Modern Russia with its population of 145 million is a multi-ethnic state where people speak more than 160 languages including those of the former Soviet Union and some foreign languages (http://www.perepis2002.ru). Seven peoples have a population exceeding one million, i.e. Russians, Tartars, Ukranians, Bashkirs, Chuvashes, Chechens and Armenians. Russians make up the most numerous ethnic group, their number is approximately 116 million (80% of all inhabitants of the country). According to the Language Law of 1991/1998, Russian as the official state language of the Russian Federation is learnt in institutions of general or professional education (Art.10.2).
In addition, about 30 mother tongues are in use in Russian schools as medium of instruction, and 45 mother tongues are learnt as subjects. Consequently, the draft State Educational Standard of General Education for teaching languages and literatures has several structural variants:
1) Schools with a native (non-Russian) language of instruction (for example, such schools in Bashkortostan, Tartarstan, Sakha-Yakutia, Komi, Tyva a.o. where Russian language is learnt as the official state language alongside one’s mother tongue, native literature, Russian and world literature and a foreign language);
2) Schools with Russian (non-native) language of instruction (for example, schools in Buryatia, Chuvashia, Khakassia a.o. where Russian is used as a medium of education, and native language, native, Russian and world literature and a foreign language are learnt as subjects);
3) Schools with native Russian language of instruction (native Russian-speaking areas where Russian language, Russian and world literature and a foreign language are learnt as subjects).
General goals of Russian language education both in native and non-native Russian
schools are as follows,
- Mastering Russian as a means of communication in everyday life and professional activity;
- Developing and educating schoolchildren as personalities, their socializing;
- Giving access to culture and literature of the Russian people, to achievements of world science and culture;
- Forming general educational skills and habits;
- Teaching the skill to live in a multiethnic country in tolerance.
These goals are to be achieved through the obligatory minimum of content of basic educational programmes, which aim at communicative, linguistic and cultural competences of schoolchildren. An important goal of teaching Russian in native “ethnic” schools (besides the above-mentioned goals) is to provide consciousness of the Russian language “world view”, its originality and richness, and at the same time to reveal the originality of schoolchildren’s own mother tongue.
Unfortunately, there are cases when teaching native languages in “ethnic” schools in some regions of the Russian Federation come to conflict with teaching Russian (reducing school hours allotted for Russian in favor of native languages, “nativization” of the content of Russian language education in course-books etc.). Providing unity of the educational space of Russia through a balanced language policy remains an acute task.