Education as part of national security

10 January 2018, 12:58

2018 should see the implementation of real reforms in public schools get underway. Starting this upcoming year, we will be developing the new standards of the New Ukrainian School, standards under which all children who enter first class will study. This will mark the transition from schooling that stuffs children with theoretical information to an education that teaches children the kinds of skills that they need in the 21st century. All 22,000 of the country’s pedagogues will have to undergo professional development courses. Today, the Ministry is working on the concept of this new teachers’ education because new schools can only become a reality through new teachers.

Step by step

In 2018, the Ministry will also be developing a mechanism for voluntary external independent certification of teachers that will grant those teachers who achieve it a 20% raise in salaries over the following three years. The Law “On public middle school and secondary education” and related Cabinet resolutions will contain the details. Another objective is to liberalize the process of improving qualifications so that teachers have more choice as to where and how they will do this: in post-degree institutions or in community organizations that specialize in innovative teaching methods.

The social status of a teacher is one of the top priority issues for the Ministry. This year, teachers’ salaries were raised 50% across the board and next year they will go up another 25%. Here, it’s also important that the press talk about successful teachers and not only about scandals involving the profession.

Another objective for 2018 is the printing of textbooks. Pupils in first, fifth and 10th grades will all get new books. One of our challenges is to make them contemporary as to both content and presentation. For instance, Ukrainian history textbooks should include events that the country has lived through in the last four years. It’s also important for books to be written in such a way that pupils can critically evaluate the information, question it when necessary and look for reliable sources of additional information. It’s important to keep in mind that they, too, have been subjected to the hybrid war.

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The new Law “On education” for the first time includes the requirement that children have access not just to the paper textbook but to the electronic version as well. The Ministry intends to develop proper e-books: competitions to produce literature for first graders will be announced. The e-textbooks that we have today are only PDF versions of the paper originals. A real e-book is more than just a digitized version but a multimedia resource with video materials, games, tests, and much more.

Electronic content is especially important for children in annexed Crimea and the occupied parts of Donbas, who are not sitting at desks in Ukrainian schools. Together with CSOs, Prometeus, EdEra and the Open Policy Foundation, the Ministry has developed courses to make it easier for pupils to take the external independent evaluation or ZNO exams by building the necessary skills.

One more objective for 2-18 is to set up a State Service for Quality Education (SQE). Ukraine is in the process of decentralization right now. According to the new Law, local governments will be responsible for providing the educational process and establishing a learning environment, yet they have lost their oversight authority. International practice shows that the higher the level of decentralization, the more centralized quality control becomes. This is the reason for establishing the SQE out of the old State Inspection of Public Schools, with regional departments and the authority to control the quality of education.

In order to develop more inclusive education, the Ministry will set up a network of inclusivity resource centers in 2018. It will also be involved in the process of reorganizing boarding schools for children from poor families.

The language issue

Further on, the agenda includes the implementation of the language provisions of the Law “On education.” One factor that genuinely was not fully considered was the characteristics of ethnic minorities in Ukraine. It’s one thing when the minority language belongs to the Slavic group and it’s easier for children to master Ukrainian. It’s another altogether when other ethnic groups, such as the Hungarians and Romanians, need more time to learn it. Starting in the 2018-19 school year, new textbooks in the Ukrainian language will be introduced in public schools where children from ethnic minorities are studying—at least in the first, fifth and 10th grades—, and new teachers’ guides to teaching this subject. The details of this aspect are going to be written into the Law “On public middle school and secondary education.”

At the moment, the so-called Kivalov-Kolesnichenko version of the Law “On the foundations of state language policy” is still in effect. The Venice Commission concluded that this law degrades the status of the state language. The current edition of this language statute has remedied this situation. The Ministry would like to give more weight to Ukrainian as the state language, the main factor in the basic harmony, cohesiveness and integration of society.

As Minister, I believe that education is a factor in national security. When the territory of Ukraine includes homogeneous linguistic environments where the majority of the residents does now know or understand the state language, this reduces educational options for children and limits their development within the country. Such people become easier to manipulate. This is, in fact, what happened in Crimea.

One final objective for 2018 is setting up the National Agency for Quality Higher Education (NAQHE), which has been thwarted until now. Lacking such an institution means that there is no proper monitoring of the quality of post-secondary education. The Ministry also wants to change the financial model for higher education to be based on a formula that will take into account both the cost of training people in various specializations and the quality of education provided at a given institution. Meanwhile, the Ministry will complete the process of approving new competencies in educational standards that should go into effect as of Sept. 1, 2018. Last but not least, a repository of academic texts will begin to operate next year.

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Potential roadblocks

What could potentially block these plans? Understandably, laws are adopted in the legislature and so it’s not easy to predict how quickly deputies will rework them. This is where the biggest risks lie.

The essence of the changes to Ukraine’s education is that the Ministry wants to move away from a system that crams theoretical knowledge to a system that teaches the skills that are needed for life in the 21st century. Competence is the core of knowledge—the ability to solve life and professional problems—and values. Ukraine needs to renew the content of education, establish a new kind of learning environment and, most importantly, new approaches to teaching and new models of pedagogical behavior. Pupils today easily lose the desire to learn if the information is not part and parcel of the process of resolving specific problems or group projects. This means that the teacher has to expend more energy, prepare more for lessons, and be able to manage the class at a high level. The success of the individual today depends on a slew of competencies that include civil and social competence, the ability to communicate with others, to maintain one’s own health, and to control one’s emotional state, to engage in cultural activities, in lifelong learning, critical thinking, enterprise and innovation.

To achieve this, education needs to move from the top-down, authoritarian style of teaching to a more horizontal system: to interaction among parents, teachers and pupils—in short, a learning partnership. This is probably the most challenging objective as it depends not only on teachers learning new pedagogical techniques and technology but also on teachers altering their awareness. Unfortunately, this could be the source of the most resistance to educational reforms. Our slogan is very simple: Change the Ukrainian school into a school for contemporary life.

An elite not only needs to be brought up, it also needs to be maintained. Right now, Ukraine’s intellectual potential is moving from the country abroad because young people see the opportunities to develop themselves there, both in academia and in business. And, of course, opportunities for a better life. To change this, Ukrainians need to adopt their own country. This doesn’t mean yelling “Traitors!” at every step but proposing real options for changing the situation, looking for solutions. Responsibility for one’s own life, for one’s choices and for one’s country will be one of the most valuable results of the Ukrainian school of the future.

Lilia Hrynevych is the Minister of Education, Ukraine

Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj  

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