Education reform belongs to the bulkiest systematic reforms. To change the education system, it is required to develop the basic concepts and new state standards of education, new curricula, and new handbooks. Moreover, it is necessary to educate new teachers, ideally – change the whole system of their training. At the same time, it is required to secure funds for this by changing the patterns of financial relations between the participants of the education market.
Despite all the difficulties and significant spending, the education reform is periodically conducted by every developed country, even a developing country which undergoes serious ideology and economy changes. Considering that our country has experienced some tremendous changes in economic, socio-political, cultural, geopolitical and, eventually, mental spheres, it is no wonder that this reform has happened almost instantly, at least on the paper.
It is necessary to note, that education reform has two inseparably intertwined constituents. The lack of either prevents the reform from happening, those constituents must be agreed upon only simultaneously.
The first constituent is the conceptual one. What is the goal of education? What are we going to be? What person do we want to bring up? What kind of skills do we want him or her to acquire? What kind of society are we preparing him or her for? What function in society the person has to perform? The answer to all of those questions is important while developing fundamental principles of education.
It is necessary to simultaneously develop the second constituent of the reform – many positions that determine the legal and financial relations between main participants of the education market: pupils, teachers, and parents. Those are the forms of studying, the level of the autonomy of schools, the school subordination, etc. Ideally, the financial and organizational conditions in the state schools should facilitate the fullest embodiment of its basic goal and conceptual principles.Ukraine met the declaration of independence with fresh, almost hot law “About education” that was adopted in July 1991. This law described essentially a Soviet school that was strongly integrated into multi-stage bureaucratic system of reports and subordination, the school that did not have its own money and the ability to spend them on its own, the school where a teacher was the main actor and a pupil was only a cog in the huge education system.
Herewith, the professional community realized that life needed a change; they even knew what kind of change it had to be. In November 1993, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the national program called “Education” (“ХХІ century Ukraine”) – the outcome of joint work of education researchers and practicing teachers. This was very progressive, almost revolutionary document that fundamentally revised the basic principles and the goal of education. It was strongly opposing the Soviet system and it brought the newly created state closer to the democratic society values. If the positions of this document were implemented at least for 50%, the question of educational reform today would not be as acute.
The thing is, that the Soviet system was outdated even at that time, and was based on so called class-lesson system, that was combined with the idea of learning of a certain volume of information and the one-sided communication – a teacher speaks, a child listens or answers the question. This system was reputable during the industrial age when it was required for a big number of students to learn a volume of basic knowledge that was necessary for employment.
The abilities to concentrate, to sit still for long periods of time while completing the accurate tasks that cultivate memory and attentiveness were some of the key components of the system. Figuratively speaking, this system prepared students for working on a big production line, regardless of the purpose: whether it was the factory, science institute, library or housing maintenance office. However, back then it was obvious for the best members of the society, that the life was changing, industrial age was getting over and being replaced by the post-industrial digital society where totally different skills are valued the most. Creative thinking, ability to create something new, flexibility and readiness to work in a group are now getting to the forefront. Moreover, the internet is developing very fast, handbooks are ceasing to be the only source of information. The function of handbooks is changing. Their function is to teach how to work with information, to teach critical thinking, analysis, and selection of necessary facts among the endless sea of information
The concept of national “Education” program back in the distant 1993 was taking into the account the major part of these new factors. It provided the decentralization of education management (local communities should have taken care of it), the individualization of the educational process, continuity of learning throughout the lifetime and a large variety of curricula and programs, and finally – re-orientation of education towards prioritizing one’s personal development. Sadly, this document became only another piece of paper, since for its implementation no conditions were created.
Some practical steps made only towards relative modernization of secondary education structure. In 1999 the law “About general secondary education” was approved, that particularly covered the transition to 12-year secondary school (that advanced Ukraine towards so called Bologna system), introduced twelve-point grading system and divided the studying process into three stages: I – Elementary school (1-4 grades)II – Basic school (5-9 classes)III- Senior school (10-12 classes)The doctrine of national education development was based on the bill of 2001. The state standard of Basic and Senior school, developed within it, was approved in 2004. Even though the basic principles of the education system and its financing stayed mainly Soviet, the system was formally modernized, moreover, this came to be a great pretense to finally write new congruent handbooks published by one standard.
