Educational reform implementation at the level of Donetsk region: dynamics, achievements and problems | Center for Political Analysis «Observatory of Democracy»

Educational reform implementation at the level of Donetsk region: dynamics, achievements and problems

For the academic year 2017/18 the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine has planned the start of educational reform. In Donetsk region the Draft of the regional program “Education in Donetsk region in the European dimension in 2017-2020” has been developed, which largely reflects the main components of the educational reform. It provides the implementation of a number of projects in its key strategic areas: government and institutional development, education content, health and safety, education on values ​​of sustainable development, integration into the European community.

The first stage: an educational experiment and the implementation of inclusive education

In four schools of Donetsk region (Kramatorsk Ukrainian Gymnasium of Kramatorsk City Council, Ilinovsk Specialized School of the I-III levels of Konstantynivka District Council, Public institution “Mariupol secondary school of the I-III levels No. 47 of Mariupol City Council of Donetsk region”, Dobropilsky educational complex “Specialized school of the I-III levels No. 4 with in-depth study of certain subjects – pre-school educational institution” of Dobropilsky City Council) it is continued the experiment of first-graders teaching based on the new LEGO methodology. In addition, the experiment includes radically different conditions and style of teaching. In general, we can affirm the successful realization of the experiment. There is an active exchange of experience at the regional and interregional level. As noted by the director of the Kramatorsk Ukrainian Gymnasium, 40 teachers of Donetsk region have already visited lessons conducted under the pilot program. The delegation of 70 people is expected soon. Also, Donetsk teachers visited Lviv within the program of experience exchange. The participants of the experiment are in contact with developers of the programs and developers of training materials either. Participants of the experiment provide information to the public on the progress of the experiment, its practical aspects. Parents of first-graders give positive feedback. In fact, there have been technical difficulties connected with the repair of the Kramatorsk Gymnasium. The parents of 18 pupils have stopped their participation in the experiment due to that reason and the transport problems that have arisen. As head of the Donetsk Civil Military Administration stated, measures are being taken to speed up the work and bringing the contractor to responsibility.

In general, there is a very worrying trend in Ukraine towards the increasing of the number of children with disabilities. According to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, every 10th child has special needs for education. In the front-line region the situation is worsening due to the physical and psychological consequences of the war. In 2018, a targeted educational subvention for inclusive education is being increased. Inclusive classes have already started to work in Kramatorsk, Konstantynivka, Pokrovsk and other cities.

Several groups of problems at the regional level could be distinguished regarding the provision of the inclusive education organization:

  1. Creation of necessary conditions for the education of children with disabilities (equipment, rehabilitation activities, psychological and pedagogical support, etc.).
  2. Distinguishing of those groups of children who can study in regular schools, and those who are able to study in specialized institutions (children with severe disabilities, children requiring very specific teaching methods and communication environment).
  3. Personnel problem. There is a lack of teachers with relevant experience, teachers’ assistants. The significant psychological support is needed for most categories of children.
  4. Significant psychological children’s traumas due to war, which leave an imprint on the entire learning process. Representatives of public organizations involved in the psychological rehabilitation of children and organizations engaged in educational activities for inclusive education classify children with psychological trauma to a separate group of children with special needs. They emphasize the need to create a special educational environment for such children.
  5. Overcoming public stereotypes in relation to people with special needs.

The last three problems are the hardest ones to solve so far.

Civic and public administration and self-government in educational institutions

The Draft of the regional program “Education of Donetsk Region in the European Dimension 2017 – 2020” with reference to articles 28 and 70 of the Law of Ukraine “On Education” includes, among other things, the implementation of projects 1.1 “Civic and Public Administration of Education on the Basis of Decentralization” and 4.2 “Student’ Self-Government”. However, the draft 1.1 does not directly contain the creation of civic and public administration’s bodies. We are talking about educational councils under the heads of the UTC, city funds for supporting education, etc., in other words – institutions that do not perform the functions of management of education. Perhaps, the authors of the program missed this point due to considerations that the main initiative in this process should proceed from the community. In this case, representatives of the community should actively initiate and exert pressure on the relevant institutions.

There are seminars, trainings, meetings and convents of student’s self-government bodies among the activities under the Project 4.2 for 2017/18. Since 2018, it is planned to hold the competitions among teachers for the best model of the student’s self-government of the educational institution. Concerning this point it is worth paying attention to some of the initial conditions. First, today there is no self-government as well as vision about its essence.

On the schools’ websites, where at least some information about student’s self-government contains, the typical picture is the following: schools inform that the system of school’s self-government bodies includes voluntary associations of students of junior, secondary and high schools, as well as the school association “Council of Ministers”. Regulations on the work of associations and ministries represent a chaotic set of meaningfully different statements that have nothing to do with the essence of self-government. The work plans of the associations duplicate the plans of the educational work of the school for the academic year. Among the tasks of associations are often indicated: the organization of school leisure, coverage of school life events, the organization of the summer labor period and so on. The various councils that are part of the association are responsible for creating the conditions for training, for organizing leisure, for participating in city events, for hosting competitions and olympiads, for school duty and cleaning and so on. At the same time the participants of associations are obliged “to be the support of the student group and the class teacher”. They have the right to “participate in the planning of educational work in the school”, “solicit the teaching staff to encourage students”, “listen to sector reports and make decisions on them”.

