Masha Karalkova: Deprived of the Right to Education in the State Language
HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER “VIASNA”
The first half of the school year is coming to an end, but the 11-year-old Masha Karalkova from the town of Horki (in Mahiliou region), doesn’t go to school. In 1999 she went to the first form of a primary school with the Belarusian language of teaching. In the beginning of the third form her new teacher advised the parents to move to a village where there was a Belarusian-language school if they wanted to the child to continue learning in Belarusian.
Iryna and Viktar karalkous agreed to a compromise so that Masha could continue her studies without any delay: they decided that she should study in a Russian-language form of another school for a year and hoped that something would change then. By the way, their hopes weren’t groundless: in August 2001 the Ministry of Education adopted the “Program of additional measures for spreading of the Belarusian language in the sphere of education”. In private, the program stated: “Not less than one school with the Belarusian language of teaching should be opened in every district center, town or city borough”. The beginning of the document execution was appointed on the curriculum year 2002/2003, so the parents believed it.
The language of study made no influence on Masha’s progress, she finished the third form with excellent marks. She says that it wasn’t difficult for her to learn in the new school, she got used to it quite soon and had no problems with understanding Russian.
That’s what officials of the district educational center probably expected when they proposed the girl’s parents to wait for a year: the girl either would get used to Russian or at least the language of teaching wouldn’t matter.
According to the new, 12-year system, this year Masha was to have gone to the fifth form. However, among the five schools of Horki there are no fifth forms with the Belarusian language of study. That’s why on September 1 the parents left Masha at home.
According to the law, the form of learning is chosen by legal representatives of children – their parents. Iryna and Viktar Karalkou’s have made their choice three years ago, they have the intention and all legal reasons for defending their decision until the end: Article No. 5 of the law “About education in the Republic of Belarus” states that “… the State guarantees to its citizens the right to choose the language of education and creates appropriate conditions for realization of this right”.
How can Masha Karalkova enjoy this right? It was proposed to her parents to drive her 4 kilometers from the town, to a village Belarusian-language school. There are only three pupils in the fifth form there. The Karalkous didn’t agree as they lived in a town with five schools and want their child to learn in the STATE language in their TOWN.
Viktar Karalkou is not going to surrender. “If I make any concessions, my children will start thinking that everything that I tell them about our language and everything I speak is foolish. Someone should begin. I know that many parents in Horki want to see who will win. If I don’t surrender and win – people will take their children to Belarusian forms…”
The Karalkou’s don’t demand anything illegal. They only want all subjects to be taught in Belarusian for their daughter and have the right to this wish, guaranteed by the Constitution and other legislative acts.
The education board of Mahilieu regional committee didn’t notice any violations made by Horki officials. In October Mr. Shcherba, Head of the Main education board of the Republic of Belarus, on the contrary, sent a letter to the persons interested that “it is necessary to solve this problem and ensure the people’s right for choice of the education language for their children”. In addition, he demanded to inform him about the results of the issue consideration and solution.
Nothing has changed since that time. Masha sits at home with Belarusian school-books for the 9th and the 10th form. As a result of the parents’ application she stood exams in all school subjects for the first half of the year and passed them all with the highest marks possible (9 and 10) with the exception of the Russian language.
The second curriculum quarter comes to an end. The authorities no more threaten the Karalkou’s with administrative responsibility for not sending their daughter to school, but don’t hurry to decide the question of her leaarning either.
Next year Masha’s younger brother Mikita is going to the first form. Now he is five years old. He also wants to learn in Belarusian, Viktar and Iryna support his wish.