Wednesday, 21 October

Starting from the new school year, future first-graders will be able to sit at their school desks without competitive admissions and additional tests. From now, the principle of territorial enrollment is on the first place and many parents are afraid of it. Opinion has found out what is difference between the new and previous years’ principle of school enrollment, whether a new system can be called fair, what are the chances of manipulation and corruption, which problems can be faced for now and what else is worth knowing.

What is the principal difference with the previous years’ tendencies ?

Alona Lunova, law manager for Human Rights information center, explained Opinion, that the main difference from the past practice is that children won’t go through the competitive admissions to get to primary school. Instead, the service area will play a major role. However, this can not in fact be called a new principle, the old ways are the best ways , which wasn’t used before.

“This year’s first grade enrollment process can be considered as significantly different from, we may say, last year’s, at least because children won’t go through the competitive admissions to get to primary school. For example, last year, according to the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, 47% of schools in Kiev enrolled children using such a procedure. This year, the Ministry of Education and Science announced that children would be admitted to schools without contests (which should reduce the level of corruption at schools, during the enrollment process, for example). Instead of this principle of enrollment, was introduced the new one – the principle of enrollment by the allocation of the educational institution. Frankly speaking, this principle is not new at all, but it wasn’t followed and was not strictly binding (in the old Regulation on a general educational institution that will become void in July, it is said that enrollment of students, as a rule, occurs in accordance with the territory principle) . In addition, last year a new “Law on Education” was adopted, which in Art. 13 constates that each person has the right to receive an education at an institution that is most accessible and close to the person’s place of residence. At the same time, this warrant should not restrict the right of the person to choose another educational institution.

That seems to sound good and very democratic. But this very norm, together with an understanding, fairly detached from the reality, on how it is possible to confirm the place of residence (because the Ministry of Education and Science has come up with a formula on the primary right to enroll a child, which must be document supported), caused all that chaos that is now happening around ‘’registration’’ buying, around the requirements of school headmasters to provide any special documents that can confirm the fact of residence, etc.” – Alona Lunov explains.

Mykola Skyba – an education expert and competence of the future analytical center “Ukrainian Institute of the Future” is also on the same page, thinking that significant differences from the practice of the previous years should not be expected. According to the expert, the cancellation of the competitive admissions is indeed the most noticeable “innovation”, but at the same time there is a red tape reduction, due to which the teachers now do not have to go around certain quarters.

“There is no huge difference. The principle of territorial service was specified in the previous Regulation on the school enrollment process. What has changed since then? First of all, the red tape reduction had and have place to be, and teachers are no longer forced to walk through yards and  quarters, as they had to do before. Now it’s Education management’s task. That thing, in other words, helps to find out the number of pre-school age children in the areas entrusted to them, and how many places are needed. This difference may be less noticeable.

And the second, more prominent one, and the one that provokes the stonewall of certain schools, is the cancellation of the competitive admissions. Now the schools have no right to impose any additional conditions for the first grade entry, regardless of whether they are specialized or privileged or some other. A child can be enrolled on the ground of the parents’ petition, of proof that you are really living in this service area and on a space available basis . Children from the other districts that do not belong to a certain service can also be excepted “,  – mentioned in the comments for Opinion.

How fair is the new principle?

Yurii Trachuk, a lawyer and patent council of Ukraine, in his comments to Opinion expressed the conviction that the new changes are not fair enough, especially if we compare the territorial principle of school enrolling with medical reform, according to which citizens can choose a doctor, solely on their own.

“The reform of school education, according to the initiator’s plan, should provide the same conditions of education, on the unified public standards of secondary education. Good intentions, aren’t they? Said and done. Do we have a living district? Luxury or not, you have to go to the school to which you are assigned. What a strange thing.

On the one hand, the health reform allows you to choose a qualified specialist, a doctor, but there is some kind of communism observed- clearly, at the first glance. Are there no better schools, better teachers? It turns out, that there are none. As if to pay off, they just canceled the specialization of schools. Now we will live a better life, now with the same status and the same training in the same schools, the same children with the same competance will be taught… Never-Never-Land.

But instead they got oversized classes in good and / or comfortable schools and incomplete classes at the weak or inconvenient for parents ones. The dependence of school headmasters on the expenditures financing of also works wonders there is still an opportunity to take someone else to the overcrowded classes. And that is all for or achievements. At least, so far, “commented Yurii Trachuk.

But Mykola Skyba explained  Opinion, that the new first grade enrollment principle can still be excepted, but it is important for this practice not to be a lasting one, since this does not take into account personal needs and requests of the direct participants of the educational process – parents and children.