During the time of independence, a lot of handbooks were rewritten, first among the humanitarian subjects, and this was weird since the country itself was changing rapidly. During the first decade of independence there were three consecutive options of a school program for the “History of Ukraine”, every three years in average, whereas the handbooks were changed even more frequently.
New officially reformed handbooks made their first appearance on 1st of September 2004, and then gradually, year by year those handbooks were implemented in the bigger number of classes. Simultaneously the first experiments on External independent evaluation (EIE) were held, they were made to replace the usual graduation exams. EIE became the big step forward that allowed them to substantially shake, if not altogether eliminate corruption during the enrollment to universities creating social lifts for provincial school graduates, giving them the real access to higher education.
From 2008 passing external independent evaluation is a mandatory condition for entering the higher education facility.
The reform should have been completed by 2013 when the whole system had to transfer to 12-year school period. But, a man proposed something that God did not dispose of. In 2010, the reforming actions planned back in 2001 were unexpectedly stopped and canceled. Another huge education reform of Ukraine was started instead. This was a bright result of the weakness of the system, after all, one of the key problems of Ukrainian education and its reforms was that every reform was considered the personal project of the Minister of education and could have been stopped or altogether canceled by his or her successor. This is unacceptable for the branch, where the full reform usually happens during a cadence of a few ministers. The initiative of new “extraordinary” reform often connects with the name of at the time minister of education Dmytro Tabachnyk (put on the wanted list in July of 2015 by the Investigative Department of the Security Service ofUkraine)
The new reform of secondary education started with canceling the active 12 years system and returning to the 11-years one by leading in the new changes to the legislation dated 6th of July 2010. Besides changing the length of secondary school, the State standards of education were changed for basic, full and secondary education alike.Adepts of the new reform stressed on a number of new positive changes: studying of the first foreign language from the first grade, introduction of the second foreign language in the fifth grade, studying of computer science from the second grade, etc.In fact, without changing the methods of the old Soviet in-class system this lead only to increase the academic load of pupils that started to have 7 or 8 45-minute classes a day. The content of education that was getting obsolete never changed. On top of that, new standards, curricula, and abruptly written handbooks were lead in without any approbation. This resulted in unacceptably low print quality handbooks riddled with typos and mistakes.
New State standard and handbooks were implemented on the 1st of September 2012 for elementary education and on the 1st September 2013 for basic school. Full implementation of secondary education standard is planned on the 1st of September 2018.The new program and new handbooks were criticized by teachers under the radar and by parents in mass media right after their appearance. The article “Words starting with the letter “H”, or the new primer published on the website of “Ukrainian Truth” (Ukr. Ukrayinska Pravda) in November 2012 caused wide social resonance.Several press conferences were organized, particularly with the compilers of the primer; this topic was rapidly caught by mass media, teachers and parents. Discussions about the quality of handbooks and the education system, in general, had transformed in public argument, the focus of which has rapidly shifted from the quality of handbooks to the quality of education system in general, to its correspondence with the challenges of time. During the discussion it was found out, that everyone – parents, teachers, pupils are dissatisfied with the situation, however, it seemed impossible to change something before the Revolution of Dignity.
After the Maidan public activists in education, teachers-innovators who demonstrated their abilities during the last two years got to hope for real changes, moreover, Lilia Grinevich became the new minister of education and she totally shared opinion that “Tabachnyk’s reforms” were inadmissible. Under the guidance of the Lady Minister a concept of the “New school” was developed during the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers in December of 2016.
