Analyzing Ukraine’s education approaches – magazine «Business Ukraine»

Наталия Семенченко - 26 ноября, 2010 | 12:00 | Распечатать

Analyzing Ukraine’s education approaches – magazine «Business Ukraine»

New book offers a timely overview of progress in Ukraine’s often imperfect school and university sectors

Volume 4, issue 9 September 2010

      Ukraine’s system of education has been making headlines once again in recent months in its role as a proxy in the battles being fought over the country’s geopolitical positioning and sense of national identity. The new government is clearly eager to make its mark in this heavily politicized sector and controversial Education Minister Dmitriy Tabachnik is currently preparing the latest round of changes, sparking much debate and some public protests. All this is nothing new – the Ukrainian education system has been subject to numerous changes and alterations over the past nineteen years of independence, and yet both parents and school age children remain largely dissatisfied with the results. Few serious studies of the country’s education system have been published since independence, but a new book by leading academic and bestselling author Nataliya Semenchenko aims to fill the void and offer the first authoritative overview of the sector. Complete with comparisons between the contemporary Ukrainian approach and national education policies throughout the rest of the world, this new book appears in Kyiv bookshops at a time when the way the country educates its youth is once more a topic of heated debate.

An important and all-too-rare non-fiction title
Semenchenko’s new tome, entitled ‘Education in Ukraine’, is her second literary offering following on from the success of her 2009 bestseller ‘The Hunt for Truth’, which offered an encyclopedic look at the historical, political and economic development of modern Ukraine. It is one of the relatively few non-fiction titles to be published in Ukraine this year and reflects the confidence which publisher Summit Books has in both the author and her subject matter. As the name suggests, ‘Education in Ukraine’ offers analysis of the Ukrainian education system while honing in on controversial aspects such as standardized national university testing procedures and the switch to 12-year academic programmes. As she wades into this particularly partisan debate Semenchenko is eager to distance herself from the politicization of Ukrainian education. She explains that she was driven primarily by a desire to provide a tool to help educators and politicians better understand the sector. “I am working for a better education system, not looking to secure a place on the political Parthenon for myself,’ she quips.

Education reform: are 12 points really better than 5?       
Semenchenko’s research has questioned the logic of expanding the school study period to 12 years and argues there is no solid evidence that children benefit from the greater classroom time. She is also particularly scathing of the 12-point marking system which was adopted relatively recently in Ukrainian schools, replacing the 5-point system used throughout the Soviet Union which remains very much part of local tradition in the minds of most Ukrainians. “Teachers and students are still trying to come to grips with the 12-point system and many educators struggle to explain how the old system compares with the new. The result is a lack of motivation and clarity for both teachers and pupils,” she reasons.
      The bulk of the reforms to have been introduced into Ukrainian education in recent years have targeted the endemic corruption which has done so much to discredit academic qualifications in post-independent Ukraine, but Semenchenko’s research suggests that many of the supposed successes in the fight against corrupt practices in the education system have been merely cosmetic. For example, she argues that since the advent of nationalized university entrance exams in 2008 corruption within the country’s higher education system has simply shifted. “Corrupt practices remain as much of a problem – they have simply moved into new areas of the education system,” she outlines. Even the Soviet-era Olympiad system, which allows kids from different schools to test their knowledge in regional and national events, has fallen victim to corruption – or been ‘privatised’ as she terms it – leaving school age kids with a cynical view of academic achievement that leaves them ill-prepared for a constructive and productive adulthood.

The importance of teaching respect for teachers
According to Semenchenko the root cause of Ukraine’s education malaise remains the low esteem accorded to the teaching profession by modern Ukrainian society. “We have lost respect for educators and everything else – corruption, nepotism and poor teaching standards – originates with this lack of respect for the profession itself,’ she reasons. Semenchenko points to Russia as an example of how this can be combated, citing the number of teacher-themed TV shows and prestigious academic competitions which the Russian state supports as a route to rebuilding this lost sense of respect for the teaching profession. “In Russia today there are numerous indications that work is being done to rebuild the prestige of the teaching profession, but as yet there are no signs of any similar initiatives here in Ukraine,” she complains.
Semenchenko’s critique of the Ukrainian education system pulls no punches but there are some bright spots – she is enthusiastic about the numbers of foreign students coming to Ukraine to receive a higher education and makes a strong case for further government support for the sector. However, she argues that at present the Ukrainian education system is not producing the kind of school leavers and graduates that the country requires and calls for closer cooperation between the public and private sectors to tailor school and university programmes in order to better meet the country’s practical needs. “The Ukrainian state needs to look at its education system and work together with the private sector to develop business-relevant courses so that as a country we are producing the young adults our economy needs in order to grow,” she concludes.

Business Ukraine

Наталия Семенченко

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