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Russian Arctic regions organize nomadic kindergartens, schools

April 14, 2017, 10:23 UTC+3 SALEKHARD

At the recent Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk, the regional authorities agreed to change the very approach to education of indigenous peoples

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© Sergei Bobylev/TASS

SALEKHARD, April 14. /TASS/. Nomadic kindergartens and schools will be organized at least in five Russian regions - the Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Districts, in the Republics Komi and Sakha and in the Arkhangelsk region.

At the recent Arctic forum in Arkhangelsk, the regional authorities agreed to change the very approach to education of indigenous peoples, to make it so that teachers move from place to place, following reindeer herders across the endless tundra.

"Our task is to make for teachers of nomadic schools modern educational programs and methods, taking all the best from the Soviet experience and international practices," head of the Federal Agency for National Affairs Igor Barinov said. "Here, it would be most important to keep in the educational process teaching of the native language, traditions and customs of the indigenous peoples."

'Children of Arctic'

The project "Children of Arctic" is the first educational project for children of the Arctic zone’s indigenous peoples. Besides the five Russian regions, it involves Norway and Finland. The idea is to make Yamal the pilot area to share with colleagues experience in organization of nomadic education.

The "Nomadic School" project continues in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District for six years already. The region’s 22 educational institutions offer education in tundra: 17 "tent" kindergartens and five schools, where more than 200 children receive education. The educational process is organized the following way - teachers either live at the tents next to the herders, follow the reindeer across the tundra, or they use ATVs to come several days a week to give lessons at nomad camps. The earlier practice was that the children of herders or fishermen of the low-numbered indigenous peoples of the North at the age of seven had to leave home and families and they spent nine months a year at boarding schools.

The children are taught basic subjects - the Russian Language, Mathematics, Reading, Arts and Technologies. The latter - is the most unusual subject, but it is most important for those living in the tundra: at those lessons the kids learn how to tan deer skin, to sew fur, they receive skills in fishing and hunting.

Only first grades (primary school) are nomadic in Yamal, as it is most complicated for the little children to part with their families. Every family has a choice: either a child receives the nomadic education or goes to a boarding school. The tents, used for classes, have the most up-to-date equipment.

"We do not have problems with multimedia or digital equipment: we have a mobile computer class, a multimedia projector and digital microscopes," the region’s department of education said. "We have developing games - Lego and robot-technical sets, and methods and books are available in electronic forms. Pupils watch educational programs - electricity is produced by generators."

"It was already six years ago that we set the task to provide children of herders and fishermen, who are with their parents in the tundra, with everything necessary, the pre-school education, and we are moving gradually towards solving this task," head of the Yamal-Nenets

Autonomous District Dmitry Kobylkin said. "Sure, experiences of other regions and countries would be most useful to us, though lately most visitors are coming here to learn our experience."

Any assistance and coordination of the project by the Federal Agency for National Affairs "would be most valuable," he added.

Approved by UN

In May 2016, the UN saw a presentation of schools having national specifics. It was the first time that nomadic way of life became a subject of international discussions.

"When we presented the "Nomadic School" project at the UN, my counterparts from other countries listened with mouths opened; they even could not imagine it is possible," head of the federal agency said. "The practice, when children had to leave families to receive

education at boarding schools, has big drawbacks: the children lost ties with families, they could not get integrated with the new conditions, and thus they were cut off the traditional way of living.

This project of nomadic schools changes absolutely that practice, as now it is the education that comes to the child."

"The project has several stages: at the first stage - from 2017 to 2019 it will be implemented in the system of the pre-school education, and then - at schools, and universities - training of specialists,"

Yakutia’s first deputy minister of education and sciences, Feodosiya Gabysheva, told TASS. "We want to use Yamal’s example to open in Yakutia a network of nomadic kindergartens, family groups, where the women working in tents could look after children and get paid for it.

We have many models for the pre-school education, but jointly with other regions, participating in the project, we should choose one common approach."

At the initial stage, five regions will organize a network of national kindergartens, and the "tent"-based primary classes will begin appearing from 2019 only.

The project’s main objective is to keep traditions and culture of the peoples, living in the Arctic. "They are real owners of the North, and they should from early years have command of their languages, traditions, culture for further development of those territories," she continued.

The project is financed from regional budgets of educational programs, but in future the federal government will have a program called "Children of Arctic," aimed at additional education.

'Language nest'

Initial results of the "Nomadic School" project in Yamal show that this form of training means easier adaptation for children: when they come to school, their academic progress is higher than in other forms of education. The children receive pre-school education not at the expense of speaking the native language, they keep the cultural and historic traditions and customs of the indigenous peoples.

The Khanty-Mansi’s educational department said about the Language Nest pilot project, which is implemented in two districts since 2013. The objective is to begin early studies of the native language of the local indigenous peoples - the Khanty and Mansi. However, this is a

program for additional education. "We plan to accumulate the educational practices for pre-school children, used there, and to see development of the skills among children of the indigenous peoples of the North, the state of their language education and the level of their readiness for school," the department said. "The project will include 14 municipal pre-school educational organizations, which implement the program to teach native languages in our six municipal regions."

In Yugra, more than 3,000 children of low-numbered indigenous peoples attend various kindergartens, but the region does not have specialized kindergartens. "The pre-school educational services are provided to 75% of those children, and in the last three years the number of the

indigenous peoples’ children attending kindergartens grew by 18%," the department said.

"The Arkhangelsk region does not have national schools or kindergartens, but there also live low-numbered indigenous peoples, and the Children of Arctic project is very important for us, as together with colleagues we shall be able to implement best practices in keeping languages, culture and traditions and we shall begin working with children before they go to school," deputy prime minister of the Arkhangelsk region Ekaterina Prokopyeva said.

The Altai Republic is happy to share its experience in organizing unusual national kindergartens. "We have the Nomad project in the Kosh-Agach district for children, who do not yet go to school, children of sheepherders in distanced territories. We plan to work with 69 children, and now we are working on a program for them. We see the system as follows: we go to the place where the herd is - usually there are 2-3 families there, we notify them beforehand, so, we give lessons to the children, give home tasks to them," the republic’s official said.

Head of a private kindergarten said the Nomad program will begin in 2017, and children will be educated under the Russian program - From Birth to School. The children will receive building sets, pencils, paints, notebooks - all the material for creative education at that age. As the teachers leave the herds, all materials will remain with the children so that they could continue education.

'Nomadic' teachers

Nomadic teachers are professionals, who not only know the native language, national customs and traditions, but who also have skills of driving ATVs, of using satellite communication, who know how to

survive in extreme conditions. Education in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District is provided by 32 teachers. Such teachers are trained at the Yamal College, where teachers of primary school receive also the specialty of a nomadic teacher. As a rule, students receiving

this training are locals - daughters of reindeer herders.

From 2017, nomadic teachers will be educated in St. Petersburg at the Gertsen Pedagogical University. The number of nomadic teachers in Russia should grow by seven times. Besides, universities in Yakutia and Arkhangelsk also said they want to begin training courses for

future nomadic teachers.

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