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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

Development of educational systems for Northern Peoples in Russia


By Dr. Ruslan Hairullin, Deputy Director

Institute for Regional Education Development


There are 30 indigenous peoples living in Russia, totaling approximately two hundred and ten thousand people. They are: the Aleuts, Dolmans, Itelmens, Kets, Koryaks, Mansi, Nanais, Negidals, Nenets, Nivkhs, Nganasans, Oroks, Orochs, Lapps, Selkups, Tofalars, Udeges, Ulchis, Khanty, Chukchi, Chuvans, Evens, Evenkis, Eskimos, Enets, and Yukagirs. Some year ago the Shors, Veps, Kumandins and Teleuts were also added to this list. All these peoples are small in number. The smallest are the Enets (350) and Oroks (450). The most numerous are the Nenets (29,894) and Evenkis (27,531). These indigenous nationalities live not only in the Far North, but also in the Far East and Siberia. As a group they are generally referred to as the "peoples of the Russian North." Most of them lead a nomadic life and engage in traditional forms of subsistence economy. In the twentieth century the indigenous peoples of the Russian North moved from a primitive patriarchal society to modern forms of social, political and cultural life. Along with significant positive results, this process had some negative influence on the native languages, cultures and traditions that served the northern peoples well for untold ages and ensured their survival in the extremely difficult conditions of North. The adaptive and regulatory functions of native languages and traditional cultural originality assumed more and more decorative features. The language situation in the North in general can not be characterized as a simple one. But negative trends are dominant.


The level of the functional development of each language (and its written form) depends on the size of the ethnos, the compactness of its settlement, degree of dialectal fragmentation and stability of traditional forms of maintenance. The activity of language usage (in oral and written forms) noticeably falls among ethnoses whose number is decreasing and becomes less than 2 thousand persons. The vitality of northern languages today as a whole is threatened by two main factors - destruction of the traditional collectives (as a result of integration of settlements) that used this language as their only mean of communication and the active influence of Russian, caused by influx of Russian speaking population to northern regions and the spread of mass media in Russian (central and regional newspapers, radio and television - especially active in seventies), transferring of schools to Russian language as a media of education and development of boarding schools. As a result the usage of some languages decreased drastically, and some of the languages came to the verge of disappearance. For a period from 1959 to 1989 the total number of indigenous people who considered their own language as a native language decreased from 75% to 53% (53% against 37% among townspeople and 78% against 58 among rural inhabitants). Simultaneously there was transition to Russian language, which in 1989 was considered as a native language by 36% of northern people (56% among townspeople and 30% among rural inhabitants).


These data indicate the general of indigenous cultures and languages in the Russian North today. Language groups became differentiated into some age groups (generations). Seniors are bearers of language and cultural traditions. Centripetal, conservative trends are typical for them. The younger generation, on the contrary, bears innovative, centrifugal trends in the culture, and is accordingly oriented not toward the native languages, but to the language of the larger ethnos (Russian, as a rule). Between senior and younger generations in many communities, there is also a group (from 30 to 50 years), typified by a state of semi-lingualism, that is the situation in which one group representatives begin to forget native language and prefer Russian, while the other group insufficiently knows Russian. Normal communication within this age group and all the more between the generations is broken. Consequently children do not get a normal language education.


The modern period in the fate of Northern languages and traditional cultures, beginning from the mid-eighties, can be characterized as a period of revitalization of native languages and traditional cultures. At the same time there is a real danger today that indigenous peoples of the North will face additional cultural and linguistic degeneration. This danger was the topic of an international conference on indigenous people held in Novosibirsk in 1995.

Studies conducted by the Russian Committee for the Development of the Northern Regions ascertained that:

- 90% of 10 millions of the Russian North population are strangers who migrated here from the different parts of Russia during the last two centuries;

- the percentage of indigenous people in the North is relatively small. In number (210 thousand) they form only 2% of the whole population of the North. Before joining the market economy, the inhabitants of the Russian North lagged behind inhabitants of other areas of Russia in variety of vitally important factors. At present the situation is vastly worse and new problems have appeared:

- a decrease in standard of living,

- a growth in unemployment,

- an outflow of highly qualified and adapted to the North conditions personnel,

- etc.


1. The reduction in the standard of living in the North is sharper than in Russia as a whole.


2. The rate of unemployment in the North is above than in Russia as a whole.


3. The level of education and professional training in the North is vastly lower than in Russia as a whole. Problems of rational integration of indigenous people into the modern society with preservation of traditional forms of professional activity and traditional lifestyle at the same time of great practical importance today.


