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Social Sciences and Humanities in the Far East

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        The end of the Cold War has ushered in a new era - that of a novel political, cultural and economic reality. The Soviet Atlantis is sinking deeper and deeper into an abyss of the ocean of history', as it were; both outstanding achievements and accomplishments characteristic of the Soviet era and those problems which have never actually been resolved are gradually fading into oblivion. Having entered a Post Soviet phase of history Russia has faced new realities, new historical challenges which are yet to be confronted and somehow coped with. The search for these solutions, seeking the essential answers are those tasks that need to be addressed not only by the Government but by the whole thinking community, all the people of Good Will who sincerely wish their country the best, who hope that its people will live and prosper. The academic community, being the most qualified and professionally apt and competent part of the Russian-speaking community cannot but be an integral part of the given process with the most imperative aim of the latter being reflection upon the prospects of contemporary Russian society.
        The aforementioned prospects appear to be such as to deny the possibility of doing it the easy way, that is to indulge in political self-isolationism and economic autarky. The common tendency which defines modern civilization is that of integration, economic integration, primarily, but not exclusively. Of no less importance is integration in the field of technological advancement as well as that in the domain of education. Similarly, assimilation and convergence of various national cultures invariably affect and determine the process of globalization.
        Russia, being integration-oriented, has of late joined a number of international organizations of different scale, level and complexity. Hence, it is not at all surprising that Russia has taken serious steps and went to considerable expense in order to ensure that the APEC summit in Vladivostok is held at the highest possible level.
        The most fundamental aspect of globalization is the creation of the integrated educational space. This results from that unique role that is performed by education in contemporary world. Education does provide prerequisites both general and specific for the integration of peoples, nations and cultures. The general ones are being realized via the enhancement of educational potential of people, the specific by means of mutual enrichment of the said cultures, through foreign language learning, student exchange, joint projects in the sphere of teaching and learning. Integration in the educational domain is absolutely essential for fruitful economic, political and cultural cooperation and, doubtless, it is indispensable in terms of prevailing over all sorts of phobias and prejudices the unfortunate legacy of the past.
        At the turn of the millennia the APR countries have become exceptionally influential in terms of inducing global development. And since the Russian Far East actually constitutes one third of the country proper, Russia simply cannot behold new phenomena distractedly and absent-mindedly, as it were. Its main objective is to join the process naturally and judiciously, not only qua oil source and appendage, a limb of sorts but as one of the leading subjects of scientific, technological and cultural progress. The main point on the agenda is not merely reindustrialization of the country but its profound modernization and upgrading. A large scale educational reform which has been endorsed in Russia is meant to grant the cultural prerequisites that are to guarantee a new role of Russia on the world arena. One of the most significant steps on the way appears to be the formation of a network of federal universities. This type of a higher educational establishment is relatively new for Russia; in accordance with the initiative launched by the reformers, it should incorporate the best staff, both academic staff members and teachers as well as administrators. On the eastern frontier of this country, as one is well aware, Far Eastern Federal University has recently come into being which may be perceived as the quintessence of the modernization program adopted by the political rule of Russia. The joint efforts of researchers, teachers and administrators which was, ultimately, the true goal of the Universitys foundation in the first place, - ought to result in the synergistic effect, and, one wants to believe, it is not going to be long now.
        The process of restructuring of the Russian educational space is not to destabilize the activity of those institutions of higher learning which train specialists and experts who are to safeguard and warrant the functioning of the countrys already shaped infrastructure, the railway network, primarily. It is precisely because of the latter that the social and economic integration of vast territories is being maintained as well as concord in the economic and cultural life of this immense country. In the Far East of Russia the honourable mission of training engineers for the railway infrastructure maintenance is being carried out by Far Eastern State Transportation University, and this role it does perform worthily, beyond a shadow of a doubt. It is not incidental that this institution of higher learning is precisely the place, the headquarters of the leading Far Eastern academic journal with the emphasis on the Humanities. This fact alone speaks volumes about the significant part performed by the University proper and that role which is being assigned to promoting Social Studies within the confines of the former.
        Integration is not to be perceived qua elimination of national identity and discarding the identity of civilization. Assimilation of countries and peoples is to be a natural process, the one that should not be instigated artificially; it should be brought about on consensus and on the basis of mutually beneficial cooperation. This is the only approach that epitomizes the principles of democracy and humanism.
        What inevitably follows is the premise that integration in the domain of education does not necessitate rejecting national traditions observed in various countries but presupposes incorporation of methodological, organizational and contents components of educational systems.
        The special issue, the one that the reader is holding now in his / her hands, has been compiled with the consideration of the urgent issues typical of contemporary world. Thematically, the journal is divided into two parts; the first one contains articles which shed light upon various aspects of formation of the unified educational space in the APR countries.
        This particular section commences with the article by prof. Z.G. Proshina who reflects on the experience of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teaching in the APR countries. One should hardly mention how important it is to have a good command of the English language nowadays. Knowing the said language is absolutely indispensable for any specialists and experts who opt for being involved in the scientific, technological and cultural continuum of nowadays. The members of the editorial board do hope the article in question will be of interest not only for EFL practitioners and experts but that it will find its target audience among those who know from experience what a hurdle the fabled language barrier actually is.
