Blog post written by Valerie Sartor based on a recent article in the journal English Today
The Russian Federation, established after the breakup of the USSR in the early 1990s, is the largest country in the world, and until recently, a nation that did not encourage foreigners to enter in order to teach English to the native population. Moscow and St Petersburg remain the two main intellectual and cultural capitals. During the Soviet era (1917-1990), however, cities in the western provinces, such as Kiev and Riga, were also held in high regard for education, with specialized universities dedicated to making contributions to science and technology, as well as the arts and sciences. Very little, however, was known about Siberian educational institutions, and little has been written recently about English in universities in the more remote areas of Siberia.
I served as a Fulbright Global TEFL Exchange Scholar for the 2014-2015 academic year in southeastern Siberia. My post was inside the English language teaching within the Eurasian Linguistic Institute (ELI), a new affiliate branch of the Moscow State Linguistic University (MGLU), located in the city of Irkutsk, Irkutsk Province. Formerly known as the Irkutsk State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, this facility was founded in 1948. Irkutsk has long hosted a diverse population. Historically it is known as one of the prosperous tea route cities, and also Irkutsk welcomed the Decembrist exiles, along with other political and religious exiles from European Russia and Eastern Europe. Because of this, despite being provincial, Irkutsk has many universities, art galleries, theaters, and beautiful architecture modeled after the buildings in St Petersburg. The ELI building itself is striking.
Presently, at the Eurasian Linguistic Institute, Russian students continue to specialize in learning English in order to become English teachers and translators. Traditionally, females have held these jobs and the trend continues. Globalization has, however, impacted teaching methods as well as the ways in which students acquire fluency. ELI teachers now employ textbooks from the UK and the USA. Many teachers and students travel internationally to English speaking countries for study and work exchanges. Finally, the Internet has opened up a vast window to English language resources.
With these positive opportunities have also come some negative outcomes. Faculty at ELI complain that their students no longer read as extensively as their students did during Soviet times; moreover, with the fluctuating economic situation since the early 1990s, enrolments have dropped. Currently, funding for state universities and institutes is also problematic. Recently, ELI merged with Moscow State Linguistic University as part of Mr. Putin’s plans for streamlining educational institutions to make them sustainable. Funding problems and globalization have also impacted teacher perceptions. Some ELI teachers feel that they have lost “educational capital” as mentors and models in regard to students, who focus more on adjusting to the post-Soviet economic situation than to establishing themselves in the academy.
Yet at the same time, faculty at ELI reported that they were under the same pressure as in Soviet times. They were expected to better themselves academically; to write articles, or to conduct extra-curricular activities – involving creation of textbooks or curriculum. English teachers carry out tedious administrative functions and teach many classes. Nevertheless, the teachers I worked with were dedicated educators, spending many hours at the institute. Many also moonlighted as private tutors in order to enhance their economic situation.
Read the full article ‘Evolving and adapting to global changes regarding English: English language teaching in the Siberian city of Irkutsk, Contemporary English language teaching in a remote Siberian university’ by Valerie Sartorand Svetlana Bogdanova.