Kazan Says Duma Plan to Impose Single Set of Textbooks Threatens Non-Russian Peoples

July 8, 2015

Staunton, July 3 – Two United Russia Duma deputies have introduced legislation that would require all schools in the Russian Federation to use a single set of textbooks for basic courses, a step they say is necessary to ensure the defense of “a common educational space” in the country.

But officials of the State Council of Tatarstan say that this plan threatens education in the non-Russian republics and especially in schools where non-Russian languages are used. And they call for “beating the drum” to attract attention to what the Duma is to take up this fall lest it be adopted.

Razil Valeyev, the head of the State Council’s committee on education, tells the Moscow paper that the draft law thus “’limits the self-standing nature of the subjects of the Russian Federation’ in the formation of school programs and could ‘be a threat to national education’ in the regions.”

The two Russian Duma deputies who prepared the draft law, Irina Yarovaya and Vyacheslav Nikonov, argue that Russian students must have common textbooks in mathematics, history, Russian language and literature lest students not be in a position to compete for university admission and be united by common understandings.

If something like their draft legislation is not adopted, Yarovaya says, then “the 52,000 Russian schools could adopt 52,000 different programs.”

But Tatarstan officials say that such a move toward standardization would lead to “’the minimization of the self-standing nature’” of the regions. According to Tatarstan’s deputy education minister Ildar Mukhamedov,it would mean that the schools would not take into account the unique features of “the more than 190 peoples of Russia.”

What Tatarstan is especially concerned about, it appears, is that the standardized texts and lesson plans would be used as a pretext to reduce still further the number of hours of instruction in non-Russian languages like Tatar. Indeed, officials there say, the new law might make it “impossible” for them to live according to the republic law on languages.

This is not the first such assault on the constitutional right of non-Russian republics to develop their own educational programs. In 2008, Moscow tried to impose a standard program, but then Tatarstan president Mintimir Shaymiyev delivered an ultimatum to Moscow: if the center tried to do so, he would organize a republic referendum on the subject. Moscow retreated.

Then in 2013, Moscow came up with a standard history textbook, and again Tatarstan took the lead in opposing it. The upshot that time was that federal officials agreed to adopt more “’pluralistic’” language about such issues as the Mongol “yoke,” according to Rafael Khakimov of the Tatarstan Academy of Sciences.

How things will work out this time and even whether the proposed legislation will be adopted – according to Kommersant, even the Russian education ministry considers it controversial – very much remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Kazan is going to take the lead in opposing its adoption in the months ahead.