MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 420: Chechnya's Language Dilemma

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Sat Nov 24 10:07:12 2007


Original sender: Institute for War & Peace Reporting <editor@iwpr.net>


WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 420, November 22, 2007

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE NOVEMBER 22 

SAAKASHVILI WOOS THE PEOPLE Embattled Georgian president appoints new
prime minister and promises social welfare reforms. By Dmitry Avaliani
in Tbilisi

OUTCRY AT AZERBAIJANI EDITOR ARREST Observers say hooliganism charge
against opposition editor is politically motivated. By Idrak Abbasov in
Baku 

CHECHNYA'S LANGUAGE DILEMMA Schoolchildren speak poor Russian but have
almost no Chechen text-books. By Ilias Matsiev in Grozny

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CHECHNYA'S LANGUAGE DILEMMA 

Schoolchildren speak poor Russian but have almost no Chechen text-books.

By Ilias Matsiev in Grozny 

Chechnya has a language problem. The government is concerned that many
adults cannot read or write in the Chechen language. At the same time,
many children start school with only a bare knowledge of Russian, the
language of tuition. 

A government programme to promote teaching through the medium of Chechen
in schools instead has had little effect so far.  

In April, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov signed a law "on languages in
the Chechen Republic" which had earlier passed by the republic's
parliament. Deputies had spent six months working on the law, which
seeks to "preserve and develop the Chechen language." 

The law entitles people to choose which language they want tuition to
take place in the schools - Russian, Chechen or another language.

However, in September, when the new school year began, it turned out
that the curriculum drawn up by the republic's education and science
ministry was entirely in Russian. Only two subjects, Chechen language
and literature, are taught in the local language. All others are in
Russian, although in practice some teachers have to resort to Chechen to
answer their pupils' questions. 

A new generation of children growing up in Chechnya speak Russian much
worse than their elders because of years of war and instability. 

"Children have problems understanding Russian," said Roza Satuyeva, who
used to work as a teacher in the village of Alkhan-Kala. "Right in the
middle of classes we've had to translate exercises because the children
didn't understand Russian." 

Eight-year-old Jamila Matsieva is in year two. She studies Russian
intensively and tries to use it when talking with her elders or watching
television, but she still fails to understand everything the teachers
tell her. "Of course it would be easier for me if the teacher explained
the lessons in Chechen," she said. "Sometimes I don't understand the
meaning of words and as a result I do some things wrong."

"But I do speak Russian better than before," she added.

Edilbek Khasmagomadov, the director of Chechnya's national library, said
many parents want their children to study in Russian because without a
proper knowledge of it they will not make it into higher education. 

Officials in the education ministry insist the new law leaves it up to
citizens to decide which language they are taught in. "The government
has never ordered primary schools to adopt a Chechen language-based
curriculum," said first deputy minister Kurzhan Akhmadova. "We drew up a
programme for shifting the teaching in primary schools over to Chechen
as far back as 2006." 

She said the transformation of the curriculum from Russian to Chechen
was a long-term, major exercise requiring a great deal of effort and
expense.
 
"We have already translated the maths textbook from Russian into
Chechen," Akhmadova said. "We are working on a programme for singing and
drawing lessons, and a mathematics teacher's manual is being written." 

Ruslan Betrakhmadov, who chairs the Chechen parliament's committee on
science, education, culture and information policy, said the idea behind
passing a law was to confront those in the education system who oppose
efforts to introduce the Chechen language in schools. 

"No one is trying to remove Russian from the teaching programme," he
insisted. 

Ruslan Betrakhmadov set out the three factors needed to make the new
education system work - "proper study materials, teachers who can and
want to teach in Chechen, and public support for this teaching system".

The passing of the law reflects a wider debate in Chechnya about the
place of the local language. Betrakhmadov noted, "The day the president
signed the law - April 25 - was declared Chechen Language Day."

Tamara Chagayeva, a well-known Chechen translator, said few adults were
literate in the language, and only 10 to 15 per cent of people living in
Chechnya were able to read and write in the national language. 

"Since our mother tongue is regarded as a state language, we ought to
have a state policy for it," she said. "The idea of preserving the
mother tongue should be part of each family."

"I think our neighbours are in a better situation as far as the use and
development of their languages is concerned," complained Chagayeva,
referring to other North Caucasian ethnic groups which she said had a
much better record. Very few works of world literature have been
translated into Chechen, she added. 

Chechnya should take note of the situation in Tatarstan, she said. "The
Tatars, who are Russia's second-largest nation, have over 50 magazines
in their mother tongue, some 130 newspapers and nine theatres," she
said. "And most of this has been achieved over the past 15 to 20 years.
We are the third-largest nation of Russia - what have we done with our
language?"

Zulai Demelkhanova, 75, who lives in Grozny, said she had many
grandchildren at school and she favoured Chechen as the language of
instruction. "Our children don't go to kindergartens, they hear Russian
only on TV, which they don't watch very often," she said. "Naturally, it
will be hard for them to study in Russian from year one, whereas [if
they are taught in Chechen] they will have a better chance of mastering
the curriculum."

Demelkhanova recalled her own childhood, when she says schools taught
through the medium of Chechen. "How can a child learn things if he
doesn't understand the language in which they are explained to him?" she
said. 

At the same time, she expressed concern that the quality of
Russian-language instruction would suffer once the new system is put in
place. "It's impossible to find a job or to study without knowing
Russian," she explained.  

Ilyas Matsiev is deputy editor of Chechenskoe Obshchestvo newspaper in
Grozny.

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