4. The most important for the North is the problem of providing health care. The indices of disease of indigenous population in active tuberculoses, viral hepatitis, intestinal infections and diseases of the upper respiratory tract as well as alcoholism exceed that of non-indigenous peoples and Russia as a whole.


5. Poor health of indigenous people of the North leads to an increased death-rate of this population. The life expectancy of men is about 50 years, of women about 60 years. In Russia as a whole the numbers are 64 years for men and 74 years for women.


6. Against the backdrop of a general worsening of educational and cultural spheres, even by Russian standards the Northern regions are in a particularly disadvantaged position. In regions inhabited by the indigenous population at the beginning of the 1996/1997 school year there were 794 schools with 38,714 students-representatives of indigenous peoples. 50% of these students learned native languages. Also there were 7 nomadic schools, where education in pre-school and first grade was conducted in native languages.

At the beginning of the 1996/1997 school year there were 39 boarding schools. 11,995 school-children studied there. 6117 students studied in 171 small-complete schools organized in places of the parents' professional activity. In addition, there were 18 special high schools and colleges where 6,751 students got professional education.

In the last years some new types of educational institutions were created and developed: gymnasiums, lyceums, orphanages of household type and so on. They closely interact with scientific institutions of Moscow, St.-Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Khabarovsk, Magadan, and Yakutsk.

For different reasons, admission of indigenous peoples to the institutions of higher education decreased considerably. For the period from 1991 to 1995 there was a plan to admit 1240 students, but only 966 were admitted.

At the same time admission to the secondary special pedagogical educational institutions increased considerably.

Indigenous peoples who choose traditional lifestyle must be provided with national-cultural autonomy under which their traditional places of habitation obtain the status of reservations or national parks.

More complicated is the situation with indigenous people who have adapted to modern life. To avoid complete assimilation this group should in every possible way keep and develop its ethnic originality and traditional professional culture.

The mission of the ethnic school is to ensure proper conditions for this. From the standpoint of reality it is obviously that the language of international communication in the Russian North will be Russian and the federal component of the curricula will convey Russian culture. At the same time, indigenous peoples must be legally guaranteed their own socio-cultural niche in the manner of ethnic schools, museums, printed matters, mass media, public and cultural associations and so on.


The conceptual legal bases of improvement of the educational system for indigenous northern peoples


For the maintenance of cultural originality of the peoples of the North in Russia during recent years the following documents were accepted:

1) Federal law "On bases of government regulation in social-economical development of the North of Russian Federation" (19.06.1996 N 78 TG).

2) Main positions of regional policy in Russian Federation (approved by edict of the President of RF from 03.06.1996 N 803).

3) Concept of state national policy of RF (approved by the Resolution of RF Government from 01.05.96 N 547).

4) Federal program "Economic and social development of indigenous peoples of the North until 2000 year" (1996), including the sub-program "Education, culture and spiritual revival of indigenous, not numerous peoples of the North.

Cardinal principles of education systems regulation on the North were determined by the following legislative acts: Law "On the Languages of Peoples of Russia" (1991), Constitution of the Russian Federation (1993), Law "On Education" (1993, 1996), Law "On Cultural-National Autonomy" (1996).


Goals and tasks of the Concept of reforming of educational systems for indigenous peoples of the North


Goals and tasks of the Concept are determined by the strategic aim of creating and supporting by means of governmental regulation conditions of self-sustenance and self-development of indigenous peoples of North. The goals of the Conception are:

- protection of cultural space of indigenous peoples of the North from destruction by other cultural systems influence (including the influence of mass media),

- assistance for national education systems and local cultural complexes development on the base of revival of traditional spiritual values and elaboration of modern culture of indigenous peoples of North,

- support of cultural exchange between indigenous peoples of the North and other peoples of Russia and the world.

Today we should consider two standard variants of further development of schools for northerners closely connected with maintenance of one or another lifestyle:

1) schools maintaining indigenous population, leading traditional type of economy and lifestyle (nomadic schools and partially rural schools),

2) schools maintaining indigenous population, engaged in modern forms of economy and lifestyle and adapted to large settlement and town conditions.

Each of these variants provides its own educational ideal as a general purpose of education, and, consequently, its own content of education, its own correlation of transmitted ethnic traditional culture and language (within the limits of the local ethnic component), on the one hand, and Russian culture and language, on the other hand.


