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What changes of Ukraine’s schools are around the corner?

Author : Bohdan Klyuchnyk

13:00, 4 January 2017
What changes of Ukraine’s schools are around the corner?

Author : Bohdan Klyuchnyk

Ukrainian education has been subjected to a steady deterioration. Would the new education reform change the situation?

13:00, 4 January 2017

Read the original text at 112.ua.

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December 14, 2016 the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine Lilia Grynevych has presented new policy proposal "New Ukrainian School". As noted by the minister, this political proposal is a strategic document, based on which further government action program for the reform of secondary education will be developed until 2029. The idea of the reform involves 12-year school program, which will consist of primary education (4 years), basic secondary education (5 years) – gymnasium, and the profile secondary education (3 years) – lyceums or the institutions of vocational education. According to the proposal, transition to 12-year education program and the start of a new Ukrainian school to take place in the 2018-2019 school year.

The concept of "New Ukrainian School", formed on the basis of policy proposals, is correlated not only with the best international practices, but also with the needs of the international labor market, announced in early 2016 at the World Economic Forum. It is assumed that in 2020, successful employment would require special skills such as ability to solve complex problems, critical thinking, creativity, and emotional intelligence.

This sounds quite convincing and optimistic. However it is necessary to understand how it all began and how it would be implemented in the Ukrainian realities.

Long road to reform of the education

In the recent 2014 Ministry of Education and Science has once again launched a reform of the state schools and developed of a new law on secondary education. November 6, 2014 it presented the draft Concept of Education Development of Ukraine for the period 2015-2025. During the discussion, the experts agreed that attention is focused on secondary education, because this segment is in a critical need of radical and ambitious reforms.

During 2015, the Ministry started reforming the secondary education. As noted in the final report on the results of implementation of the Programme, the Ministry re-equipped the education facilities, simplified schools programs, developed a network of schools, training and rehabilitation centers for the education of children with complex disabilities, and optimized residential network of orphans facilities.

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February 18, 2016 people's deputies sent draft of the new law "On Education" (№ 3491 from 11.19.2015) to Science and Education Committee for revision. And as noted by Olexander Spivakovsky, First Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Committee on Science and Education: "The rework of the document would last to the end of February - beginning of March 2017".

In addition to the introduction of 12 years secondary school, the draft law provides the voluntary certification of teachers, establishment of a national quality assurance agencies, national center of professional qualifications, and the development of the national qualifications system.

According to the current trends in Europe and the world, there are three forms of education: formal (officially raising the level of education), informal (raising outside the formal training system - training, clubs, courses) and informal (self-education).

At the same time the authorities decided to complicate the life and conduct a reform of education, together with decentralization reform. This project provides for consolidation of rural schools and the creation of supporting schools. This is a new system of qualified education for children who are learning in small towns and villages. As Minister of Education noted, each small village will have a primary school. At the same time all regions would have supporting the schools with the highest standards and qualified staff. Each school will have at least three branches. Branch is a school of I level (grades 1-4), which are as close as possible to the place of children’s residence. Children from many villages would attend the supporting schools in order to be able to study in the specialized high schools. The children might take school buses, and children from distant villages might live in special dormitoties. This year for the first time, the Government has allocated money for school buses - 650 million UAH. It is expected that 600 million will be spent from local budgets. However, the problematic situation with the textbooks for pupils of 4-7-graders showed that in the process of decentralization, there are some things that cannot be transferred to the local level. From now, money for the textbooks will be allocated from the public funds.

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Korea, Czech Republic, Armenia, and other countries have supported Ukraine in the difficult task of reforming education. Cooperation of the Ukraine-Czech Republic is carried out within the "Modernization of the public education system in Ukraine" program, approved by the Czech government in 2014 and was designed for implementation during 2015-2016. Its total budget amounts to about 2 million euros (about 57 million hryvnia) and provides improvement of the institutional capacity in the field of education and technical assistance, and educational institutions.

Korean experience is interesting for Ukraine; this new direction in education prepares for a successful employment, education after school. This so-called ЅTEAM education. It would be really helpful for Ukraine, given that the Republic of Korea has shown strong results of PISA testing, taking first place. In turn, for the first time Ukraine will take part in PISA student assessment in 2018.

Key themes of reforms

Thus, the reforms should improve the working conditions of teachers by reducing bureaucratic control, expansion of academic freedom and the formation of space for creative work. Intervention will be limited to the educational process of state bodies and local authorities; educational standards will be discharged in the expected learning outcomes.

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The point concerning the "optimization" of schools in rural areas is quite ambiguous, as it involves the closure of inefficient small schools and the creation of supportive ones. This project eliminates at least one important factor - geographical. In Ukraine, there is more than a dozen villages with a specific landscape, which are in a certain isolation from the "civilized" world. For example, the Matviyivka village in Cherkasy region. The village is on the border of Cherkasy and Kirovohrad region, surrounded by forest on all sides, being in a kind of "appendix". The bus from Chyhyryn regional center goes once a week. Matviyivka educational complex of I-II stages it attended by 46 children, and these children are the only hope for the existence of the village. Because when it is closed, the population will be left without the prospect of education in general, because the area does not fit in a school bus route. And there are lots of such cases throughout the country. Therefore, the question of priority the improvement of infrastructure in rural areas derives itself.

