Dr. Eaton's Dissertation Abstract

Curricular Decentralization, Sociopolitical Stability and Social Cohesion: A Case

Study of Four Russian Federation Republics

Jana S. Eaton
November 2002



This study focused on curricular decentralization in four Russian Federation republics and its impact on internal political stability, as well as center-periphery cohesion and stability. The four republics were Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Sakha and Dagestan, all dominated by titular nationalities, as is characteristic of the 21 Russian republics and 10 autonomous okrugs that comprise about half of the Federation’s territory. The study targeted the curricula that are most critical in the processes of political socialization and the development of the political culture: civics, history, language, and literature instruction.

A primary finding was that there is moderate to high internal curricular danger to both intra-republic and Federation-republic stability and cohesion in the resource-rich republics of Bashkortostan, Sakha and Tatarstan, all of which have also had strong executives who astutely used their regional wealth as leverage in extracting concessions from the center. In contrast, in the impoverished and resource-poor Republic of Dagestan, the curricular danger emanates primarily from external sources, principally from extremist Wahhabi religious organizations. There is little center-periphery tension, as leaders have scant resources to use as leverage in bargaining with and extracting concessions from the center; they also need extensive subventions from Moscow and have nothing to gain by antagonizing the center. Here, poverty renders this Republic particularly vulnerable to various types of extremism that promise release from poverty, ideological vacuums, and under-funded, deficient schooling.

Another conclusion is that there is a decided relationship between wealth, whether in terms of per capita income or richness of resources, and the propensity to have declared sovereignty within the Federation in the early 1990’s. Likewise, there is a connection between this propensity and the finding that these republics tended to develop curricula that foster the locus of identity at the local and regional levels, as opposed to the national (Federation) level, thus posing a threat to the national objective of achieving more cohesion and stability at the national level.

The hegemony of minority ethnic groups that are accorded ascriptive benefits solely because of their ethnicity within the focus republics also contributes to the destabilizing potential of decentralized curricular control in these republics. In Sakha, the Sakha-Yakuts comprise the titular nationality, constitute approximately 39% of the population, and are accorded ascriptive benefits that are the legacy of the ethno-federal policies of the USSR. They are out-numbered by the Russians who comprise nearly 47% of the population. In Bashkortostan, the Bashkirs, who comprise 22% of the population, constitute the hegemonic elite and are out-numbered by the Tatars (28%) and Russians (39%). In Tatarstan, the Tatars comprise the largest and politically dominant ethnic group (about 48%), with the Russians consisting of 43% of the total population. Dagestan is governed by a confederal arrangement consisting of a coalition of the 14 largest ethnic groups in this highly pluralistic polyglot. These minority titular nationalities are using curricular control to foster the interests of their own eponymous populations to one degree or another in all of the case study republics except Dagestan, which is governed by a coalition of the largest 14 ethnic groups.

Religious composition is also playing into the education decentralization concatenation to some extent. Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and Dagestan have Muslim majorities, with Sakha consisting mostly of practitioners of Christianity and a form of animism known as Shamanism. Both Bashkortostan and Tatarstan have expressed concerns over the advent of more austere, fundamental forms of Islam favored by the Gulf States and the growing potential for these forms of Islam to influence the curriculum within their republics. Dagestan is endangered by a puritanical, fundamentalist movement, known as Wahhabism, to a much greater extent than the other focus republics.


Internally, the ethno-federal republics can attenuate the likelihood of instability and conflict by developing and implementing curricular policies that accurately reflect the contributions of the various ethnic groups within the republics, do not allow curricular issues to be politicized, co-opt the various groups in curricular and educational decision-making, and equitably fund education across ethnic lines. Furthermore, the republics should monitor educational developments carefully, especially in situations where schooling and religion are conflated. A very legitimate question is the extent to which curricula designed at the local and regional levels can accommodate the multitude of ethnic and linguistic groups, especially in wildly diverse republics such as Dagestan and Sakha. Here, consideration must be given to the allocation of scarce resources and whether education should aim primarily to perpetuate pluralism or to foster integration and cohesion. It is the recommendation of this researcher that cohesion should take precedence, and that accommodating particular ethnic group needs be considered secondarily in the nascent, yet still fragile, Federation.