Main positions of the concept


1) Particular responsibility of state to protect relic cultures.

2) Responsibility of state for giving northern children a full-value education appropriate to various career goals.

The component approach to organization of the structure of education provides a good opportunity to introduce a wide variety of ethnic culture, both traditional as well as professional, into the whole content of education within the limits of local ethnic component.

Introduction of traditional culture into the content of education is a matter of great significance. It is directly connected with traditional northern types of economic activities, such as: reindeer breeding, hunting and fishing.

Exactly for this reason the people of the North require plant and animal resources, distant camps, migration routes in the tundra and taiga, mountains, rivers and lakes - not only as their place of residence and survival, but also as cultural space. For northern peoples the ecology of environment comprises part of their material culture, genetic memory, and ethnic traditions. The religious beliefs of these peoples, their rich folklore and traditional songs and dances are directly connected with the surrounding world, and with the group's past and present.

Therefore, the curriculum in ethnic schools of the North is being developed in correlation with federal and ethnic-regional components on the "dialog of cultures" principal in ethnic part must introduce children to the world of their own ethnic culture.

Correlating the federal and ethnic-regional components is a serious didactic problem. According to the last approved variant of the curriculum for schools with Russian as the language of education as non-native for the subjects of ethnic-regional component in elementary school prescribed 15% of school hours, in middle and high classes - 5% of school hours. In regional curricula the ethnic component can take up to 25% of school hours.

Integral approach to creating the content of education within the limits of the ethnic-regional component permits the development of a number of strategies that can meet varied educational needs and offer to students diverse educational trajectories.

All this in turn presupposes a collection of interconnected measures capable of reforming educational systems for northerners in the spirit of proposed changes.


Preschool educational system


Reforms in preschool education for indigenous peoples of the North must begin with the following main ideas:

- revival and preservation of ethnic languages, cultures and literatures,

- reinforcement of the significance of Russian and foreign languages,

- equal start opportunities for the child of any ethnic region,

- common cultural-educational space.

The general base of kindergarten education is mastering of native and Russian language.

Studying the native language is a task of paramount importance, since many pre-school age children are taken away from their parents at an early age (because of the specifics of their labor - reindeer breeding, hunting, fishing etc.). They do not hear their native speech. Communication occurs in Russian, but the speech of children is far from literary standards. As a results, children entering the school speak both native and Russian languages poorly.

In northern conditions state assistance to mothers and children younger than three is extremely important. A child younger than three must live in the family, because only in the family is ethnic self-consciousness formed. When a child is 3 years old he can go to kindergarten. In northern conditions the following types of kindergarten should developed:

- Domestic kindergartens, staffed with educated specialists to assist in training the children of indigenous people (as technical personnel - nannies, cooks, dishwashers etc.).

- Small-complete kindergarten.

- Nomadic kindergarten as a variant of the small-complete kindergarten with children of different ages in reindeer-breeding brigades or fishing artels where parents can perform the functions of educators.

- Preschool groups of short stay for preparing to the school, where children study native language, engage in manual labor, applied arts, music and dance.


Secondary education system

It must pursue the following purposes:

- taking into consideration the needs of society in the development of ethnic cultures and languages,

- preserving the succession of generations, revival of traditional occupations of northern peoples,

- preserving common educational space.

In accordance with the social-economic development of northern regions, social-cultural tenor of life of different peoples, ethnic minority schools in rural regions can and should be functionally adapted to local conditions: small-complete, mobile, nomadic and semi-nomadic (for ethnoses with nomadic and semi-nomadic way of life).

Nomadic schools must choose absolutely a curriculum other than schools providing general education and must correspond with life cycles natural for the northerners.


The main purposes of nomadic schools are:

1) free communication on native language,

2) acquaintance with the spiritual culture of own people,

3) knowledge of folklore and song art of the people,

4) knowledge of traditional economic management (reindeer breeding, hunting, fishing),

5) knowledge of ecology of the region and its protection, knowledge of physiology and health care.


Boarding schools in the educational system of northern peoples

The attitude to boarding schools at present is ambiguous. An a particular stage, the boarding schools helped liquidate illiteracy. This favored the appearance of writers, musicians, artists, scientists, technical intellectuals among the peoples of the North.

