity as an important element of patriotic and citizenship education, which is expected to guarantee generational continuity and to ensure societal unity. The students are expected to develop a strong bond and understanding of the state symbols, while the educational institutions should insure that the state heraldry is rightfully exhibited.
More so, in 2003 the Ministry established a Coordinative Council on the patriotic up-bringing of young people. The work of the Council is directly related to “The State Programme of Patriotic Up-bringing” (2001). Patriotic up-bringing is defined as a systematic activity of state authorities and other organizations aiming at the development of patriotic consciousness, sense of loyalty to the Fatherland, willingness to fulfil one’s civic duty, and constitutional responsibilities to defend the interests of the homeland. (Piattoeva, 2005, 45, our emphasis). The Programme and “The Concept of Patriotic Up-bringing” (2003) both focus on the development of love and devotion to the Motherland Russia. It is stated that patriotism originates from love toward the “minor Motherland” and matures up to the point of state patriotic consciousness and love toward the Fatherland (The concept of patriotic education, 2003, p. 3). Thus Russian patriotism, as an expression of national identity, is superior to any other identification, including that with one’s home region or ethnic group. Other researchers have also noticed that in contrast with the 1980s, contemporary history textbooks have become more like books about “the Russian people, Russian statehood and Russian culture”, thus eliminating sections on different ethnic groups living in Russia (Bogolubov, Klokova, Kovalyova & Poltorak, 1999, p. 540). Such discourses are common among politicians who criticise Russia’s ethnic federalism and want to establish a more centralised state (Ossipov, 1999, p. 191). In order to diminish the influence of ethnically defined regions, the federal government has already instituted seven federal districts, which do not respect the established “ethnic” borders11 (Tolz, 2001, p. 261).
The promotion of state patriotism could imply that Russia is on its way to build a civic national ideology as opposed to the ethno-cultural conception of the nation promoted during the final years of Perestroika. Some minor steps in this direction were taken by Yeltsin’s administration already earlier, when they adopted the civic term Rossiyanin (Russian citizen) as opposed to Russki (ethnic Russian) and declared the importance of building a legal state. However, the recent conception of state patriotism contains a few dangerous elements. It narrowly equates the state to the administrative apparatus in charge, it puts an explicit emphasis on servitude and it has a distinctive militaristic character.
Nevertheless, we should not mistakenly think that the attempts to introduce a democratic citizenship education have completely faded away. The ministerial letter “On Citizenship Education of Comprehensive School Students of the Russian Federation” (2003) takes citizenship education away from the bare realm of legal studies. Citizenship education as a means of educating politically literate active participants of societal life should be achieved through a multifaceted combination of interdisciplinary approach, democratic school ethos and active teaching methods throughout all school grades. In this document we also observe the importance of patriotism, but in a more delicate phrasing. It argues that students’ up-bringing should be based on socio-cultural and historical achievements of the multinational Russian nation, accomplishments of other countries, and cultural and historical traditions of the home area. In line with other educational documents (i.e. The National Doctrine of Education of the Russian Federation, 2000) it expresses concern about the harmonisation of national and ethno-cultural relations and the preservation of and support for languages and cultures of all nations of the Russian Federation. These documents combine two important components of democratic citizenship education, i.e. the development of a civic multinational Russian identity and education of politically active citizens.
Despite the apparent development in the understanding of democratic citizenship education – its progress from legal studies to a multifaceted interdisciplinary concept - patriotism has been given clear priority at the governmental level. Such a conclusion can be drawn when comparing the relative significance of the published documents. The state supported federal programme gives a clear sign of where the government’s priorities lie. Furthermore, in the summer of 2005 the government approved a new programme of patriotic up-bringing for the years 2006-2010 with an extensive financial backing. At the same time, scholars and politicians advocating democratic citizenship education in line with the ideology of the Council of Europe have prepared a preliminary proposal for a federal programme of citizenship education for years the 2005-2010 which is still awaiting approval.
Our discussion of discourses framing citizenship education in Russia and Ukraine has revealed interesting parallels and differences between the two countries. During Glasnost and Perestroika both republics witnessed ever louder calls for the democratization and humanization of the education system. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the establishment of Ukraine and the Russian Federation as independent states, this discourse soon gave way to anxieties about state integrity. In both countries these anxieties were fuelled by ethno-culturally based separatist movements who had gained considerably in strength in the early 1990s when central power was at its weakest. From the mid-1990s concerns about state cohesion increasingly found their expression in re-centralizing policies and patriotic education programmes.
By the same logic, circumstances in which the two countries differed have given rise to diverging policies. In Ukraine, anxiety and indignation about the vulnerable position of Ukrainian vis-à-vis Russian led to the adoption of an early cultural nation-building programme which sought to redefine Ukrainian language and culture in opposition to the Soviet past. Given the dominant position of the Russian language and culture, a similar cultural anxiety was not expressed in Russia in the late 1980s. Instead of initiating a Russian identity project, reformist education ministers promoted a policy aimed at the resuscitation of minority cultures within the Russian Federation. Only well into the 1990s was this policy overshadowed by the state cohesion discourse.
The rather different trajectories in citizenship discourses that Ukraine and Russia have followed from the end of the 1990s also have their roots in diverging domestic political developments. In Russia president Putin reinforced the centralization and state cohesion agenda that his predecessor Yeltsin had pursued with a varying measure of success. Respect and understanding of state symbols and unconditional love and devotion to the Motherland are the key objectives this policy was designed to achieve. Some initiatives in democratic citizenship were incorporated into the curricula and the ministerial documents, but they were not given the same urgency as the patriotic education programme promoted at the federal level.
In Ukraine, on the other hand, the education minister Kremen’ was primarily motivated by a desire to bring the education system in line with international standards in order to improve the country’s competitiveness. Nation-building was made secondary to a comprehensive school reform and participation in the Bologna process. As part of the effort to keep up with international trends, the government integrated EDC ideas advocated by the Council of Europe in the National Doctrine of Education and in central curriculum guidelines. Nonetheless, some of the nation-building rhetoric was retained in these documents.
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