Slowdown of educational reform in Ukraine: obvious signs and reasons
Education reform is one of the key in terms of European integration. It is education that should form in the minds of citizens the value system that mentally brings us closer to the EU countries and activates the introduction of European principles into the functioning of government institutions and society. However, due to a number of reasons and circumstances, the education reform not only did not receive the necessary impetus for a rapid start, but is being also significantly inhibited, especially in the eastern regions.
Given the front-line location, a considerable number of internally displaced people, the strategic importance of the eastern regions of Ukraine for the temporarily occupied territories’ reintegration, the preservation of this trend is extremely dangerous. It is that way, since the aggressor state through the politicians’ statements openly declares its intention to actively use the inhabitants of the eastern, in particular, temporarily occupied territories to influence the Ukrainian government and ensure the dominance of pro-Russian political forces at its various levels in order to curtail the Ukrainian process of forming the national civic identity and the European integration direction of foreign policy.
Regarding these circumstances, it is worth noting that the positive feelings of ordinary people from reforms, including education one, is an important indicator of their success and the state’s movement in a strategically determined direction. That is why it is absolutely impossible to agree with the Prime Minister’s point of view that the education reform will give the first results in 12 years, as he stated at a government meeting on August 29, 2018. If, in the process of reform realization, citizens do not feel the gradual positive changes, it will not receive public understanding and recognition of its necessity. If, moreover, it is accompanied by the adjustment of the new progressive steps to the conditions advisable to get rid of, it will turn into a simulation. Accordingly, citizens will perceive it in a correspondent way. The first steps in the full-scale school reform implementation demonstrated namely such kind of symptoms.
Beginning of full-scale education reform implementation: visual signs and deep meaning
The new school year traditionally began with the Knowledge Day holiday. Over the past two years, discussions continue about the feasibility of holding its traditional celebration in a form inherited from Soviet times and about the possibility for participants of the educational process, first of all, pupils and parents, to choose other event formats. Representatives of the parent community sent the appropriate inquiries to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. The replies noted that, given the increasing autonomy in the reform process, educational institutions can independently choose how to celebrate this holiday and what events to conduct. This school year, many schools in Lviv, Ternopil, Poltava and other regions have already abandoned the traditional “line format” of celebration. Instead, school picnics and other activities were organized.
In the schools of Kharkov and the region, there was no “breath of the wind of change”. The holiday was held in the spirit of “the best Soviet traditions” with all the attributes: solemn “line format” event with the participation of deputies from the “regional party of power” who were waited in some schools for up to 40 minutes, the school uniform, the requirements for which differed only in the degree of rigidity. Most schools set up just insistent recommendations – “white top, dark bottom”. However, in some schools, as is shown in a series of videos and photos, they went further. Future graduates and even first-graders of the “new Ukrainian school” dressed, apparently not for their own reasons, a Soviet-style uniform, but yellow-blue ribbons on top of it. Therefore, the question arises as for the reasons and motives that induce school administrations to such a “solemn masquerade”. At a minimum, this may be an absolute lack of understanding of the essence and strategy of school reform or sabotage and the purposeful formation of an identity with the “Russian world” among children through the use of Soviet symbols. Indeed, in many Russian schools the same festive school uniforms are supplemented with ribbons-tricolors.
It is logical to assume that the full-scale implementation of the reform should be accompanied by the rapid withdrawal of “punitive pedagogy”. However, an analysis of the publications in the parent groups in social networks and the first current reviews on the sites of more than 30 schools of Kharkiv and the region selected by the random sampling method indicates that there are significant problems in the development of partnership relations between the participants of the educational process. A common phenomenon preserved is the high tone communication of teachers with pupils and using humiliating and offensive expressions or comparisons. The decline in marks for “handwriting”, “untidiness”, “incorrect formatting of work” and “bad behavior in the classroom” continues. Obviously, some teachers stubbornly do not understand either the strategy and goals of the reform, or the criteria for assessing pupils’ knowledge.
Before the start of the school year, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine announced its intention to introduce the mandatory External independent testing (EIT) in mathematics from 2020. The reasons are the EIT results’ deterioration this year and the disappointing dynamics of recent years, as well as the backlog of Ukraine in the methods of teaching mathematics. This innovation has already caused outrage among many parents and students.
Promoting the education reform, ministerial officials repeatedly declare the thesis that it is aimed at: guaranteeing educational rights, including the right to choose; development of individual abilities of each pupil; increase the level of quality of education and approach to the European educational space. However, the introduction of mandatory EIT in mathematics obviously does not correspond to the declared goals, and the arguments of its initiators do not look convincing for many reasons:
- The initiators apparently do not want to take into account the fact that people are different in mental abilities. The majority of pupils have definitely dominate humanitarian or mathematical abilities, and only a small part of them are relatively universal. At the average school age, the interests and abilities of the child are already quite obvious. Therefore, instead of deepening the specialization of education depending on the abilities and desires of pupils, ministerial officials propose to force everyone, regardless of abilities and will, plans for the future profession to “cram” mathematics only in order to pass the EIT.
- The introduction of mandatory EIT does not seem to be an adequate means of solving the problem of improving dynamics and overcoming the lag in the methods of teaching mathematics. And if this year the dynamics “deteriorate” in physics, chemistry, and five other disciplines, will it also be necessary to introduce mandatory EIT for these subjects?
- European educational systems, approach to which education reform should contribute, do not demonstrate similar approaches to problem solving. European education is focused on finding out as soon as possible the abilities of children and their development, first of all, by introducing an earlier specialization. Knowledge in other spheres is given on the principle of “reasonable sufficiency”. The exception is civil knowledge, which is necessary for a citizen, regardless of the profession and the specialization of which the quality of democracy depends.
