How does Russia incorporate propaganda into its educational system?
The introduction of propaganda into a Russian citizen’s life begins early – the Kremlin makes sure its doctrine is heard by all ages, including school children and students. Lessons about the war in Ukraine, teachers, spreading anti-Ukrainian propaganda, and classroom activities in the support of the Russian army are the reality that Russian pupils face during their studies at school today.
This inclusion of propaganda in primary and secondary Russian education is dangerous not only to countries within the immediate reach of Russian media’s sphere of influence, but to the international community at large: for it will be through the new generations of graduates of the propaganda-influenced educational processes that the Russian propaganda machine will ensure it remains functional.
Since the start of the full-scale war, special lessons were held in Russian schools where children were told that Ukraine’s government is a fascist regime. Moreover, schoolchildren were even forced to participate in events in support of the war in Ukraine. Russian teachers have been instructed to spread disinformation about Ukraine with guidelines and special materials on how to do so having been issued. These implementations of propaganda in the Russian educational system have beenwidely publicized by Western media and social networks to predict the possible further impact of such disinformation on the establishment in other countries.
The same propaganda is being carried out in Russian universities. Lectures and classes about the war in Ukraine have also been taught to children. Students risk facing expulsion for participating in anti-war protests.
But the best example of how Russia imparts a state ideology to schoolchildren is reflected in the temporarily Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine. Since the beginning of the Russian aggression in Ukraine in 2014, the invaders systematically militarized the educational process and the children themselves.
So-called patriotic clubs and camps function in most towns in the temporarily Russian-occupied territories. The aim of such clubs is not only psychological pressure on youth but also the actual preparation for real combat actions. Children are being taught how to use weapons and even conduct sabotage activities.
According to the Ukrainian government, nearly 200,000 Ukrainian pupils remain in the occupied territories as of right now. For example, in the Kherson region, teachers are forced to start working according to Russian educational programs and remain under huge pressure to implement the Russian curriculum in their classrooms.
The situation with the educational system in the temporarily Russian-occupied territories and Russia itself poses a major threat not only to Ukraine but also to the rest of the world, because it’s become obvious that the Russian President seeks ways to form not only a new generation of supporters but also of soldiers.
Since 2014, in the temporarily Russian-occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the educational process has been conducted in line with the Russian educational system.
Ukrainian language and literature are not taught to children. Instead, children have lessons about patriotism and the so-called history of Donbas. The main aim of such courses is to introduce and solidify the false idea of a historical unity of the Russian and Ukrainian people.
The educational process is based on a similar principle in occupied Crimea. With the onset of full-scale Russian aggression, the situation became worse – the occupying authorities stated that Crimean schools would be named after Russian invaders who participated in the war against Ukraine.
In June 2022, the Washington Post published an article that showed how Russia has promised hundreds of teachers hefty salaries for going to Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine and giving students there a ‘corrected’ education — with Russia’s take on Ukrainian history — in the coming school year. “Urgent” — the message sent out on June 17, 2022, said. “Teachers needed for [Zaporizhzhia] and Kherson regions for the summer period. 8600 rubles a day. The job is to prepare schools for the new school year. Transportation there and back is free. Accommodation and food — under discussion.”
Russian invaders pay special attention to military education. There are several paramilitary children’s and youth organizations that function in the temporarily occupied territories.
According to Radio Liberty, in the occupied Donetsk region alone, there are about 400 such clubs open to children aged 8-18 years old. Among other things, they are taught how to handle weapons, ammunition and explosives.
So-called patriotic camps also operate in Crimea. For example, there is the infamous Yunarmiya [“Young Army”] where children wear military uniforms and learn how to assemble and disassemble weapons.
Youth are encouraged to become members of such clubs because of the educational benefits – members of the “Young Army” have an advantage when applying to Russian military universities.
According to the Ukrainian authorities, more than 5,000 Ukrainian children from the Russian-occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions went through Russian militarized patriotic camps as of 2018.
The Ukrainian government has continuously attempted to draw international attention to the militarization of children in the occupied territories and appealed to UNICEF to respond. Because such deeds of invaders violate the children’s rights and contribute to their involvement in armed conflict, such a bestowment of propaganda under the guide of an educational process goes against the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Education should not be used as a weapon to militarise children, but prepare them “…for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace … and friendship among all peoples” (Article 29).
The Russian educational system in Russia itself is also heavily ridden with purposeful disinformation and mislabeling of history. Any unwanted historical facts about Ukraine are removed from schoolbooks. For example, in Russian history books the name of “Kyivan Rus” was replaced by just “Rus” in an attempt of erasing modern-day Ukraine’s status as descendant of the state.
The first instructions to mention Ukraine in textbooks “less and more cautiously,” were issued to Russian publishing houses of pedagogical literature in 2014.
Since the start of the full-scale war, propaganda in the Russian educational system began with a renewed vigor.
Three days after the beginning of the war, Russian schools received propaganda materials in which the main theses of Vladimir Putin’s February 22 address were retold, containing his direct quotes.
Children and teenagers were forced to participate in propaganda activities, such as lining up as the letter Z in support of the Russian troops. Posters with the letters V and Z — symbols spotted on Russian tanks — appeared on the windows of kindergartens.
Propaganda lectures to justify war in Ukraine were also held in Russian universities.
From September 1, Russian schools started having an additional weekly lesson called “Talking about the important.” During these lessons, teachers have to talk with children about the goals of the war in Ukraine.
Militarization, disinformation, and involvement in propaganda meetings among children and youth could have devastating consequences — not only for Ukraine but for other countries as well. Because the spread of disinformation and war propaganda can go far beyond borders.
Russian education could have a real aggressive impact on the international community. By imposing Russian propaganda on children from a young age, the Russian educational system moulds young people into being supporters of the Kremlin regime – and with time, into being its spokespersons and disrupting the global informational space.
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