Op-Ed: the government wants to save the Abkhaz language, but doesn't know how
In the course of a single day in Abkhazia a decision was made and then repealed that ethnic Abkhaz children must study only in Abkhaz-language schools.
The Abkhaz minister of education made the decree, which was subsequently repealed by the prime-minister, apparently because of the public’s negative reaction.
But the issue of how to preserve and develop the Abkhaz language still remains.
When nobody cares about the result
This story is not about the Abkhaz language at all, but rather about Abkhaz leadership in its entirety.
When a minister-level official has such unconstitutional views about the basic principles of the Abkhaz government, then you can only imagine what sort of pandemonium is going on in the lower levels of its bureaucracy.
It is a good thing that Prime Minister Alexander Ankvab managed to reverse the decree. But let’s hold off from giving him too much praise, since he should have been well aware of his ministers’ opinions from the very beginning, especially those of one as inexperienced as Inal Gablia.
Gablia is only 28-years-old. He has almost no practical experience in the field of education.
I have no doubt the minister’s actions were well-intentioned. But such a decision would require first a deep look into the reasons why the Abkhaz language has ceased to be the mother tongue of many Abkhaz.
In addition, there needs to be a detailed report on how to solve the problem.
A law protecting the Abkhaz language has been in place in Abkhazia for more than ten years. There are some fairly well-financed development programs for it.
However, nobody knows if these things are doing any good. There’s no data on progress. Probably because there’s been just about no progress at all.
It’s not okay to ask about results in Abkhazia. That’s not just true about the development of the Abkhaz language, but about everything.
When the situation gets really bad then they just resort to nationalism, which shuts down any argument.
Even now the minister of education’s defenders are saying that he’s being blocked by those who don’t want to see Abkhaz become a real language of government. Okay, then they go a little farther and saw that all those who are against the minister’s decision are traitors to the country.
But those who shout, “You don’t love Abkhaz!”, haven’t even asked the question: Would it even be effective to send all Abkhaz children to Abkhaz schools? Can they even teach a language there?
What’s the matter with Abkhaz schools?
In many Abkhaz families, where the children can’t speak Abkhaz at all, they want to solve this problem and send their children to Abkhaz-language schools without the need for a ministerial decree.
But that’s where the problem starts.
The educational program in Abkhaz-language schools is designed for children who already speak Abkhaz well, even in year 1.
A child who ends up in this sort of situation without knowing any Abkhaz at all will most probably graduate school knowing just the alphabet and a couple of memorized lines of doggerel.
However, more often, the parents, worried that their child will have a tough time in all the other subjects, transfer their child to a Russian school almost right away.
There they also teach the Abkhaz alphabet. I mean, if you consider twice-weekly classes with a (oftentimes) barely-present teacher to even be education at all.
Empirical observation shows that the average student doesn’t master Abkhaz in Abkhaz-language schools or in Russian-language schools.
There’s also Abkhaz-language courses financed by the government. But what do you know? No results there either.
And all this time not a single person in power, seeing all these wasted years and roubles, ever thought to ask the question, how did it happen?
So, the very first thing the ministry of education has to do is answer that exact question. Then and only then will they be able to take measures to change the situation for the better.