The problem with the shortage of skilled educators in rural areas is also very topical. The rapid decline of infrastructure, lack of leisure and housing problems make the prospect of living and working in rural areas unattractive for the majority of young professionals. Considering this factor the authorities resorted to the "decisive" actions - decided to encourage employment in the hinterland, promising to provide teachers with free accommodation after graduating from the university.

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has signed the Draft Law on Amendments to the Law of Ukraine "On Higher Education" (with respect to the employability of graduates), adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 6 October. Those students who wish to become teachers and doctors, have the right to priority enrollment in higher education by state order, if they have concluded an agreement on working out at least three years in rural areas or towns. In addition, the State promises to provide relevant graduates free use of housing with heating and lighting within the established norms. The law will work since January 1.

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But looking face it, this is only an encouragement. The local self-government bodies do not have real property at its disposal. The housing intended for use by young professionals is inhabited by the families of social workers, veterans, and sometimes it is privatized. New facilities could be built at least in 10 years. The Ministry of Education and Science confirmed that the provision of housing to young specialists in rural areas, of course, is problematic, and the hopes for resolving of this problems should lie on the combined territorial communities. However, by shifting the obligation to provide young teachers to regional level, legislators forget that thus they form an additional queue, which includes IDPs and ATO warriors.

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The next thing you should pay attention to is the rapid pace of reform. There is a saying, "haste makes waste", but for some reason, the creators of "New Ukrainian School" do not listen to folk wisdom. According to the project, introduction of 12-years education system should be launched in ten years. However, shortcomings point to the fallacy of the deadlines. For example, in neighboring Poland the education reform was paralleled in the context of decentralization and a similar process has more than 25 years.

Given that only a discussion took three years, adding the slow formation of boundaries of the local communities, which provokes additional reform process in agricultural, housing, and transport sectors, plus a shortage of funds ( the country is dragged into a military conflict and a number of related issues), we get at least another 5 additional years to effectively implement all the items provided for the concept of the "New school".

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The first steps in the reform of primary education might seem illogical. Under the so-called simplification of the school program provided cancellation of reading test, guidelines on physical training; 1-2 classes should not teach multiplication plate, addition and subtraction, teachers use a green pen instead of red, and students write by pencil, and the marks are said personally. All these changes take place in terms of catastrophic shortage of quality textbooks for the new program and other material support that would enable the teacher to work effectively. At the same time, many teachers are alarmed with banning homework; in their opinion, they "discourage" the discipline and students' interest in learning. Pupil’s parents are also disappointed, because ban of the homework might negatively influence the future exams.

Another controversy is the creation of new education control authorities. It is a national agency that assures quality and the national center of professional qualifications. The first will deal with the accreditation of educational institutions (except universities), the second would create jobs standards. Here the question arises: why such a body has not been created earlier? Previously, accreditation and standardization of education was the responsibility of the Education Department. However, according to the authors of the new bill the one who should ensure the quality, cannot control the quality of its work. But the creation of new agencies requires additional funds for salaries and training of new employees. At the same time, there is no guarantee that the increase in the number of structures that control the learning process will be consistent with its quality. In some cases, it is better to change the quality of the existing structures.

How to make a real difference?

First of all, a profession of the teacher should be prestigious not only in words but in deeds. The hero of a popular TV show said: "Let the teacher for one day live as president, and the president - as a teacher." You can change the content of educational programs and standards, methods and means of control one hundred number of times, but when the teacher sells tomatoes at the market to feed his family, which lives in a rented apartment, the time would be just wasted.

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We attach great importance to the teacher’s look, his social status, and the conditions in which he lives. This is important for his credibility and the credibility of the school in general. At the same time, to convince the pupils to learn, they need to be seen in front of them someone who not only knows a lot, but also who is financially secure. After all, it will allow the teacher to develop in his profession, and not to seek to earn additional income on the side.

According to the European standard, the teacher’s salary should be 10-15% higher than the national average. When making changes to the Law of Ukraine "On wage", did the government take into consideration it? On January 1, 2017 the minimum wage in Ukraine amounted to 3.2 thousand UAH. Today, the average salary of the teacher is 3.5 thousand UAH, taking into account the promised increase with the New Year, the salaries of teachers are going to increase too. Thus, the highest category of the teacher will be assigned to the 14th category (5266 UAH to 6841 UAH), while a teacher without a category might receive from 3960 UAH to 4853 UAH. However, the Cabinet does not know that a teacher's salary is affected not only by the teacher’s category, but also by the number of lessons. In such circumstances, a significant proportion, especially of young professionals (due to the small charge of working hours) is below the minimum wage, that is, they earn an average of 600-800 UAH, and it is even less than a scholarship.

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However, given the growth of the salary, the inflation which according to the latest index was 101.8%, and in the future has a tendency to grow, is just a chance to stay afloat. Incidentally, there was a proposal to raise the salary to deputies, to compare some figures: the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee will receive a salary of 28.8 thousand UAH, his deputy - 26.4 thousand UAH, chairman of the subcommittee - 26.4 thousand UAH, member of the committee – 25,92 thousand. UAH. Then we could talk about some positive changes and in the field of education.

Although the creators of "New Ukrainian School" firmly believe that their project would be implemented in the near future, however, systemic changes in secondary education still need improvement. A significant number of shortcomings (ignoring the motivation of teachers, the creation of high-quality books, and shifting responsibility on the shoulders of not fully integrated territorial communities) discredit the reform of secondary education in the eyes of the Ukrainian society. However, we believe that the new reforms would meet the people’s needs, and the 12-year educational program will be more effective than the previous one.

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