Russian loses hold in east

23rd October 1998 at 01:00

A move to teach eight-year-olds a first foreign language has hastened the disappearance of Russian from the primary curriculum in Berlin.

From September foreign language teaching has been offered in state schools from grade 3 - two years earlier than before.

Statistics just released by the Berlin schools authority showed that of the 550 schools introducing an early language, more than 530 wanted early English, 17 opted for French, but not a single primary wanted Russian.

Currently only 188 of Berlin's 470 primaries are taking part in the scheme expected to cover all state primaries within two years. Schools in the east of the city, the former communist sector, have been enthusiastic . Most of them are in the scheme compared to less than a third of primaries in the western part. Many of west Berlin's schools declined, saying they did not have enough teachers qualified to teach English.

A shortage of English teachers in east Berlin has not hindered their bid for early English. The choice of language has been a matter for the schools in consultation with parents and eastern schools have said their free choice should not be restricted by lack of teachers.

Parents point out that only a handful of grammar schools offer Russian as the first foreign language. Most good secondary schools expect a high standard of English or French.

A "huge further-training programme" for teachers both in the east and west is under way to upgrade language teaching skills in English, and extra French and English language assistants are being employed.

The Berlin education authority is also hoping to increase the number of English teachers coming to Germany on exchange programmes. Many younger Russian teachers are retraining, particularly as school rolls are falling in the east. As the trend away from Russian works its way through the school system, language educators predict virtual extinction of Russian from the curriculum far earlier than expected after reunification.

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