In terms of national-regional (Federation-republic) stability and cohesion, the most efficacious use of scarce education resources would be to emphasize and monitor the implementation of the federally mandated curriculum, especially in the wealthier, sovereignty-minded republics at one end of the continuum, and those at the other end that are steeped in abject poverty and are, subsequently, more vulnerable to often externally-financed extremist movements. Developing national standards and standardized national examinations to be used for admission to post-secondary schooling throughout the Federation would provide a strong impetus for regional and local schools to follow Federal curricular mandates. Likewise, standardizing teacher certification and tying in teacher evaluations to professional development and performance-based assessments in which teachers are evaluated and rewarded for effective implementation of the federal, as well as the regional and local, curricular components could also be powerful tools for controlling curricular implementation. Reflecting the contributions of the ethnic groups in the Federal curricular components could be achieved by greater inclusion of curriculum developers from the various ethnic groups in articulating and aggregating curricular interests at the national level. The formulas for funding education also need to be revamped to insure that resource-poor republics will receive more money in terms of subventions than their more affluent counterparts. This is especially critical in republics vulnerable to external sources of extremism. Finally, block education grants to sub-national units must contain stipulations as to how the monies will be spent, thus ensuring that some monies will be used to implement the national curricular components.

Implications and Lessons for Transitional Societies

Societies metamorphosing to more democratic forms of governance and free market economies are often particularly vulnerable to fragmentation and conflict. Their nascent structures are neither solidified nor institutionalized, and power relationships are often tenuous and contentious. A lesson that emerged from this study is that rapid and extensive decentralization of education and the devolution of the associated fiscal responsibilities can be destabilizing and fragmenting. While often viewed as intrinsic to democratization, these forms of decentralization and devolution can counter the quest for national sociopolitical stability and cohesion, especially in the absence of efficient curricular controls and monitoring from the center, and the provision of adequate funding for financially strapped regions. Fiscal devolution has actually exacerbated funding differentials, resulting in appalling inequities throughout the Federation.
Another lesson derived from this study is that conflating religion and public education needs to be carefully monitored and, possibly, reassessed. This issue is particularly salient in areas where there is increasing potential for schools to become training grounds for extremists.

Additionally, control of the curriculum at the regional and local levels should be revisited, especially where the hegemonic elites are minority ethnic groups. In these instances, care should be taken to develop curricula that are inclusive, representing the contributions of the various subcultures.

Implications and Lessons for International Agencies

First, the commonly held assumption that what works in deeply-rooted Western democracies is transferable to transitioning societies and will produce identical results needs serious reevaluation. Studies need to identify cultural differentials and factor these into policy analyses.

Second, international agencies generally grant monies with “strings attached,” often with great intentions but disappointing results. Special consideration should be given to the alignment of donor and recipient interests and objectives, with the recipient goals predominating. Agencies from various countries working at cross-purposes present another potential problem for a recipient country attempting to develop a coherent and standardized educational system.
Finally, measures of accountability and assessments of program outcomes should always be integral parts of aid, loan and grant packages. There should be a clear relationship between these measurements and the national standards as the latter are developed, and program rules and conditions must be compatible with education laws and regulations at all levels.

Implications and Lessons for the West

Again, it is a mistake to assume that systems and programs that work elsewhere can simply be transplanted to other societies and that the results will be the same. The most effective endeavors will entail analyses by teams of education policy specialists representing both the donor and beneficiary states. Effective policies must account for the major cultural variables in designing and implementing policies, as well as institutional and legal differentials.

Second, priority should be given to providing monetary assistance to areas particularly vulnerable to extremist movements. Terrorism has, in effect, become globalized, and the international community is now at risk. Again, international teams should conduct needs assessments, with the most vulnerable states and regions targeted for special assistance.

Third, much more attention needs to given to comparative education research and comparative policy analysis in the West. The United States has been particularly defensive about international assessments and comparisons and has exhibited scant interest in comparative studies in education. Yet, 9/11 should serve as a stark reminder that political cultures are often colliding in today’s globalized world and that “foreign problems” do not always remain in “foreign places.” Comparative studies can result in the sharing of research to confront and solve mutual problems and to assist in addressing the increasingly pernicious problem of institutionalized education being employed to socialize students in ways that are inimical to regional and national sociopolitical cohesion and, in the long run, to international peace and security. 


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