Volume:5, Issue: 1/2

May. 1, 2013

Bilingual Education in the Republic of Tatarstan
Valeev, Agzam A. [about]

DESCRIPTORS: bilingual education, multilingual educational environment, cultural interaction, multilingual culture, Tatar-Russian interethnic dialogue, , national language, bilingual individuals.

SYNOPSIS: The article presents the current status and development trends of bilingual education in the Republic of Tatarstan, which is considered the territory of ethnic harmony and social stability in the Russian Federation. To a great extent, this is the result of successful bilingual education for all children regardless of their ethnicity. The author describes the multilingual educational space of the Republic, which reflects the linguistic and cultural diversity of its components, as well as some new strategies for language education.

The development of social, national and inter-language relations, as well as the development of national cultures and languages, ​​is closely connected with the main aspects of economic, social, and political culture. This raises the role and meaning of the languages used in international communication as well as the role of state languages, fluency in which guarantee an interethnic harmony and social stability. This principle serves as the basis for defining the linguistic component of an educational environment. In turn, any multilingual educational environment reflects linguistic and cultural diversity of its components. Therefore, multilingual educational environment as the medium of cultural interaction of everyone involved should be based on the principles of integrity and cultural conformity. The latter help to develop Russian civic identity focused on ethnic and cultural identity of every citizen of the Russian Federation.

As it is noted in the UNESCO documents, every country should “provide all the necessary resources and take the necessary measures to alleviate language barriers and promote human interaction.., to formulate appropriate national policies on the crucial issue of language survival in cyberspace, designed to promote teaching languages, including mother tongues, in cyberspace.” [1]. In this case, it means creating and preserving a bilingual education system, where the mother tongue is used together with the second language as a means of instruction and multicultural education.

As it is well known, the development of the civilized society for the current century requires a certain balance among cultural, ethnic, and global identities. That is why the linguistic regulation permeates all spheres of the education system. It manifests itself and reflects different but related purposes in the bilingual environment at all levels. For example, children attending preschools in Tatarstan are supposed to master their mother tongue and Russian – it is formulated in state education standards and provided in teaching children’s native language and native literature together with Russian and foreign languages. In addition, there is always an opportunity to study a number of subjects in the second language, providing a bilingual educational basis. In the multilingual environment the implementation of language planning is not only a must but also the main requirement that serves as a pedagogical principle of any bilingual instruction. The principles of the unity and integrity of cultures, balance between originality of cultures, languages, and the global trend towards unification should also be used.

The Republic of Tatarstan has historically had a multiethnic structure of the population where over 80% are representatives of the two main ethnic groups –Tatars and Russians. In this respect, the sociopolitical stability of Tatarstan depends on the level and quality of international relations, especially on the Tatar-Russian interethnic dialogue. Having given an official status to both – Tatar and Russian languages ​​in the Constitution of the Republic of Tatarstan (1992) opened new opportunities for an effective solution of any bilingual problems. The National Supreme Council made a decision that all the citizens of Tatarstan should master two official languages​​ – Tatar and Russian for ten years.

In this respect, there are certain regulations that have been used in Tatarstan. For example, because of the almost equal numbers of ethnic Russians and Tatars, every local administration has a few ethnic Russians working there. More so, in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, the local municipal council approved extra 15% added to the paycheck of every employee who can communicate in Tatar. The republic has no intent to demand independence from the Russian Federation. Rather, the local elite prefers to enjoy all the advantages of living in a large, potentially competitive country and not to demand any specific constitutional privileges [2]. 

It is worth mentioning that Tatar schools started using bilingual education in the 1930s. Though only in the 1990s our population has realized both the importance of the Tatar language as the guarantor of the existence and development of the national culture and science in general and the need for bilingualism as a favorable condition for the interethnic formation and consolidation of the society. Giving Tatar along with Russian a status of the state language has significantly reduced conflicts and stresses among the Tatar population observed in the 1990s. Moreover, we have to admit that the Soviet ideology intentionally hampered the development of the unique Tatar culture and language. With this said, the reasons of the current administration to develop first and most the Tatar language and culture become even more clear and transparent [3: 77].

The analysis of the situation in our republic today shows that Tatar is considered the national language of the Tatars; at the same time it is also used as the language of interethnic communication by other nations and ethnicities (as it is well known, the Tatar language is one of the world languages). Presently, almost all Tatars in Tatarstan speak Russian, and some representatives of the Russian population speak Tatar. Tatarstan has long been an example of true bilingualism among people; many of the customs and traditions of Tatars and Russians have a lot in common. However, it would be wrong to consider Tatarstan a place where only Russians and Tatars live. In fact, the ethnic diversity here is represented by 107 nationalities; especially in the border areas we can observe Tatar-Chuvash, Chuvash-Tatar, Tatar-Mari, Mari-Tatar, Mordovian-Tatar, Tatar-Mordovian bilingualism, etc. Thus, all these types listed above can be called ‘communicative bilingualism.’

In this situation, no one can reproach Tatarstan for the lack of respect towards the interests of other nations. Our multiethnic population has always had optimism for the future, cherished its multiethnic friendship and cooperation. Today, among Tatyarstan’s citizens one can meet Chuvashes, Maris, Mordovians, Bashkirs, Jews, Ukrainians, Germans and other nationalities. Some of them have organized their own cultural centers, e.g., German and Jewish cultural clubs, the ‘Oguz’ Azerbaijanian society, the ‘Kazakhstan’ society and the Chuvashes and Mari centers. There are also Tatar ethnic groups and a few Slavonic societies in the republic. In other words, everything has been done to preserve, develop, and guarantee other languages [4].

