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Inga Mangus: "Russian is our Priority"
The number of Russian-speaking children who have to study exclusively in Estonian in schools in the country is increasing. At the same time, in Russian schools the number of “immersion classes”, where teaching is conducted entirely in Estonian, is on the rise. Russian-speaking parents are more and more often having to deal with a difficult question: How can they preserve their child’s linguistic, cultural and historical identity in circumstances where they use their first language increasingly rarely. Inga Mangus, director of the Pushkin Institute Russian School in Tallinn, spoke of this question with journalists at the Reval Media Agency news portal.
- How long has your school been in operation?
- More than 10 years.
- And how did the idea for the school come about?
- When my children started going to an Estonian school here, I became concerned what would happen to their Russian-language abilities, and indeed what would happen to all our Russian cultural baggage. First I tried to give them additional lessons myself at home, but some days I wouldnТt have enough times, other days I would be too tired. Something or other would always come up. So I hired a home tutor. Then I started inviting the children of neighbouring Russian-speakers. Then, well, one thing led to another and we already had around 90 children in our school.
- How often do the lessons run?
- On Saturdays and Sundays, with children divided into separate age groups. Each class studies four academic hours a day. In the end they study more hours here than children do in regular schools.
- So itТs like a Sunday school?
- We prefer to call it an extra-curricular school. ItТs more accurate. Of course Russian language is the priority here. But we also help them develop their speech, and study Russian literature, history and culture. Basically everything that Russian children donТt get enough of in the state-schooling system here in Estonia.
- What problems do your children have? What are the characteristics of a typical УclientФ of your school?
- 90% of our students are the children of Russian-speaking parents who study in state schools where lessons are conducted in Estonian. Their main problem… Well, to put it briefly, itТs a total lack of writing skills. They simply cannot write in Russian. They also have a very small vocabulary, read with difficulty, and lack the kind of cultural background with which we grew up (proverbs, sayings, phrases from films and cartoons, famous literary and film heroes)
- What are the parents doing?
- Parents have many different circumstances. Some of them see the problem, but donТt have the time to give to it. They put it off till tomorrow. Some of them donТt even see the problem, and think their children will start studying in Russian from, say, the next academic year. But itТs an Estonian school, and they only start studying Russian as a foreign language from the sixth year. Others feel sorry for their children and donТt want to burden them with extra tuition. Still others are too lazy to drive their children to school on the weekends. There are lots of different reasons. The breaking point usually comes when the parents suddenly realise that their child cannot read an elementary text in Russian, or canТt send an SMS or write a note. Most of the children who come to us are secondary school age, but they can be as old as 17.
- Do you have a special curriculum? What methodology do you use with such children?
- Yes, we have a curriculum. Our school is registered with the Ministry of Education and Science in Estonia. We even have a special textbook and workbook for this kind of children – УTere, Russky Yazyk!Ф ItТs the only textbook of its kind in Estonia, and it starts from the sixth school year. We wrote it based on our observations from the school. Now weТve published a second level УTere, Russky Yazyk 2!Ф which takes children up to the ninth school year.
≠- Does your school get good results with the children?
- IТd say really pretty good, yes. We took Russian state tests for the ninth school year, which cover material from previous years, and gave it to our kids. They passed with flying colours!
≠- Do the children receive some kind of qualification from your school?
- The Pushkin Russian Language Institute has certified our school to give certification at the end of the childrenТs schooling, yes.
- Do you see any new tendencies or new solutions to the question of preserving Russian-speaking childrenТs cultural and linguistic identity?
- As a matter of fact, yes. The number of children in this country studying in schools such as ours is increasing year on year. ItТs clear that as the number of hours dedicated to the Russian language and literature in state schools in Estonia is decreasing, Russian-speaking parents are keen to find some way of keeping their childrenТs Russian language skills strong.