Language conservation and development not a priority anymore?

Activists empathise with the closure of Ana Tele online Tatar language learning school and are writing letters to the Ministry of Education

Ana Tele online Tatar language learning school will close on 1 July. Its users have received letters with this information. Activists have started to write letters to the Tatarstan Ministry of Education and the republican rais’ Telegram channel. While functionaries claim that foreign company EF Education decided to leave the Russian market.

Indefinitely off from 1 July

The last time Realnoe Vremya wrote about Ana Tele in October 2020 when online school users received a message that speaking classes would temporarily be suspended from 30 October. This meant all materials and tasks would be available but one couldn’t talk a teacher face-to-face. Moreover, the project’s destiny wasn’t defined either because there was not allocated money to continue it.

Now the online school will cease operations in general. At least its users have received letters about this. Director of Ana Tele Centre at Kazan Federal University Kadriya Fatkhullova, one of the co-authors of the popular textbook Let’s Speak Tatar, confirmed the closure: the agreement expires on 30 June respectively. But she recommended us to turn to the ministry to get any comments: “We hope the work will go on.”

Now a sample of the letter that’s going to be sent to the ministry has started to be spread on Telegram channels: “The amount of Tatar language classes in schools has significantly decreased since 2017, while classes in some schools were cancelled. Moreover, many Tatars live in different regions and countries for whom this website is the only opportunity to learn the mother tongue. This is why I would like to ask you about the future of the project. Is there any chance it will go on?”

Time to change?

According to Rustam Minnikhanov’s instructions, the Tatarstan Ministry of Education and Science, Kazan Federal University and EF Education First created Ana Tele with money from the republic’s budget. The project was launched on 4 February 2014. The online school has nine levels, four difficulty categories, 288 videos (where, for instance, one can listen to singer Ilgiz Shaykhraziyev), 10,950 audios, 6,795 graphic files, about a thousand tasks, 72 themes. The possibility of talking with a teacher was one of the gimmicks f the school. Obviously, Ana Tele went obsolete: its method, age limit (only those above 14 years can learn it). The website didn’t even have a mobile version. Moreover, only 10,000 people have been able to study here for several years. At the same time, the plan for the number of users registered there reduced in local national autonomies. Later, the limit was lifted.

In March 2020, EF Education First left its office on Bauman Street and fully went online. The same happened in Moscow soon. The company worked for 12 years in Kazan, particularly it was the official supplier of language programmes of the 2013 University Games.

Earlier, the Tatarstan Ministry of Education and Science sent out some organisations a petition to create a new electronic platform. Now, as head of the ministry’s press service Alsu Mukhametova told Tatar-inform, several alternative Tatar language learning courses were analysed. The optimal platform will be chosen after a detailed analysis. Also, the website of the Tatarstan Ministry of Education already collected resources to learn Tatar in National Education page. They are different and free.

All experts agree that the suspension of Ana Tele online school, despite all issues, is a traumatic situation.

“It is a pity. The status and value of the Tatar language reduced day after day,” says founder of Alima Academy Alima Salakhutdinova. “It is a pity so many people invested so much effort in the project and the project was closed without any obvious reason. Living abroad, organising Tatar language teaching, I know how many people have turned to Ana Tele project, used it, studied, thanked it! Ana Tele was a viable, productive project with excellent materials.”

“The closure of Ana Tele will have a negative impact on the situation with the Tatar language”

“I often teach Tatar online and often use materials of this platform with my students,” says one of the authors of Selam! popular textbooks Rashat Yakupov. “It was also convenient to refer students who are ready and want to learn the basics on their own there. There are only few similar projects on the Internet, and the closure of Ana Tele will have a negative impact on the situation with the Tatar language that has seriously suffered in recent time. I know a lot of people from regions and other countries who in fact have no other way of learning and practising Tatar from scratch. Ana Tele is a well-thought-out, systemic platform.”

At the same time, Yakupov admits that the content of the platform needs to be updated and improved:

“Any educational content needs to be reviewed and improved from time to time, from a perspective of methods, interactive resources and so on. But the improvement is a different agenda, it is about quality, I think the project itself should continue existing and developing.”

“Of course, it is a huge loss,” says Ayrat Fayzrakhmanov, candidate for historical sciences, one of the initiators of Open University educational project. “Perhaps, we, Tatar-speaking Tatarstan residents, didn’t really feel the presence of such a platform because there is another linguistic infrastructure — classes and mass Tatar classes, the mass media, cultural establishments and so on. But it was good support for Tatarstan living dispersedly, outside the Tatarstan republic. Of course, there are drawbacks too. However, if the official number of graduates is divided in three, it turns out to be a large number (about 20,000 during some years). Perhaps, there is no other minority language to have such a powerful platform.”

According to Fayzrakhmanov, the World Tatar Youth Congress is going to discuss the possibility of recreating a similar platform with the IT community.

“Of course, it is clear public money was used, it is clear a big sum was spent, now the job is starting to be shown, numbers are drawn,” says Rimma Gumirova, author of SkyTat speaking club project. “I was also told to sign up, like regional statistics were needed. This method is absolutely unacceptable for me, though I understand the initiative was not launched by the project’s authors, but it disappointed me. There is demand for the platform, I have enough people using it around me. It would be much more effective is reasonable marketing were used instead of administration. Some complain it isn’t updated. Here, instead of limiting to the phrase ‘Thanks for this,’ it would be better to organise a joint, scheduled work.”

Gumirova indicates that she would recommend people who would like to participate in SkyTat chats to take Ana Tele courses first.

“There is an interesting phenomenon: enthusiasts always try to create a project,” Gumirova goes on,” while state language initiatives are closing one by one. It feels like the conservation and development of the language isn’t a priority anymore and it is the domain of enthusiasts.”

Radif Kashapov