Private university sets green agenda

May 3, 1996

A private university is helping to inject greater environmental awareness into the curriculum of Russian schools.

International University in Moscow, whose rector Gennady Yagodin is a former senior figure in the International Atomic Energy Agency in Geneva, has had its first intake of final-year teacher trainees, who will do a one-year, part-time course in environmental education.

The university established its Centre for Environmental Education two years ago as concern at the extent of Russia's ecological problems began to grow.

Mr Yagodin, one of the last Soviet education ministers under Mikhail Gorbachev, believed education had a pivotal role in reversing Russian attitudes to the environment. He set up seminars in Moscow and the regions to retrain mid-career school science teachers using translations of American school and college textbooks, videos and ecological education games.

"Russians still believe that mankind is the king of nature and the highest product of its development. But the idea that we are responsible for all of nature and the environment is being developed in the consciousness of our school children," he said.

The rector and his team hoped to act as a catalyst for change by retraining selected groups of 50 school teachers in intensive regional seminars in cities as far flung as Saratov, south east of Moscow, and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.

"The human race has to change its behaviour towards the environment within two or three generations. To achieve this, the best approach must be through educating the children. If we succeed in raising children who will be their parents' best tutors, perhaps our future will be secured."

The university has also run courses for city municipal officials, in an attempt to influence urban pollution and environmental planning strategies.

Nikolai Dron, a 24-year-old student in Moscow Pedagogical University's geography faculty, and student at the Centre for Environmental Education, said: "The lack of teachers trained in ecological education is particularly acute in Russia, so it's important in this respect. Many of us are rather optimistic and hope this approach will change attitudes, but we are up against the apathy of most people who are more concerned with economics than the environment."

The university's high-level connections have been vital to the success of the centre. The university's president is Gavriil Popov, the former mayor of Moscow and now leader of the Russian Social Democrats party. President Yeltsin is chair of its board of trustees.

Contacts with American academia have given the university access to key environmental education materials which it translates and sells to schools for modest sums. The centre receives its annual budget of $75,000 (Pounds 50,000) from the Ecology of Moscow Fund - which draws on revenue from an urban pollution tax.

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