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From the Archive - 25.11.1988

Russian begins to take root in schools

Education secretary Kenneth Baker's recent well-publicised remarks in favour of increased provision of Russian teaching in British schools endorsed the views expressed in the House of Commons Second Report on Soviet Studies.

The opening up of Soviet society under Mikhail Gorbachev has made the Soviet Union one of the most interesting places to visit and to study. It is, moreover, now becoming commonplace for school pupils to have the opportunity to travel to Russia.

The new openness in the USSR coincided with the inclusion of the language as a foundation subject in the UK national curriculum. Russian is likely to be taught as one of the first languages in the curriculum, and letters have gone to Mr Baker and Malcolm Rifkind, secretary of state for Scotland, assuring them of Russian teachers' eagerness to meet the new challenges.

Letters have also been sent to more than 100 local authorities urging them to include Russian in their language diversification plans and informing them of the facilities and staff available. Their replies bear witness to bustling activity in the authorities, some of which have already included Russian in pilot diversification schemes.

There is thus every reason why Russian can and should play a major role in the national curriculum - to confine ourselves to EEC languages would be to ignore political realities. We shall have much to answer for if we rear a generation incapable of speaking to the Russians in their own language.

While Russian may more often than not be taught as a second language, there is no reason at all why it should not also figure as a first. At one time Leith Academy in Edinburgh was virtually the only school in the UK where the language was taught in the first year. Now, however, Russian enjoys parity with other languages at Wolverhampton Girls' High: in September 1988 more than 200 pupils were studying Russian out of a total roll of about 550.

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