At present the younger generation of northerners have forgotten their ethnic traditions, customs, material and spiritual culture. They forget age-old professions and trades. Reindeer-breeding, hunting and fishing became not prestigious. And all these troubles more and more often acre caused by the boarding school system. It is unreasonable to abolish completely the boarding schools (in boarding schools pupils are on total state maintenance and parents are free of caring for their children). It is necessary to reform boarding schools, and in this case they will be able to carry on their educational functions for a while.


Reforming of boarding schools can go in the following way:

1) Changing the dates of instruction in accordance with life cycle of northern peoples,

2) Development of those types of boarding schools that presented themselves in a good light (for instance, household type),

3) Changing the content of education by increasing a share of traditional culture.


Variety of opportunities of parents (or persons who substitute them) to choose educational way for a child. Parents and children must have an opportunity to choose forms of education (learning in classes or distant learning), types of schools (usual school, small-complete school, boarding school etc.). Also there must be a choice between education both for traditional and for a modern way of life.


Bringing the educational systems for peoples of the North into accord with realities of their lives, and their co-ordination with programs of social-economic development of corresponding territory.


Concentration of educational-methodical work in trading posts. Particular role in the improvement of education of indigenous peoples of the North must belong to cities and settlements, carrying out the functions of trading posts - trading-supplying and purveying points in remote regions of traditional business of northerners, but in the modern sense - place of exchange of traditional business products on products of civilizations. In trading posts a direct contact of cultures occurs and because of this more efficient actions on co-ordination of educational projects are possible.


State protectionism policy directed at ensuring the training of personnel from indigenous peoples of the North in accordance with federal program "Economic and social development of indigenous not-numerous peoples of the North up to the year 2000."


Scientific development of a new school curriculum for indigenous peoples of North


Educating the broader society as a whole regarding the cultural significance of indigenous peoples of the North. The mass media can be used for more realistic and respectful showing of culture and traditional lifestyle of indigenous peoples of North to erase accumulated prejudice against and negative stereotypes of them.


Guidelines of federal actions on improvement of education system

for indigenous peoples of the North


Legal provision

According to the article 1 of the Federal law "On bases of government regulation of social-economic development of the North of Russia Federations" (19.06.1996 _ 78-TG), indigenous not numerous peoples of the North are defined as "peoples who live on their traditonal ethnic territory, keeping traditional ways of life, in Russia numbering less than 50 thousand persons and representing independent ethnic communities". Thereby, the problem of improving the educational system is considered in specific social-cultural context, which is resolutely distinguished from that, from which come usual management decisions in the sphere of education. In this case the question concerns people's cultural attitudes who because of their small-numbers feel particular tension, but most often a lack of their own reserves for self-preservation. Legal development of the term "relic culture" must come from recognition of exclusive social-cultural value of relic cultures and, as an effect, need state patronage on the conservation of these cultures and their carriers. In this direction the improvement of normative-legal base on the considered matter is reasonable. There are sufficient basis for the development of the project of federal law "On relic cultures". Specified federal law could clarify approaches to the conservation of cultures of indigenous peoples of North through determination of status of relic culture, conditions of its granting and so on.

Federal law must stipulate the particularities of educational systems for indigenous peoples of the North with due regard for the priority task of conserving their traditional culture, lifestyle and spiritual revival. Questions of education in light of this task become paramount.


Development of contents of education.


It is impossible to consider tasks and problems of northern schools apart from the tasks and problems of educational system in Russia as a whole and ethnic Russian schools in particular.

The most specific amongst different cultural regions is a civilization of peoples living in the circumpolar area. Its originality is threatened by new challenges to maintain the balance between ecological and cultural conditions worked out by these ethnoses during centuries of adaptation to extreme conditions of the North.

This requires a specific curriculum that conveys the given culture. Modern textbooks for ethnic minority schools are to be based not only on innovative didactic technologies, but also on the goal of raising the efficiency of educating.

They are to be built on the principle of "dialogue of cultures," aimed at mutual coexistence of several cultures, combining different goals and tasks of education. For the northern schools this means finding ways of adapting a child to new, changing conditions of life (by means of the obligatory minimum of content of education) under the simultaneous conservation of main values of traditional culture and lifestyle.


1. About development of contents of Russian language course.

A particular part in this process belongs to school subjects of linguistic cycle is the teaching, alongside the native language, of the Russian language, which in the law on languages of the peoples of RF (1991) received the status of national language.


2. About the development of contents of native languages course.

Native languages instruction forms part of the ethnic-regional component of base curriculum.

