New Education Law: A change of mindset

7 November 2017, 15:46

Legislation is a field where regular updates are needed to make sure societies catch up with the conditions dictated by their time. The adoption of the new Law of Ukraine On Education is not an exception to the rule.

In 1991, the newly-independent Ukraine adopted a law on education to replace the old Soviet one. 26 years ago the society and the market had different demands for their education. On September 5, after much public debate and pressure to reform the nation’s outdated education system, the Rada adopted the new law that offers some innovations and changes. Its best-known section, Article 7, defines the language of instruction and is currently debated in Europe. However, the law is also about the functioning of the education system in Ukraine, the quality changes to it and the improvement of its performance. In the future, the reformed education system is expected to generate high-quality professionals, as well as educated and competent citizens.

Inclusive education and citizen competency

According to Article 3 of the new law, all citizens of Ukraine are guaranteed equal right to education. It clearly states that this guaranteed right is provided regardless of age, sex, race, state of health, disability, citizenship, nationality, political, religious or other beliefs, place of residence, language of communication, origin, social and property status, prior convictions, and other circumstances. In addition to that, everyone has the right to access public educational, scientific and information resources, including online resources, electronic textbooks and other multimedia teaching resources, in the manner prescribed by the law. Thus, the emphasis is made on inclusive education for all without exception, guaranteed by law.

Article 5 describes education is a priority of state policy that ensures innovative, socio-economic and cultural development of society. The funding of education is defined as an investment in human potential and sustainable development of society and the State. The State must create the conditions for obtaining civic education aimed at forming the competencies necessary for exercising the rights and obligations of citizens and understanding the values ​​of a civil (free democratic) society, the rule of law, and the rights and liberties of the citizen. Competency, a term that was absent from the 1991 Education Law, is a dynamic combination of knowledge, skills, ways of thinking, views, values, and other personal qualities. It determines the ability of a person to successfully socialize and engage in professional activities and/or further education.

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Article 6 defines the human centric approach to education, ensuring equal access to education without discrimination on any grounds, including disability, as one of the fundamentals of state policy in the field of education. The law speaks of developing an inclusive educational environment, particularly in schools that are the most accessible and close to places of residence of persons with special needs, in Article 20. It says that educational institutions may form, as appropriate, inclusive and/or special groups and classes for the people with special needs. If requested by people with special needs or their parents, the formation of such groups and classes is mandatory. Schools should provide students with physical, mental and intellectual disorders, as well as sensory impairments, auxiliary means for education. It requires state authorities and local self-government bodies to form inclusive resource centers in order to ensure the right to education and psychological and pedagogical support for children with special needs. Existing school premises should meet the accessibility requirements in accordance with state regulations, and new ones should be designed for universal and reasonable accommodation.

The language matters

The new law mandates that the language of instruction in educational institutions is the state language. The state guarantees every citizen of Ukraine the right to obtain education at all levels (pre-school, general secondary, vocational (technical), professional pre-higher and higher education), as well as out-of-school and postgraduate education in the state language in state and public educational institutions.

Persons belonging to national minorities and indigenous populations of Ukraine are guaranteed the right to study in public educational institutions to acquire pre-school and primary education in the language of the respective national minority, along with the state language. This right is exercised through the establishment of separate classes (groups) with instruction in the language of the respective national minority, in addition to the state language. National minorities are also guaranteed the right to study their language in public general secondary schools or through national cultural societies.

This setup, as well as a number other educational innovations, are meant to act as a mechanism of inclusion, allowing the representatives of national minorities and indigenous peoples to enjoy the same benefits as the rest of Ukrainian citizens. This includes access to education in Ukrainian universities and to public offices that is impossible without fluency in Ukrainian as the state language.

The role of science and integration with the labor market

The new law focuses on the role of science in education. It makes authorities and institutions involved in education accountable to society, and separates the functions of control (supervision) and operation of educational establishments into different institutions. It outlines education as a field integrated with the labor market. A separate paragraph is included on noninterference of political parties and religious organizations in the instruction process. Students are to be provided diverse and balanced information on the issues of politics, ideologies and religions.