- In the XXI century, the school, above all, should teach pupils to learn, acquire their own necessary knowledge. In addition, knowledge in new fields for schools, for example, in the field of psychology, comes to the fore. However, the Ukrainian school still does not teach either one or the other, and the implemented reform changes little in this direction.
- Under the conditions of modern trends of changes in European education, the pupils’ deprivation of the right to choose looks simply wild.
One of the main reasons for the deterioration in the quality of pupils’ knowledge is the overload of the school curriculum and the inconsistency of requirements with the resources available. For the second year, the problem of unloading has been solving solely at the level of statements by officials about the need for its overcoming. High school students have 8 lessons every day, that is, the 40-hour work week of an adult is held in their school. In addition, the average student spends at least 2 hours on homework preparation. Students of the 7-9th grades spend 36-39 hours in class. What is the quality of learning material and writing tests in the 7th and 8th lesson? In addition, the necessary skills of a person of the XXIst century, according to the content of school programs, still include knitting socks and embroidering with beads, making shelves. Therefore, obviously, to solve the problem is necessary, first of all, in this plane.
Education reform is necessary for Ukraine. The preservation of the intellectual potential of the nation and the implementation of one of the key country’s vectors – European integration – depends on its quick and successful implementation. As long as our citizens remain carriers of Soviet myths, stereotypes, and subordinate culture, the neighboring state will have significant chances for colonization. The arsenal of its ways and means is growing, but they all are grounded on a cultural basis. The problem of the transformation of public consciousness remains especially acute for the eastern regions, since it is here that the significant social base of the “Russian world” is concentrated.
The strategic goal and directions of education reform, in general, are determined in accordance with the modern European trends in the development of education and the needs of integration into the European educational space. However, practical steps to introduce educational reform indicate a lack of understanding by its ideologists of the essence of the European education systems that are taken as a model and the experience of which we are trying to adapt. The implementation of reform’s priority directions is being inhibited. Inadequate means are chosen to solve specific problems, which indicates a lack of understanding of their underlying causes. Accordingly, this provokes a negative attitude of the educational process participants towards reform and triggers inherently poor results for the future. In a society that has already been sufficiently disappointed with the realities of Ukrainian “European integration reforms”, skeptical moods regarding European integration itself will certainly intensify.
At the regional and local levels, there are a number of clear signs of misunderstanding, rejection, and possibly even sabotage of education reform. The scale of the problem is significant – from the ineffective work of the authorities and self-government in general management of the reform’s implementation at the appropriate level to “school self-government” and frank disregard for civilized norms and rules of communication in an educational institution.
A number of strategic mistakes by the initiators of the reform and its inhibition at the regional and local levels made it impossible to start educational reform as a full-scale one. The authorities’ plans to get the first results of educational reform in 12 years, inadequate actions of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine to solve urgent problems of organizing the educational process and improving the quality of knowledge, ineffective regional and local authorities management activities in the field of education – all this increases the level of negativity in society’s assessment of reform, inhibits its pace, creates threats to its further implementation.
In order to prevent the above mentioned negative tendencies, it is already necessary in the current stage:
- to perform a substantial revision of the order of reform’s priorities and the primary introduction of those vectors that are necessary from the strengthening national security and development of Ukraine as a modern state perspective, as well as to ensure public support for educational reform;
- to improve the regulatory framework of reform;
- to introduce of effective mechanisms to counter the inhibition and sabotage of reform at the regional and local levels;
- to strengthen advocacy work in the educational environment and implement direct bans on actions that discredit educational reform;
- to conduct the optimization of the educational process in the 2-11th forms.
The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should improve communication with all participants of the educational process. In particular, it may be worthwhile to not only give answers to these organizations and send reminders to administrations of institutions, but also directly prohibit appropriate actions to requests from parent organizations regarding typical violations in educational institutions. If the teacher’s level of civic and professional competence remains so low that they do not understand the illegality and inconsistency of the reform strategy with the directive requirements of the “festive Soviet school uniform”, in that case it should be explicitly prohibited.
The roots of the problem of a low level of knowledge lie in the plane of excessive workload on students and the inadequacy of requirements for resources, primarily temporary. Therefore, the way to its solution lies through the optimization of the educational process and workload, a detailed revision of academic disciplines and programs, and an in-depth specialization of teaching.
The Ministry of Health of Ukraine should study in detail how the existing workload for pupils in the junior, middle and senior classes, taking into account the time required for homework, is in accordance with the physiological load norms for children of the corresponding age. In addition, it should formulate recommendations for the normalization of the load in accordance with age, physiological features and developmental needs of a healthy child. Conclusions and recommendations should be sent to the Ministry of Education and openly published. To stimulate the process, parent public organizations can send relevant appeals to the Ministry of Health of Ukraine.
The Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine should carefully review the list of academic disciplines and the content of programs. Some disciplines, in particular, labor classes, art can be transformed into group extracurricular work. Children who want to knit socks and make shelves will receive such an opportunity. In middle classes, the programs of educational disciplines should be substantially reworked, guided by the principle of “reasonable sufficiency”. That is, to focus on two main goals – to give basic knowledge of the disciplines and to identify the abilities, inclinations and desires of students for a deeper study of disciplines in high school. High school should follow the path of deepening specialization – physical and mathematical, chemical and biological, linguistic and other classes.
Mathematics is certainly an important science. But the intention to introduce mandatory EIT looks more absurd than rational. In modern European education systems, the knowledge is mandatory for a person that makes him or her:
- conscious and competent citizen of his state;
- highly qualified specialist in their field.
The degree of importance and need for other knowledge and disciplines for themselves should be determined by the students themselves on the basis of their own abilities, preferences and plans for the future profession.
Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”