Children at War: Russia's New Educational Strategy to Foster a Military Generation

By Leo Rodriguez September 24, 2023

In Russia, a revolution in education is encouraging militaristic values and military training in children, from the nursery to high school.

Playgrounds across Russia are evolving into marchgrounds as students from the Pacific to the Black Sea swap their school uniforms for military outfits and marching boots. From kindergarten kids being initiated into marching drills to teenagers learning how to dig trenches, throw grenades, and fire real ammo, Russian schools are increasingly becoming clad in military glamor.

Russia is now witnessing what may perhaps be recognized as an effort to marshal its younger generation. A phenomenon catalyzed by the government in Moscow, particularly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the trend towards militarizing public schools throughout Russia has seen a noticeable escalation.

According to Sergei Kravtsov, Education Minister, around 10,000 “military-patriotic” clubs now feature in schools and colleges countrywide, involving approximately a quarter-million individuals. These establishments are part of a broader scheme that also comprises a radical shakeup of the school syllabus, with mandatory classes on military-patriotic values and revised textbooks emphasizing Russian military victories.

In an effort to bolster national defense education, President Vladimir Putin recently implemented a law introducing a new compulsory subject, “Fundamentals of Security and Defense of the Motherland.” The Education Ministry has further expanded this program to involve visits to military units, military-sports games, meetings with military personnel and veterans, and classes on drones.

The planned 2024 introduction of the program aims to instill an acceptance and appreciation for military uniforms, rituals, and combat traditions, as outlined in an Education Ministry document. High school students will also be taught how to use live ammunition under the supervision of seasoned military officials, but only at the firing range.

Historiography is also undergoing a transformation, with new chapters deceptively depicting Ukraine's recent history and the Russian invasion of the country added to standard textbooks. This revised narrative seemingly attempts to feed Russian children an altered perception of historical events and the nation's existential struggle. Messages of historical hostility and the nation’s fight for survival have become common themes in state-level media.

Putin has been at the forefront of this movement to instill patriotism in schools. He recently shared with a group of students a letter his grandfather sent to his father, discussing how they remained invincible during the second World War due to their undying spirit, much like the present generation.

Surveys have found that children as young as seven or eight are receiving military training in schools. From adopting call-signs to learning to assemble a machine gun, children are being educated in military tactics in various locations across the country.

Russian children are also involved in war-related practical activities. From sewing soldier uniforms to creating mobile stoves and trench candles for the military, children are encouraged to contribute to the war effort in their own ways. Moreover, they are also enticed to participate in Youth Military Sports Games, aimed at fostering comradeship, moral and psychological qualities, and also preparing them for potential future military service.

Instances of soldiers visiting schools are also on the rise. Some educators have resigned following criticism for their reluctance in adopting this new curriculum.

Assessing public reaction to this militarized education is challenging. Although there are dissenting voices among parents, public surveys and social media comments suggest a general acceptance of this movement, driven by a feeling of the nation being surrounded and isolated by antagonistic powers.

Under Putin and the state media, the message that the nation's only choice is to stand ground and fight is now being embedded within the country's education system.