To summarize, there are the following levels of secondary schools graduates’ language proficiency:

  1. Tatar-speaking students in Tatarstan, in principal, could be considered bilingual. Some of them speak both state languages, easily switching from one language to the other, at what is called the level of ‘coordinative type.’ Some students are bilingual but of a ‘subordinated type,’ this concerns primarily graduates of the Russian-Tatar city schools, where instruction is given only in Russian, and Tatar is taught as one of the school subjects. In this situation students don’t speak Tatar at the functional level.

  2. Russian-speaking children who study the Tatar language as a school subject, usually remain fluent only in their native language (Russian); as for the second state language (Tatar) they can use it only at the level of understanding and a partially transferable communication.

Currently, new strategies for language education are being developed in Tatarstan. It has become evident that studying a language as one of the school subjects is not enough to become fluent in it and to be able to communicate in different languages. World practice also gives us examples of successful bilingual education provided in different schools in Western and Central Europe, Canada and the United States in early 1960s-1970s. Bilingual education, as developing the ability to engage in communication in two (or more) languages, regardless of the level of competence, method, age, and psycholinguistic relations among the languages which the speaker knows, is oriented towards providing curriculum in both, native and the second language. It practically eliminates teaching another language as a school subject.

In other words, the education system of the Republic of Tatarstan should create an instruction model which will result in mastering both state languages ​​and languages ​​of international communication. Such a multilingual culture is necessary for the progressive development of our republic. In general, despite the great linguistic diversity in education, a highly successful language policy is conducted in Tatarstan. We have developed a network of national schools, e.g., in the 2012/2013 school year there were 97 Chuvash, 18 Mari, 34 Udmurt and 3 Mordovian schools. For children of other nationalities living in the Republic of Tatarstan Sunday schools have been provided. Our current law demands that all students should study the Tatar language, and the data says that 99.2% of them are, in fact, studying Tatar. Approximately 44.43% of Tatar students receive education in their native language.

In the Republic of Tatarstan, there exists a hierarchy of levels of bilingual ‘educational spaces’ (region, district, college, school, etc.) where language regulation is realized in different ways. Besides, it serves as a subspace of the common educational space of the Russian Federation. Due to the special features of every educational space, bilingual education should be different and adapted to the different features of the place. In the most general terms, the educational environment’s value potential is to maintain a common social and cultural space, able to overcome ethnic tensions and social conflicts.

Language formation should also take into consideration students’ age groups. For example, in kindergartens and elementary schools it is oriented towards the goals of mastering the mother tongue, and developing ethnic and civic identity. In high schools and colleges students are given an opportunity to identify themselves as citizens of Russia and representatives of the certain region, to master state languages in the household, socio-political and professional spheres. Today, some of our higher education institutions have already developed a multilingual educational space, which, in turn, allows to provide teaching on a bilingual basis (Tatar-Russian bilingualism); there are also groups which are receiving instruction on the basis of Russian-English bilingualism. In the situation of bilingual teaching higher education is oriented towards the formation of professionals for Tatarstan who are fluent in both official languages ​​of our Republic, able to master different subjects in their native (Tatar) and Russian languages, and develop a culture of interethnic communication.

In this connection, we should also mention an important political and educational innovation – an experimental syllabus for different educational institutions, developed by the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Tatarstan and oriented towards “concentrated” training technologies in teaching Tatar and other languages.

With the introduction of bilingual education in the education system of Tatarstan various issues have been designated and solved, for example:

  • Developing new programs and instructional methods that better serve the purposes of a bilingual educational system.
  • Designing textbooks and teaching manuals for teaching mandatory school subjects of general education in a foreign language.
  • Creating unified approaches to language teaching courses, and composing programs for the study of native, second and foreign languages, writing teaching manuals.
  • Researching different opportunities of using non-native state languages in the process of communication outside the classroom to increase students’ abilities for studying state and foreign languages.
  • Coordinating theoretical and applied research and using the results for the practical implementation of bilingual education programs in the educational system.

In no connection with the previous but worth mentioning is another indicator of the interethnic unity in Tatarstan. That is the number of interethnic marriages, which constitute one third of all marriages in the republic. In this respect, Tatarstan by itself could be called a mixed family. We are truly proud of the fact that Tatarstan never demands exclusive rights for Tatars diminishing the rights of other ethnicities living in the Republic. On the contrary, the need to develop Tatar culture along with all other cultures is being cultivated in Tatarstan.  

In conclusion, the main challenge for our educators today, is defined by the necessity to find more effective, differentiated and individualized ways of teaching together with modern methods of personality development. The transition to advanced teaching techniques which would meet educational needs of each student, makes it possible to dramatically improve language education in the republic.


  1. Recommendation Concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace. Electronic resource. Retrieved from: http://www.ifap.ru/ ofdocs/unesco/multcybr.htm
  2. Bukharaev R. (2006). Tatarstan: A Can-Do Culture, President Mintimer Shaimiev and the Power of Common Sense. London: Global Oriental.
  3. Mustafin R., Khasanov A. (1995). Mintimer Shamiev, the First President of Tatarstan (Strokes to the political portrait). Kazan: Tatar publishing house.
  4. Information about inter-ethnic relations in the Republic of Tatarstan. Electronic resource. Retrieved from: http://1997-2011.tatarstan.ru/?DNSID= 22fb9b9b4f86eec 225245cd411aeb777&node_id=3467

Valeev, Agzam Abrarovich [In Russian: Агзам Абрарович Валеев], PhD, Professor of Education, Kazan Federal University, Kazan, Russia.

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