Paul Downes

LIVING WITH HEROIN: Identity, Social Exclusion and HIV among the Russian-speaking Minorities in Estonia and Latvia

Published by the Legal Information Centre for Human Rights

Co-published by the Educational Disadvantage Centre, St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra with funding part provided by St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Research Committee

© Paul Downes, 2003

ISBN 9985-9410-4-7

Section 5 Summary

Analysis of the Estonian and Latvian integration programs for their Russian-speaking minorities from the perspectives of international research in psychology, sociology and education highlights numerous fundamental problems with the programs. These include:

_ The narrow conception of social competence for Russian-speakers in the Estonian program leading to a failure identity for many among this minority group

_ The lack of provision for less academic students. Labeling less academic and less verbally skilled students as failures if they have difficulty learning in classes in their second language heightens the danger of early school leaving among this group. It ties the studentís educational progress to development of a potential weakness in the student regarding Latvian/Estonian language learning rather than focusing on different types of intelligence to accentuate the areas of particular strength for the student to encourage them to continue at school and to avoid a failure identity

_ The overriding goal of high school classes being taught through the Latvian/Estonian language is a focus on transmission of knowledge and curriculum as content that fails to provide a student centred education focusing on education as development of the individual. Rigid, unsuitable curricula lead to heightened early school leaving

_ The danger of demotivation of less academic students if transfer to classes in Estonian/Latvian takes place from 10th grade onwards. An imposed language curriculum against the wishes of the student and parents undermines student autonomy and parental involvement/support with consequent risk of decreased motivation for learning. Undermining student autonomy at 10th grade is with regard to a student age cohort which is already most vulnerable to decline in motivation as well as most resistant to external imposition of tasks. Moreover, a strategy of grade retention for those less academic students who struggle to learn in classes through the Latvian/Estonian language is not an effective intervention strategy

_ Despite rhetoric advocating partnership with Russian-speaking parents, genuine partnership between the Latvian State and the parents of Russian-speaking students in the education of their children is excluded due to the lack of genuine choice and decision making power accorded to Russian-speaking parents regarding the top-down, imposed language reforms in Russian-speaking schools in Latvia. This failure to develop an important potential resource in the educational life of the student is demotivating to both parent and student and also undermines the potential for encouragement of the voluntary direct involvement of Russianspeaking parents in the Latvian/Estonian language learning of their children

_ This demotivation and failure identity that has foreseeable consequences of early school leaving, with heightened risk of heroin use and HIV. Some significant strengths in the Latvian integration plan, which are not given much importance in the Estonian integration proposals, and which need to be retained in future proposals for integration, include:

_ Proposals to develop student participation in extracurricular school activities and also community activities; these are contributing factors to reduction of early school leaving, particularly when they involve sports and the fine arts, rather than being academic or vocational clubs

_ Language learning as linguistic-communicative integration is recognised, at least theoretically, as not being split from socio-economic issues of integration, unlike in the Estonian integration document. The Estonian proposals relegate issues of socio-economic integration and legal-political integration to long-term aims and in effect treat them as subordinate to the aims of linguistic-communicative integration

_ Social competence is viewed in a much broader sense in the Latvian document than in the excessively narrow conception of social competence in the Estonian integration proposals. This narrow conception overlooks the fact that social competence is a multi-faceted conception that cannot be reduced to simply one dimension. Moreover, the Estonian conceptions of social competence ignore contrary views of social competence as

I) interaction with friends rather than acquaintances,

II) competence according to self-referenced criteria rather than external, imposed criteria, and

III) without the emphasis of inferiority implicit in the competitive ethos of the Estonian documentsí conceptions of social competence, where the less successful are in danger of being destructively labelled socially incompetent

From this analysis the need for fresh integration programs emerges. Such programs would be ones:

_ where Russian-speakers are actively involved in their design and have active decision-making power regarding their implementation

_ would focus on rather than exclude socio-economic integration from its scope

_ would directly tackle the problem of early school leaving

_ would focus specifically on a strategic plan to develop a role for less academic Russian-speaking students in Estonian and Latvian society


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