Article 12 prescribes anew and in detail the meaning and content of complete general secondary education introducing new components that were absent from the 1991 version. According to the new law, the purpose of complete general secondary education is the comprehensive development, education and socialization of a person capable of life in a society and civilized interaction with nature, striving for self-improvement and life-long learning, ready for conscious life choices and self-fulfillment, responsibility, professional life, and civic activity. This goal is achieved by shaping the key competencies necessary for every modern person to succeed: fluency in the state language; ability to communicate in one's mother tongue (if different from the state language) and foreign languages; competence in mathematics; competence in the field of natural sciences and technology; innovation; ecological competence; information and communication competence; and life-long learning. These are complemented by civil and social competencies related to the ideas of democracy, justice, equality, human rights, well-being and healthy lifestyles, with the awareness of equal rights and opportunities, cultural competence, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, etc. All competencies include the following common skills: reading and understanding, ability to express individual opinion both orally and in writing, critical and systematic thinking, ability to logically justify a viewpoint, creativity, initiative, ability to constructively manage emotions, evaluate risks, make decisions, solve problems, and co-operate with others.

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The new law introduces education districts. The purpose is to set up the infrastructure for obtaining complete general secondary education with subject-oriented instruction, comprehensive personal development, rational and efficient use of available resources, and the buildup of material and technical base of educational institutions, as well as their modernization. An educational district will encompass a set of educational institutions and their branches, including out-of-school institutions, cultural establishments, PE and sports institutions that provide access to education for the residents of the respective district.

Adult education is covered in a separate article. Being part of life-long education, it is aimed at ensuring the right of adults to continuous education taking into account their personal needs, social development priorities, and the needs of the economy. Adult education is composed of postgraduate education; professional employee training; retraining and/or advanced training courses; continuous professional development; etc. Postgraduate education involves the acquisition of new skills and the improvement of those previously acquired in the process of higher, vocational (technical) or professional advanced education and practical experience.

Politics, religion and academic integrity

The specifics of relations between educational institutions and political parties, as well as religious organizations, are outlined in Article 31. It requires that state and public educational institutions are separated from churches (religious organizations) and are secular. Private educational establishments, in particular those founded by religious organizations, have the right to determine the religious orientation of their educational activities. Political parties have no right to interfere in the educational process of schools. No political party cells or political associations can be formed and function within school premises. An important paragraph of this article prohibits school administration, pedagogical and academic staff, state authorities, local self-governments and their officials to engage students and professors in events organized by religious organizations or political parties, except for events provided for by the educational program. An anti-discriminatory clause also sets forth that students cannot be restricted in their right to acquire education in state and public educational institutions based on their belonging or not belonging to any religious organizations or political parties.

Article 42 of the law addresses the issue of academic integrity. It refers to a set of ethical policies and statutory rules that the participants in the educational process should abide by in the process of learning, teaching and conducting scientific or creative activities. This should ensure confidence in the outcome of the education process. Adherence to academic integrity by the pedagogical and scientific staff implies providing references to the sources of information used for ideas, inventions, statements and information. Copyright norms should be met, and reliable information should be provided on the methods and results of research. For the students, integrity procedures regulate independent completion of school tasks, the provision of references to the sources of their information, adherence to copyright rules and more. A welcome change comes from the definition of what constitutes violations of academic integrity in the new law: academic plagiarism, self-plagiarism (i.e. publication of own previously published scientific results as new scientific results), fabrication, falsification and cheating. All these have long been a serious problem in Ukraine’s education system, inherited from Soviet practices and nurtured further by the intensity of school education and a lack of social censorship for such practices. The new integrity provisions are aimed at changing the approach and mindset on education.

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Sanctions for the violation of academic integrity procedures by school staff can include refusal of academic degrees or titles, abolition of degrees awarded earlier, refusal of the right to participate in statutory bodies or occupy statutory positions. Students may have to go through a repetition of tests or the components of education in which the violation took place, deprived of scholarships or allowances.

Article 45 of the new law introduces a mechanism of institutional audit, a comprehensive external review and assessment of educational and administration processes in schools. The purpose is to ensure its effective work and sustainable development. The law institutes the position of Education Ombudsman, an official appointed by the Cabinet to protect individual rights in the field of education.

The European society is based on the educated society principle, high culture and equal opportunities for all. This is the purpose of the reform launched by the recently adopted Education Law, one of the necessary tools for changing Ukraine for the better. 

Translated by Anastasia Leonova

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