Native language is necessary not only as a mean of communication and cognition of surround reality, but also as a mean of preserving and transmitting ethnic cultural traditions to subsequent generations. A diminution in traditional spheres of economic activity reduces native language usage sharply, and sometimes leads to its virtual disappearance.

Extension at the last time of social functions of native languages, increased interest in their studying, new orientations in educational process, and, consequently, several other purposes of educating require developing the new programs, which will adequately reflect specific particularities of native languages, the spheres of their use, and their ethno-cultural significance.


3. About development of contents of local lore course.

Introducing local lore materials into the curriculum has found a reflection in methodical manuals, special programs, school textbooks. However studying local lore in northern schools involves many unsolved problems.

The natural-climatic conditions, history and cultural space of the northern regions are so diverse that studying school subjects without regard for the specifics of the thinking and mentality of northern students is not effective.

The term "circumpolar culture of peoples of the North", as well as information about the contribution of northern peoples to world civilization is generally absent from school textbooks. There are no special textbooks, where this topic is specifically included.

Local lore materials can be introduced to the northern curriculum in the following way:

- bright, figurative, available and interesting for school children narration about the whole territory of inhabitancy of peoples of North, Siberia and Far East, and about general regularities and originality of their histories, cultures and lifestyle;

- an analysis of particularities of circumpolar culture of northern peoples, their contribution to world civilization;

- an analysis of folk mathematical, astronomical, physical, chemical, medical knowledge of indigenous peoples as a whole, and peculiarities of this knowledge in separate regions;

- local lore materials should be introduced in school textbooks (for the whole North and for separate regions) for all school subjects: Russian language, literature, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, geography, subjects of aesthetic and labor cycles.


Priority directions of training personnel from among indigenous peoples of the North on different vocational training levels should be the following:

- ecology, environmental protection and forestry;

- fish-breeding, cattle-raising, breading animals for furs,

- hunting and fishing,

- civil and industrial construction;

- complex meat conversion, products sea handicraft industry, etc.

- service of air-, auto- and river transportation;

- radio- and tele-broadcasting, communication;

- all types of medical service;

- education, professional-technical training for traditional branches of managing, training the specialists for institutions of culture;

- consumer services, trade, commercial activity;

- communal services,

- law, economy, administrative control.

High and secondary vocational training must be organized to prepare specialists in the above mentioned directions of broad profile with using the programs of doubled related or second additional professions.

While developing the unceasing education system in educational programs there must be provided teaching of two languages - native and Russian (in institutions of higher and special secondary professional education).


Ensuring the educational needs of youth from northern indigenous peoples


In organizations of educating of children and teenagers from indigenous peoples of the North need of change ripened. It is needed to revise principles of organization of educational process. Flexible form of organizations of educational process, expect the trips of teachers for conducting of directive seminars, following attraction of assistants of teachers - senior schoolboys (in analogy with Lancaster system of mutual education), using distant educating through radio and TV, pedagogical monitoring, short-term gatherings. A system of such actions wholly can be provided on the modern stage of development of Russian regions.

Require improvements and developments such forms of education, as professional-technical education, short-term courses, education by correspondence, external education.

It is necessary to provide refresher courses and improvement of qualification of pedagogical staff of regions in the light of new tasks for realization of the Federal program.

Special attention should be paid for providing youth from indigenous peoples of the North with higher education.




The most important social-cultural consequence of realization of the project will be creation of conditions for preserving relic cultures as living elements in the mosaic of the modern life of world cultural community. The preservation of indigenous not-numerous peoples of Russia and development of protective action system for them has a great political importance for ensuring the unity of Russian ethnoses. Within the Russian Federations the project's realization will lead to more realistic state support for a certain part of the population, connected with the traditional lifestyle. This will reduce unproductive expenses for educational training of children - representatives of indigenous peoples of the North, because very often the knowledge a student receives at school is of no use for their further life. The project will enable a better correlation of subjects studied with the future occupations of students, leading to a preservation of aboriginal lifestyle. Actions on implementing the project are directed toward realizing in respect to indigenous peoples of the North the concepts of stable development, that expects harmonious development of production, social sphere and environment protection. Organizational and financial questions of reforming education for indigenous peoples of the North are to be developed in accordance with the given concept in the case of its approval within the framework of the program of realization of the project.


Ruslan Hairullin's paper concluded the formal papers presented at the Conference.



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Last modified August 14, 2006