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How a law on complete general secondary education can change the Ukrainian school

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On May 30, the MPs approved the draft law “On Complete General Secondary Education” in the first reading, in September it was re-registered under No. 0901. The Verkhovna Rada Committee on Science and Education has considered more than 1,500 amendments, preparing the document for the second reading. The adoption of the draft law by the end of the year will mean its entry into force as early as 2020. Therefore, some provisions may be enacted as early as in the new academic year. Standards that require additional funding require more time to be launched, in particular through the Budget Code with its separate procedures.

The key ideas of the draft law No. 0901 are supported by the heads of the Ministry of Education, the relevant committee of the Verkhovna Rada, the National Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, and many principals of progressive schools. At the same time, there is a common understanding that certain regulations need clarification or adjustment.

In preparing the draft law for the second reading, which according to the experts will be held soon, several suggestions and comments already made by the public should be taken into account.

One hundred steps to school

Formally, the law provides for the territorial accessibility of education, but will it protect rural schools from closure because of the small number of students? Is it necessary, given that in small schools, the cost per student is several times higher than the average in Ukraine, and the learning outcomes are often worse?

Draft law No. 0901 states that elementary schools should exist in all settlements with children, however, they may not operate in the traditional format with a division into classes. It is possible to teach all students in one room with an in-depth individual approach, and children from small villages will be able to commute to specialized schools. Currently they are considering the creation of boarding schools so that students could live on the premises, reported Volodymyr Bakhrushyn, professor, expert of the RPR Coalition’s Education and Science Reform Team, a member of the higher education sector of the Scientific and Methodological Council of the Ministry of Education and Science.

Regarding the enrollment of students at the place of registration, the current Law on Education 2017 (which will not be abolished after the adoption of draft law No. 0901) has already obliged the Ministry of Education to develop the procedure for enrollment into elementary schools. But there are problems, such as the lack of schools in newly developed large-scale residential areas and the fact that many citizens do not reside at the place of registration. Currently, legislation prioritizes enrollment by the place of registration, and vacancies are distributed among other children by lot or contest (basic and specialized schools).

The current educational law stipulates that local self-government bodies are the founders of schools. They approve the AoA and budget of the educational institution, control the costs, and in general, provide the schools with everything necessary for the educational process. But today, local self-government bodies are not so much performing provision functions as are exercising control.

There is a familiar situation where, before the start of the academic year, the pedagogical staff is waiting for a commission to audit the school’s preparation by September 1. But in fact, teachers should take the school over from this commission rather than undergo an audit. There is no other way. Draft law No. 0901 clearly stipulates this issue.

Parental “tribute”

The provisions of the document do not prohibit fundraising for charity purposes if the process is transparent. But it explicitly forbids raising money otherwise, as is often the case today.

Public and municipal schools will not be able to provide services defined by the educational program on a fee basis. This includes, in particular, specialized subjects and alternative curricula that involve the purchase of textbooks or workbooks at student’s own expense.

The state has pledged to provide schoolchildren with the necessary textbooks, but a stumbling point is their cost. In order to provide textbooks for all children and not exceed the expenditures set by the State Budget, large number of copies printed should be ordered, which requires a large number of students in schools, including specialized ones. Therefore, there may not be a large number of textbooks that can be given to schools as recommended by the Ministry of Education. This issue needs to be worked out more carefully.

Autonomy is an incentive to compete

The autonomy of schools will be similar to that of universities. According to the draft law, schools can be budgetary or non-profit institutions. And it is the form of non-profit institution that provides greater freedom to use its own funds. But this requires approval of amendments to other regulatory legal acts.

The future law will encourage healthy competition between schools for their development. At the same time, the state is obliged to ensure high-quality education for everyone, and it is by the second reading of the draft law that a balance must be struck between the two conditions.

Photo by Mykola Tymchenko 10/27/14 School No. 5

In the world, the competition situation looks as follows: while universities get more funding through better science and education, in schools the situation is different. Since high-quality secondary education must be provided for everyone, many states help schools with lower educational outcomes to improve their quality. However, poor results often occur for objective reasons. For example, the physics class does not have the necessary equipment – lasers, dosimeters, microprocessor systems, etc., which prevents students from learning practical skills. These shortcomings are eliminated at public expense.

Independent teacher

The teacher will become more independent from the principal and the governing bodies after the law is approved. The school can create a new curriculum, and the teacher has the right to teach students using own curriculum.

Secondary education reform will encourage teachers to upgrade their skills, as is the case in developed countries, believes Nataliia Shulha, chief expert of the Education and Science Reform Team of the Reanimation Package of Reforms. “In the USA, Canada, and Europe, in high school, some teachers generally have a Ph.D.,” she said. – The global economy and economic structures are changing rapidly. School cannot be confined by any such environment, there must be people who are in the forefront of these changes. It is the people who are the researchers who keep track of these things, and they can implement this in the educational process, even for the schoolchildren.”

Ivan Prymachenko, co-founder of Prometheus open online training platform, sees teachers as real artists and believes that teacher’s freedom is fair. “Imagine an artist whom we approach and say: we’ve found the right way to draw, so use it now. How will the artist respond? The same thing is happening among teachers. And behind this teacher’s opposition to standardization there is great wisdom – a teacher who has no autonomy cannot ensure high-quality teaching. We need to spread best practices as trends in the arts: not by orders, but by inspiring examples,” he notes.

