On 25 November 2015 Maie Soll will defend her doctoral thesis „The Ethnic Identity of Russian-speaking Students in Estonia in the Context of Educational Change“ in the Council of the Faculty of the Social Sciences and Education.
Supervisor: senior researcher Anu Masso (University of Tartu)
Opponent: professor Daniel A. Alexandrov (Higher School of Economics, Saint Petersburg, Russia)
We live in a rapidly changing and increasingly diverse world in which we have to succeed. The questions like What I am? and Where do I belong? and What does belonging to certain group mean? are therefore essential and have to be continuously addressed at the level of society, in everyday life and as a problem that has to be researched.
Ethnic self-identification may not be important in all situations, but this aspect of social identity could be essential to a feeling for being valued and not marginalized.
The most important environment for ethnic socializing is considered to be in the family. However, the educational environment has been crucial to the development of group affiliations. This thesis focuses on the development of the ethnic identity of Russian-speaking students in Estonia in the context of an important educational change, i.e. the transition to instruction in Estonian.
The results of the studies show that the ethnic self-identification of students and the languages of instruction are not directly related, but at the same time language is the main basis for ethnic self-identification. According to the opinion of students Estonian-language, Russian-language and language immersion schools and classes differ mainly from the perspective of language learning. In schools with Estonian as the language of instruction, students acquire good proficiency in Estonian and foreign languages, but proficiency in Russian remains poor. In the estimation of students, Russian-language and bilingual (language immersion) classes offer the possibility to acquire the Russian language, also more knowledge about one’s ethnic group.
The students’ main expectation related to the education system is to acquire knowledge and skills necessary for successful and the desired education pathway and career. These results are confirmed by parents when they select the school and also the language of instruction for their children.
It can be concluded that languages in the Estonian society a strong symbolic value have. The language of instruction is not only a tool for the acquisition of knowledge and skills, but also seen as an expression of status of the ethnic group in society. That could be the reason why the transition to Estonian-medium studies at the upper secondary level is perceived as a risk to ethnic identity. On the basis of the results of the studies carried out it can be concluded that in the development of ethnic identity in the situation of the education change, different communicative relationships between ethnic identity, education system and society are essential. The changes in society are interpreted at school level and by individuals, and what kind of selections among the different choices are made, are based on those interpretations.