Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

Nomadic school

Is it possible to teach children to read during the trekking

28 march 2023

The problem of educating the children of the nomadic peoples of the North is almost 100 years old. As early as the 1920s, the USSR faced the difficult task of bringing all the possibilities of civilisation to indigenous peoples without destroying their culture and traditional economy. Through much trial and error, a modern system of boarding schools was created, where children are sent for the school year while their parents continue to trek them across the tundra following their reindeer herds. This system is considered to have a number of significant disadvantages—for example, being removed from a family is a traumatic experience for a child, and children often lose their nomadic skills and forget their mother tongue during their time in an institution. For quite some time they have been trying to find an alternative—in today's Russia, it is often presented as nomadic schools, which combine various options for providing education 'in the field.'

A nomadic school that doesn't roam

According to an article by anthropologist Alexandra Terekhina, who researches nomadic education and has held several training sessions as a teacher for the Nenets in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area, the nomadic school in Russia is mainly oriented towards providing preparatory and primary school education. It can exist in various forms—the educator roams with one or more families, giving educational sessions to them in turn, or stays in some small community around which several families roam. It is a very demanding job for a teacher, involving not only the usual duties of teaching but also the need to adapt to the rigours of life in the tundra. For example, the Yamal Nenets walk between 500 and 1,000 km in a season, depending on the needs of the reindeer herd, a route which Alexandra has travelled with them many times.

There are also stationary nomadic schools that open for the season or as a result of self-organisation by a group of parents. They often combine lessons with the teaching of traditional skills such as fishing, reindeer herding, etc. There are models that combine educational sessions in campsites and boarding schools, and summer camps are also organised. In general, the educational programme of nomadic schools corresponds to the general education programme in Russia, so the only difference is the increased role of the teacher, who is largely deprived of both contact with colleagues and with supervisory bodies due to his/her remoteness.


'...The fundamental characteristic of nomadic schools is not that they are relocated, but that such educational institutions are for nomads, they are as close as possible to, or directly incorporated into, the living conditions of reindeer herders,' writes Alexandra Terekhina.


Today, there are no more than 40 nomadic schools in Russia with around 500 students. Some projects are closed due to contradictions with federal legislation or funding problems, while others receive extensive media coverage or are filmed as documentaries. The world of nomadic education is very flexible and adaptive, in a state of constant development and change.

The practice of nomadic schools has been implemented in one form or another in YNAA, NAA, KhMAA, Chukotka and the Arctic regions of Krasnoyarsk Territory. Yakutia went the furthest with its 2008 law 'On Nomadic Schools in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).' It lists the forms in which the nomadic school can be implemented, specifies the responsibilities of the educator and formulates the rules for conducting the classes.


'A nomadic school is established to provide access to pre-school, basic general and additional education without separating children from their parents who lead a traditional nomadic way of life, to restore and preserve the traditional economic activities of the indigenous peoples of the North, to familiarise children with their national culture, mother tongue, traditions and customs, to protect their native habitat,' says the text of the law.


Discussion around

The need to reform or modernise the existing indigenous education system is still hotly debated. On the one hand, boarding schools are a traumatic experience for children (E.V. Lyarskaya, 'Northern boarding schools and the transformation of traditional culture,' on the example of the Nenets of Yamal, 2003), and being in an unfamiliar cultural environment, some children lose traditional economic skills while not fully adapting to urban or rural reality. They forget their language and traditions, leading to the gradual erosion of their own people's cultural heritage. On the other hand, there is rhetoric regarding the nomadic school about the inadequacy of such education for the modern man; about the reduced opportunities for self-realisation of indigenous people. Some parents also perceive the travelling teacher as a burden on the family—they have to be fed, have a separate chum and an extra pile of worries, while their children are not particularly eager to learn in the tundra. It is important to note that on both sides are people from the traditional type of economy, administration employees, government representatives and national intellectuals.

In the Arctic today, nomadic education is not a viable alternative to boarding schools, but it is an important supplement to the existing system, which makes it possible to compensate for some of the disadvantages. According to Alexandra Terekhina, the flexibility and adaptability of the nomadic education system provide an opportunity to solve a number of educational problems, which has been repeatedly demonstrated in practice. At the same time, the very idea of a nomadic school is in many ways still part of the controversy.

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