Arctic experimental school for children
Arctic Hogwarts1 september 2023
The current educational system for the Arctic's nomadic peoples comprises boarding schools. Established in the mid-20th century, it addresses the challenge of providing comprehensive education to indigenous children in the Far North. However, it is now widely criticised, with one of the main arguments being that children of Arctic nomads and hunters are removed from their natural environment but fail to assimilate into modern civilisation. The separation from a familiar lifestyle, detachment from traditions, a crisis of self-identity on one side and the need for education on the other, seemingly create a classic zugzwang situation. Without education, even reindeer herders from the most remote tundra are destined to encounter insurmountable challenges when dealing with authorities and businesses. Without roots and community support, many indigenous people find modern civilisation extremely uncomfortable. However, this problem only seems unsolvable at first glance: since 1999, an experimental boarding school for children of five ethnic groups—Evenks, Evens, Yukaghirs, Chukchis and Dolgans—has been functioning near the Yakut city of Neryungri.
Osikta, Gewan, Girkil and Solinga
The core concept of the Arctic boarding school is to merge intensive preparation within the framework of a general secondary school education programme with the re-creation of a traditional cultural context for students. The school admits teenagers from grades 8 to 11. They can choose from three areas of in-depth study: physics and mathematics, biology and chemistry or philology. Admission to the boarding school is challenging, but its educators and curriculum offer prospects for a promising future—among the school's alumni are over 30 medalists who are studying in higher education institutions in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk and Yakutsk. Moreover, many of them return to their native lands after living in big cities and actively participate in the development of their region and communities.
Students are grouped into 'families,' where the older ones take care of the younger ones, assist them in adapting to the learning rhythm and prevent them from feeling isolated. This provides an experience of mutual aid and the establishment of horizontal social connections that are beneficial in the future. Typically, two students share a room, jointly managing their daily life and leisure time. These 'families' are in turn grouped into communities—there are four of them: Osikta, Gewan, Girkil and Solinga. Just like in the Hogwarts from the fairy tale, they compete with each other throughout the academic year, earning points in classes, during sports competitions and cultural events.
The Arktika boarding school has a distinct mission of preserving the indigenous culture. The students are deeply involved in learning their native languages, folklore and traditions. As per the teachers, many students only know a few words of their native language when they join, but by graduation, they are fluent speakers. It's worth mentioning that the first Olympiad for the languages of the indigenous minorities of the North was hosted by the Arktika boarding school. Besides cultural heritage, the students also practice traditional crafts. They work with leather, master the art of making traditional clothing and learn to cook dishes from their national cuisine. In fact, over 24 years, the boarding school has managed to create a unique environment where individuals are nurtured to be proficient in both traditional skills and academic knowledge, empowering them to lead the national revival in their homes.
Innovation and organisation
Unlike traditional educational institutions of its kind, the Arktika boarding school does not have a strict hierarchy. While there is a principal and teachers, many decisions are made collectively by the students themselves, mirroring the self-governance mechanisms typical of communities. For example, decisions are made not only by the school management but also by the Sulgan parliament, where a representative from each class is elected annually. The boarding school even boasts its own flag and Constitution, much like an independent republic.
Interestingly, students have to undergo an election process even before they are admitted to the boarding school. Each district inhabited by indigenous people is allocated a quota of students, who are chosen from the local children. The school's teachers then step in, considering not just the children's abilities but also their social standing. Certain spots are reserved for children from underprivileged and large families, providing them with a social uplift and enabling them to contribute to their home's development in the future.
'Our educational institution is the sole centre of its kind in Russia. We have been nurturing the Arctic's elite for 24 years,' shared Marina Rufova, the boarding school's principal, with the Children of the Arctic portal.»