The Importance of Raising Interest in Russia

The Scotland-Russia Forum was founded 15 years ago, after the closure of the Britain-Russia Centre (originally set up in the 1960s as the GB-USSR Association with UK government support) and its Edinburgh branch. An entirely voluntary organisation funded by membership subscription, the SRF’s aim is to raise interest in Russia and her neighbours in order to improve understanding. This we have done through a variety of means – principally lectures and cultural events as well as information sources such as regular newsletters, a biannual magazine, websites and social media.

The primary need to raise interest has become increasingly urgent as Russia becomes more remote from the day to day concerns of the general population – rather than, as some might have hoped, more involved after the hurdles of the Soviet regime were removed. People to people contacts through tourism, business or cultural activity are still far too rare. Russia is hardly mentioned unless there is political scandal and so becomes perceived as odd / exotic / scary and, worst of all, irrelevant to most people.

This situation came to a head in Scotland in 2010 with the announcement that the national school examinations board, the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), would not offer national qualifications in Russian after 2015. The reason of course was low take up, mainly reflecting the decline in language learning more generally experienced in the whole of the UK, which is illustrated vividly by the attached tables. The results have been predictable – in Scotland Russian is now taught in a very small number of independent schools, including Saturday schools run by the diaspora, where pupils can be entered for GCE and GCSE examinations.

Table-entry-to-exams
Table-lang

Many, probably most, of those pupils are of Russian heritage. In the maintained sector there are a handful of Russian clubs or taster courses in primary and secondary schools and one or two schools enter pupils for beginners Russian as a “Languages for Life and Work” qualification.

The result is an almost complete absence of any Russian content – linguistic or cultural – in pupils’ school experience, almost the only exceptions being some study of 1917 and of the Stalinist period as History options. Pupils rarely hear anything of Russia and this both reflects and reinforces the lack of awareness of Russia throughout wider society, with dangerous consequences for cultural and political understanding.

SRF-website

The SRF has therefore sought to interest schools in Russia in so far as the limited financial and human resources of a small voluntary society allow – for example we offer a taster presentation to any interested schools, speak at conferences, have a stand at a variety of events, and created a website for children (www.findoutaboutrussia.co.uk). We work closely with a variety of language organisations, in particular the Scottish national languages organisation, SCILT, who are very supportive. More information on our activities in this area can be found on https://www.scotlandrussiaforum.org/russian.html.

Unlike most languages taught in the UK, from French, German and Spanish to Chinese and Japanese, Russian teaching is not supported by a national cultural organisation. As a result, we have funded our work from our own resources up till now (requests for even occasional financial support from both the Russian and Scottish authorities being unsuccessful), so we were delighted to receive a generous grant this year from the Future of Russia Foundation. We will use it to create materials on the ‘British Council Schools’ Online website, allowing Russian to join other lesser taught languages like Arabic and Polish, which are already represented there. We will be testing these in at least one Scottish school soon.


And finally, a plea for help. Members of the RBCC will be very aware of the importance of cultural and (at least some) linguistic understanding to successful business relations with their Russian business partners. If any member would like to help us with any aspect of our work with schools please do not hesitate to get in touch: Jenny Carr info@scotlandrussiaforum.org.


Bulletin Online

Related Article:

Bulletin Online

Date Published:

28 April 2019

Author:

Jenny Carr, Scotland-Russia Forum

Category:

Opinion