However, before you change anything, it is worth exploring all the nuances and reaching a consensus.

The draft law “On Complete General Secondary Education” clearly defines neither the mechanism of subject choice nor the one who can choose. Experts are of the opinion that this should be the right of students or parents. In order for the mechanics to work, there should be enough children in one school to be divided into these profiles. That is why Western educational institutions are usually large. Whether such a model may exist in Ukraine is a debatable issue, but it is definitely worth pursuing.

With regard to remuneration, by 2023, the Law of Ukraine on Education provides for a salary for beginner teachers at the level of four living wages as a base rate without incentives, and in the long term up to three minimum wages.

Specialization starting in schools

Formally, in Ukraine there has always been a division of general secondary education into primary, basic and specialized, only the names of these units differed. According to the Constitution, secondary education is compulsory and free, and according to world practice, primary school is a separate non-secondary education unit. Yet these schools must be separated.

According to the world practice, the draft law has provided for the separation of the specialized school from the basic one. The specialized school will require new standards and conditions – separate premises, teachers, principals. In the specialized school, students have to get in-depth training in certain subjects. It is impossible to immediately implement the norms set for the specialized school in the draft law: neither teachers nor students will have time to prepare. Instead, it is envisaged that changes will be launched in the specialized school starting in 2027 or earlier if possible.

The draft law “On Complete General Secondary Education” clearly defines neither the mechanism of subject choice nor the one who can choose. Experts are of the opinion that this should be the right of students or parents. In order for the mechanics to work, there should be enough children in one school to be divided into these profiles. That is why Western educational institutions are usually large. Whether such a model may exist in Ukraine is a debatable issue, but it is definitely worth pursuing.

“When preparing the draft law for the first reading, they decided not to set a framework for the age at which children get the right to choose subjects on their own. Formally, the choice can be made as early as in elementary school (but most likely their parents will make it). In addition, all schools must be specialized, that is, have at least one subject it will specialize in,” explains Volodymyr Bakhrushyn.

According to CEDOS think tank expert Iryna Kohut, the draft law does not explain how the specialized high school will work. So far, only the right to an individual educational trajectory (that is, a separate curriculum) has been enshrined in the text, which looks more like an exception for some students. All high school students should take the opportunity to choose courses, and this means more than one or two electives. “It is necessary to change the regulatory framework and form a network of large lyceums with many students, therefore it will be possible to create conditions for individual choice of subjects. Because a child will not be able to choose specialized subjects in a small school, it is expensive for the state to have a separate team of teachers, equipment for each student. Obviously, there was nothing to bridge the gap in the draft law on specialized lyceums, because the Concept of the High Specialized School has not been adopted yet,” says the expert.

Native languages

The draft law stipulates that after graduation from secondary school, all students must speak the official language. Students can also be taught in the languages of EU countries, indigenous peoples or national minorities. In elementary school, indigenous peoples and national minorities may study subjects in their own language, and subsequently the number of subjects that are taught in Ukrainian will increase.

There are specialized schools where almost half of the subjects are taught in a foreign language, mostly in English. The draft law does not prohibit this in the future, since it provides for the possibility to teach one or more subjects in English or other official EU languages. As the concept of “several” is quite broad, this norm also needs to be refined.

“The situation with national minority language is interesting. In Hertsaiv District of Chernivtsi Region and Berehiv District of Zakarpattia Region, many schools have a high percentage of students who failed the EIT (External Independent Testing) in a number of subjects, although they could take it in their own language. In these schools, the educational process is in Romanian and Hungarian, respectively. And supervisory authorities may not speak these languages, so schools fall out of control. That is why such institutions may not be very responsible in ensuring the quality of the educational process,” believes Volodymyr Bakhrushyn.

Closer to reality

Today, Ukrainian secondary education is detached from the reality: does not prepare children for real life, does not teach the needs of society and the market economy. “Comparing our math EIT and US university entrance exams, the US focuses on specific things. A typical task there: “If you deposit $ 150,000 at the bank at 3% per annum, how much money will you have in 3 years?” While we prefer abstract mathematical structures that are difficult for most students to apply in life,” says Bakhrushyn. Some curricula do not correctly formulate certain requirements for students. Not every doctor of physical and mathematical sciences will meet the math expectations for elementary school. Some teachers use scientific terms in their curricula the meaning of which they themselves do not understand. All these issues are adapted to reality in the draft law No. 0901.

By the way, one of the key objectives of the draft law is to increase inclusiveness in secondary education. There are a number of options for children with disabilities: family education, individual development programs, appropriate infrastructure in schools – ramps, elevators, special toilets, etc. It takes time to implement initiatives, which is why it is worth refining and adopting the draft law – after all, children have been waiting fo too long.

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The Trade Union of Education and Science Employees of Ukraine has tabled dozens of amendments to the draft law being worried that the document could be approved without taking into account the proposals made by the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Science and Education. The main issues that the trade union asks to pay attention to – the length of working time, content, working conditions, unregulated salaries for some of its types – deteriorate the employment status of teachers.

And on September 10, Education Ombudsman Serhii Horbachov declared the need to amend the draft law No. 0901: “We have already started work on the proposals for the draft law “On Complete General Secondary Education”. There are things and problems that can be solved only by establishing new rules for interaction in the education system, which is why we consider proposals for laws and regulations as one of the most important issues for us.”

Yaryna Busol, Dmytro Kryvosheiev for the Den` Newspaper

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