“Councils of Ministers”, how it turned out, are the main bodies of self-government. The regulations note: “Educational activities are carried out through the organization of school self-government – Council of Ministers. Council of Ministers coordinates the activities of school ministries. The ministries supervise class assets – the provinces led by the governor”. Accordingly, each ministry should perform its set of executive functions in the organization of studies and leisure, ensuring participation in planned activities and control over the compliance with disciplinary requirements. The logic of the functioning of the ministry as an executive body is quite sustained. Two aspects remain unclear: granting them the status of self-government bodies and duplicating the functions of councils, associations and ministries. In addition, they are limited to the implementation of plans and instructions, the opportunity to participate in discussions without guarantees of proposals consideration. Of course, they are given the opportunity to ask and solicit the administration and the teaching staff. Obviously, it is not very practical to hold meetings and convents for such “self-government” bodies. Perhaps, it is worth starting with an educational work on the essence of self-government in an educational institution, testing its structure.

Secondly, it is surprising that only the participation of teaching staff is planned in competitions for the best model of the student’s self-government of the educational institution. It turns out that they should create a model of “self-government” that is convenient for them. In general, this indicates a lack of understanding of the essence of self-government among the authors of the Draft of regional program. After all, self-government, first of all, presupposes collegiality. Therefore, not only participants of the educational process should participate in the development of projects, in competitions, but also all interested parties, including public organizations.

Civic and national-patriotic education: to solve the problems without damaging

For the front-line region the problem of civic education and upbringing, its combination with national-patriotic education, is particularly urgent.

According to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, the majority of internally displaced people live in Donetsk region – about 530,000. Taking this factor into account combining with other, which are – active migratory processes and contacts with the inhabitants of the occupied territories, the state of regional social and political consciousness, and the most important issues in the process of reintegration, – the project of civic education should be an important component of the regional program for the development of education. However, in the developed Draft of the program “Education of Donetsk Region in the European Dimension 2017 – 2020” there is not only a separate project on civic education, but also any mention of it. Only the project 4.3 “Education and spiritual development of the individual” contains the creation of the regional center of spiritual education in cooperation with religious and social organizations, “the implementation of educational disciplines of spiritual and moral orientation as the basis for the formation of personality and national-patriotic education”.

Accordingly, the practical side of the issue also looks the same way. Civic education is not being implemented. Activities in educational institutions for national-patriotic education are conducted according to a typically Soviet scenario. Thus, the situation is when the “Russian world” patriotism is set against, in fact, patriotism – “tracing paper” of the same one. And this is an additional factor of threat. The activity of public organizations is aimed at psychological help to children, organization of leisure. Certainly, this is extremely important. But it is also necessary to expand the sphere of application of efforts, to create a system of informal civic education. It is necessary that people can see a clear difference between the imperial subject patriotism and the patriotism of citizen of civilized state based on the understanding of its values. It is extremely important to focus on civic education and upbringing, within which the patriotic is implemented. So far, everything is being realized in exactly the opposite way.

Decentralization of the education system in Donetsk region: pivotal schools

Creation of pivotal schools as centers of educational districts is an important component of the decentralization reform in the sphere of education. The mission of pivotal schools is to make quality education accessible to all children, regardless of their place of residence and physical abilities. Among the goals it is to optimize the costs of schools’ maintaining and ensuring the specialization of education in a high school.

Decentralization assumes that local governments and school administrations are given broad powers to organize, finance and manage the functioning of pivotal schools.

In Donetsk region, the process of establishing pivotal schools has been launched on the initiative “from above” as part of the decentralization of government system on the local level. During the period of 2015-17, 9 united territorial communities and 8 pivotal schools were created in the region. In the context of decentralization of education, it was expected that most of pivotal schools would had been opened on the initiative of the UTC councils and would had been under their control. However, this did not happen.

Source: data of the websites “Decentralization in Ukraine”, “Information System for Education Management

Only two pivotal schools of the region are under the control of the UTC councils so far. These are Shakhovska secondary school and Ilinovska specialized school. The rest ones are under the control of district and city councils (each has 3 schools).

The fact that most of pivotal schools are under the control of city councils is a distinctive feature of Donetsk region, which is explained by high urbanization of the region, the intensive rate of population decrease in cities of regional significance. In most regions of Ukraine pivotal schools are created mainly in rural areas.

At the same time, a small number of pivotal schools, which are under the control of the UTC councils, in relation to schools which are under the control of the city and district councils, illustrates the common problem for all regions in Ukraine. It is the fact that the decentralization of education is implemented only formally. District and city councils have established “traditions” of relations with regional and district state administrations, and play a subordinate role in relation to them. It is beneficial for the state administrations to maintain this position, and it is customary for councils. Therefore, the shift of the governance of pivotal schools to the UTC councils is quiet slow. At the same time, the UTC councils, as a “product” of decentralization, have a chance to escape from the influence of state administrations and implement the principle of autonomous self-government in practice.