        As far as the paper dealing with Japans educational policy is concerned, it should be made clear that Japan is our closest neighbour and we are bound to keep good neighbourly relations with it. This geographical proximity alone cannot but affect Russia; we cannot be indifferent to what is happening in Japan at present. In the post-war period Japan was capable to achieve rapid and triumphant success which would have been totally unattainable but for Japans effective and highly professional educational system. And although Russian culture differs radically from the Japanese one, there is much to be learned from the experience of the latter. Despite all the dissimilarities, Japanese society does face problems which are familiar to us all, take, for one, an unfavourable demographic situation or youth unemployment rates.
        It is apparent that purely automatic mechanical transference of the principles behind the educational system as well as the solutions meant to rectify social problems from the Japanese onto the Russian soil is unthinkable and improbable but the experience gained by our neighbours is extremely helpful since it allows for less mistakes and eventual dead ends which might occur in the process.
        Thematically, the paper by Z.G. Proshina correlates with the article by Larry E. Smith who happens to be one of the leading specialists in the sphere of teaching English as a Foreign Language, as is our colleague from Indonesia, Fuad Abdul Hamied.
        Larry Smith theorizes that English is a unique communication tool capable of performing various functions in different countries. The sphere of application and use of the English language depends on the particular language situation characterizing ASEAN countries; this results in the necessity to discriminate the tasks any EFL educator faces. Moreover, one should acknowledge that the emergence of diverse national variants of English nowadays is the process both objective and inevitable. This argument brings about many of the ideas which are being thoroughly analysed in the article.
        Z.G. Proshina pays special attention to the issues concerning the methodology of EFL teaching whilst L. Smith focuses on the topic of communication between the speakers of different variants of English. F.A. Hamied, in his turn, dwells on the factors and conditions which help optimize the process of learning English as the language of international communication. He examines this problem in a wider social context, tying the issues of perfecting higher education to those which are meant to safeguard social justice and equality. Having considered all the relevant data accumulated in Indonesia and pertaining to Indonesian educational system, the author makes a well grounded conclusion that we cannot just leave it all to market, that relying solely on market forces could create greater inequality. This particular experience might come in handy in this country in order to facilitate triumph over market romanticism, which many of the Chief Executive Officers who delineate the educational policy in Russia share today, somewhat bizarrely.
        A renowned scientist and educator from Malaysia Saran Kaur Gill informs us of the practice adopted in his country, that of establishing fruitful links between the Malaysian educational system and the society at large. For Russia the experience in the given sphere appears to be extremely helpful since what we witness these days is the over production, as it were, of specialists in particular domains, lawyers and economists primarily. We are aware that this particular model created specifically for Malaysia cannot be applied in Russia without necessary amendments and ramifications. However, many of the effective techniques devised in Malaysia could be relevant and valid in Russia too, like establishing certain institutions and launching projects which are to guarantee the incorporation of efforts on the part of the society, businesses and those of higher educational establishments in the process of training the required experts.
        The second part of the special issue comprises the articles dealing with certain problems the Russian Far East faces nowadays.
        A prominent Russian scientist A.S. Kim ponders the issue that is extremely urgent these days that of migration in the Far Eastern region. This particular matter is of primary importance since it is aimed at averting ethnic conflicts. Those practical recommendations which are to be found in the article in question result from the holistic theoretical conception, the main tenets of which are presented fully and in detail. Naturally, the article is not exhaustive but the main assumptions and conclusions are to be of interest to specialists and lay people alike.
        The abovementioned paper is somewhat related to another article written by A.M. Shkurkin. The given work focuses on one of the most acute problems defining the life of the Far Eastern community - that of the workforce and labour migration. The dramatic decline in the total numbers of the population in the Russian Far East, which has occurred in the last twenty years (from that of estimated eight million to six million people) constitutes a real threat of losing those vast and immense territories our country has. In this connection it might seem appealing to fill the niche in question by the subjects of China migrating to the Russian Far East. The readers who are not indifferent to the situation, who would like to learn more about some of the pros and cons of the delineated prospect, will find the article by A.M. Shkurkin fruitful and informative.
        Another paper published therein is written by A.V. Smolyakov and dedicated to one of the most sensitive geopolitical issues which have been casting a shadow over the horizon of the APR cooperation for quite a time now. That would be the problem of Tai-wan and everything concerned with it. A.V. Smolyakov proves once and for all that it is impossible to solve this dilemma bluntly and straightforwardly. The world community is obviously not ready yet to find a just and trouble-free solution to the most complicated of problems such as this one.
        The last article in the thematic issue belongs to the pen of S.V. Filonov, who is rightly considered to be one of the most qualified and esteemed Russian researchers of Taoism, which is unquestionably the most influential national religion of China, the one that has defined the countrys identity. We want to believe the article will provide valuable information in regard to the contemporary state of affairs in the sphere of the Taoist Studies in China and it will also shed light upon the inherent significance of studying the countrys cultural legacy.
        So, to conclude: the Far East of today is, doubtless, one of the most dynamic and fastest-growing regions in the world. Hence, the way the principles of mutually beneficial cooperation between the countries, the principles of justice and equality are shared and upheld in this region, whether the collaboration is fruitful and meaningful for all the participants, - all this actually affects the global worldwide state of affairs. And, most certainly, it does affect the situation in Russia one of the greatest Far Eastern countries boasting rich history and high culture. It is our duty as Russian and Far Eastern scientists to promote and facilitate the progress of this region in this particular field wherein we are competent above all others.

Member of the Editorial Board
Prof. R.L. Livshits

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