Conceptually the new concept develops and complements the previous ones creating the conditions for bringing up human that can be competitive within the world of a new post-industrial creative economy. The key skill of this modern human must be not the ability to understand orders and perform monotonous work, but the ability to set and resolve the creative tasks, think out of the box, working in a team, and think in projects. The concept of the “New School” suggests the goal of the new education is not providing knowledge, but providing competence, meaning the complex of knowledge and understanding and skill, that is going to help in using the information received during school days in life.
The new competencies required by XXI century, like the “ability to study”, “environmental literacy” or “adventurousness” are added to those described earlier. But, if competencies were described in different Ukrainian education concepts as early as 1990’s, completely new branch of skills is incorporated in the “New School” program for the first time.
Those are so called “cross-cutting skills” that also need to be taught in schools and are required in real life regardless of his or her occupation. Among those are critical thinking, the ability to express one’s opinion, teamwork, creative approach, etc.
Definitely, those things are impossible to teach within the existing class system. Realization of that has led to a soaring of private schools that practice alternative systems of working with pupils. Free communication and thought exchange, project approach to mastering the school curriculum, those are the things that normally differentiate modern institutions from state schools. However, it is extremely hard for those schools to acquire the license for issuing the state certificate, moreover, those schools are paid, and the tuition fee there is rather high. It’s no wonder that despite an obvious spike in the increase of the amount of these schools, less than one per cent of Ukrainian pupils studies there. The fundamental change to the education system can only be brought only by total reforming of the state schools.
The new bill “About education” was prepared in order for this reform to happen. The new edition of this bill was approved by the parliament in October 2016, the bill was then sent for refinement. Since then more than 1600 amendments have been made, not all the revolutionary changes made it through, but the principle things were kept.
Among the important innovations which make the change possible are decentralization and effective management that will provide schools with the real autonomy. According to the new bill, 50 per cent of the financing are being allocated to local communities that are free to decide how to use funds. Principals must be appointed by the results of competition during which they are to present their programs for school development, the financial one. Principal’s authority is increased, schools become more independent.Equality of all forms of education and legalization of so called “alternative” private schools are laid into the new bill.This will obviously cause increasing of private schools amount; therefore will effectively drop the tuition fees. There is one more point regarding fees for education – the revolutionary principle for our system “money follows the child”. The state yearly allocates a certain sum for each child education in the state school. The funding of the school depends on the number of pupils willing to study in this school, and if a child goes away from the school, he or she takes the money with him or her to the next school. Even if the child is at the private school, the allocated state funds may make up for part of the tuition fee. This principle becomes essential for inclusive studying, that is also one of the most important innovations in the new bill. Children with special needs and certain mental issues now can study in regular schools, moreover, they are very welcome there since the amount of money allocated for the child with special needs greatly surpass the amount for the ‘regular’ one.
The secondary school will be 12 years long again, which will bring Ukraine closer to the EU standards fixed after the Bologna Declaration, giving the ability to optimize the system. The elementary education will be 4 years long, basic education (gymnasium) – 5 years, profiled basic (lyceum or the professional education facility) – 3 years.
The last three years of school will determine a vector of further education of a child – whether he or she chooses academic direction orientated for university education, or settles for the professional education targeted for the work market needs and acquiring the profession.A significant attention in this bill is paid to teachers. On one hand, the reform requires their further education (separate funds are allocated for this purpose), on the other hand, the bill authors had taken care of the prestige of the pedagogue occupation, meaning an increase in salary. Moreover, the bill offers 20% premium for those who pass certification, which will become the instrument of motivation for self-development of the best teachers, mastering of new methods and approaches.
Another important innovation of the new bill is inclusive education meaning including people with special needs into studying process, providing them with normal socialization. Moreover, the bill has a concept of inclusive studying environment, which is directly related to providing the quality education.
If the bill “About education” is voted for, it will start education reformations in Ukraine scheduled to be implemented fully in 2029. This reform will quite literally help the country and its citizens not to get behind.
December 2016 – during the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers the “New school” concept is approved,
developed by the Ministry of education during the October 2016 – the bill “About education” is approved on first reading and sent away for refinement to the committee. The bill is still waiting to be approved.