The formal approach to the creation of pivotal schools is threatened by the fact that a real decentralization of education might never happen, and the goals of reform would not be achieved.

Source: website “Decentralization in Ukraine
What is the situation with pivotal schools in Donetsk region comparing to other regions in Ukraine? The picture of this is given by the diagram developed by the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, as at 12.03.2018.

Donetsk region does not take the leading positions and, together with Lugansk region, shares the 18th place among all regions of Ukraine by the number of pivotal schools. However, given the difficult situation and the fact that the most densely populated parts of the region are occupied, the situation with the establishment of pivotal schools is not bad in general. Donetsk region is ahead of some regions in Ukraine by the number of pivotal schools, where there is no war and nothing impedes the reforms: Transcarpathia region (0 pivotal schools), Ivano-Frankivsk region (6), Cherkassy region (7), Mykolaiv region (7).

By the percentage ratio of pivotal schools that are under the control of UTC to their total number in the region, Donetsk region is at the level of the average indicators for Ukraine (2 schools in UTC from 8, which is 25%). Much worse things with this indicator are in Transcarpathia region (0%), Kyiv region (1 out of 34 schools is in UTC, which is 3%), Kharkiv region (2 out of 22 schools are in UTC, which is 9%) areas. The leader here is Zhytomyr region (27 out of 36 schools are in UTC, which is 76%). Thus, the diagram gives a clear idea, where the state administrations are most reluctant to leave their traditional managerial roles. Donetsk region cannot be referred to them, which inspires some optimism regarding the future prospects of the educational decentralization in the region.

The problem of financial support for the pivotal schools functioning is acute in Donetsk region. Fund for their needs comes from local budgets and partly from the state budget (in the form of educational subventions and special funds). The funds are used to improve the material and technical base of pivotal schools, salaries for teachers, and repair of rooms. But some needs are not provided:

  • Extremely unsatisfactory condition of the transport infrastructure, lack of influence in local councils on authorized executive bodies with the aim of redirecting funds for repair and construction of roads, which are necessary for the educational district.
  • In many small towns in the region centralized heating and hot water are turned off, which means that the school must take care of their provision by itself.
  • Lack of material and technical basis for the organization of clubs and sections.

In addition, local councils and school administrations show little activity to find new sources of funding that are permitted by law, which worsen financial problems.

In general, the problems mentioned above are typical to some extent to all regions in Ukraine. There are specific problems, inherent to Donetsk region only:

  • The risk of establishing pivotal schools and investing finances into them in populated areas near the line of demarcation (in the “gray zone”). The total number of schools on the line of demarcation is 54. But pivotal schools are still being created there – the local authorities see not only the risk, but also the political expediency in this. So, in Avdeevka and Krasnogorovka two schools are being reconstructed, which would be pivotal schools.
  • Some cities and towns are divided into parts by a line of demarcation. The question arises: how to form an educational district and ensure the territorial accessibility of a pivotal school?
  • Ensuring the safety of the already established pivotal schools near the line of demarcation and in a whole region in connection with the front-line location.
  • The need for intensified educational work and frequent opposition to it by the local population: it would be better to pay more attention to civic education in the front-line region in order to reduce the influence of the “Russian world” ideology. But the population does not always perceive this positively, and teachers are not always competent in this activity.

Conclusions and recommendations

The greatest dynamic in the process of educational reform implementation at the regional level is seen in the realization of pilot projects for the training of first-graders, in the implementation of inclusive education and in the creation of pivotal schools. However, a number of difficulties of an organizational, material, and psychological nature arises in each of their components.

The most problematic are the issues of decentralization of educational institutions government and the creation of self-government system, the implementation of civic education. Objective reasons are the lack of appropriate traditions and knowledge, the normative imperfection of the relevant provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On Education”. Accordingly, in the Draft of regional program “Education of Donetsk region in the European dimension 2017 – 2020”, sufficient attention is not paid to the issues of decentralization of government. Civic education is ignored at all.

The Draft of the regional program “Education of Donetsk region in the European dimension 2017-2020” does not sufficiently take into account the specifics of the front-line region and its most important role in the process of reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories. First of all, it concerns the creation of a new environment of the educational institution through its democratization and formation as an institution of civil society. At the same time, it is the cardinal changes in this sphere that could become one of the most visible examples of positive democratic dynamics in the region and in the country.

In this regard, it is necessary to significantly develop the Draft of regional program “Education of Donetsk Region in the European dimensions 2017-2020” in the part of the decentralization of the management of education and the formation of school’s self-government, the creation of civic education system, and the maximum acceleration of the implementation of relevant provisions.

Svitlana Topalova, Tetiana Chystylina

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published on the website of “Anti-Crisis Media-Center”

The paper was prepared with the support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED). The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the EED and is the sole responsibility of Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”