“In my opinion, it is possible to agree with it for a certain time, as a temporary measure, given the fact that the classes should be completed on September 1,. But we can’t say that there is a necessity to legalize as long termed, because the Regulations were adopted, but the law was only laid on the tapis. And it’s statement in the law will determine whether this practice remain valid or not. And the law just binds this service area as the essential thing. In my opinion, in a modern, dynamic world, one must proceed from the fact how the families themselves determine their territory of service. It is more convenient for someone to study near the office where the parents work, or where some relatives live, and after school the child is taken away by grandparents, for example. That is, in such cases, the territory of service is not where the actual place of registration or residence is, but where the set route goes. This moment does not take into account either the Regulations, nor, unfortunately, the version of the laid law. This is something that need to be changed, because in this way we take into account the needs and requests of the educational process participants, in particular parents and children.

It is also not taken into account that to choose a high-quality school is not enough. So, the Ministry says: “We are for every school to become a good school. Now 22,000 teachers are retraining, every school, each class receives i equipment to create a new educational environment, for those needs 1 300 000 UAH were allocated. It’s true. But the human factor remains in any case. And it may be that even the best teacher may not hit it off specifically with my child, there will be no psychological contact. For example, I came on September 1, saw the parents, and realized that it was a different value group than the one in which I was comfortable. And I, for example, want my child to be in a different value-based environment. Both the Regulations and the draft law, unfortunately, do not assume a choice based on my valuable position, preferences, etc.

Yes, I understand that it is all about the absence of separation on some ideological, religious grounds. But there are some other methods for dealing with this problem, there are religious schools, for example. And it will stimulate the growth of separation, if we do not make it possible to officially declare their service territory, to express their training request, to show which school culture is waned: perhaps I want my child to go to a school where teachers are more strict, for whom the education and discipline is the major priority. Let’s say  my child, for example, is too hyperactive and need a bit of discipline. And other parents, on the contrary, may say that for their child the multiplication table is not as important as happiness and satisfaction from the process of studying, for them it is important not to get a physiological trauma. These are different cultures, and even the standard of the new Ukrainian school says that  1-2 grade is a learning-through play period. But the culture of the school does not change so quickly. Perhaps the teacher will change something, but there is a headmaster’s school culture, who did not get a full upgrade, we may say. There are parents next to me who think differently. This option of choice on the basis of our own request would be highly desirable if we really build a democratic society, if we say that the school is an instrument for growing responsible citizens who can make a living choice “, – the expert says.

At the same time, Mykola Skyba offered to introduce a certain system of electronic registration, which would operate as the individual tax number does, which means give an opportunity to track all educational transactions of individuals and finally to form an adequate statistics, which, unfortunately, is not here yet.

“That’s why, for some time, we can agree with the territorial principle, but strategically this means that we are building a paternalistic state, where it or local governments decide for a citizen on where his service area is. In my opinion, this is a limitation, even pragmatically, since a system of some kind of electronic registration can be provided or even such an institution as “Educational ID”  by analogy, for example, with a Tax Payer ID, which is used for all banking and payment transactions. Similarly, all educational transactions could be tracked on the basis of an individual educational peculiar code. And this will finally give the real statistics, which is absent today. We don’t even know how many school-aged children are there. Schools, for example, compete for the best External independent testing rates . And what do these ratings show? They show how a child has been prepared for this test, it is not about the success, not about the competitions he or she participates in, not about his or her success then at the university, not about what happens then, how fast he or she gets the first job, starts to pay taxes. There is also no clear reason for having so many schools in a certain area. When the possibility of such an adjustment, tracking appears, then this notion of territorial service will change “, – the expert on education and competence of the future analytical center “Ukrainian Institute of the Future” is convinced.

According to Alona Lunova, the small distance from school to home is far from the main criterion on which the parents rely, since the reputation of the school, teacher’s professional skills, etc. are sometimes important either. At the same time, the question of the the place of residence document confirming, which may restrict access to education for children whose parents, for example, do not have a rental agreement, is quite complex .

“In my opinion, when parents choose a school for the child, the distance from the educational institution to the place of residence is important, but this is far from the only criterion that the first-graders parents rely on. What is important is the quality of education, the school reputation, the professional skills of a particular teacher, the language of training, specialization (even if starts not in the first grade, but in the fifth, parents try to choose an educational institution for all 12 years of study, not only the first four), etc.

Especially in a situation when this year the Ministry of Education and Science will try to reform the first classes of schools, promising that all schools will have the same quality of education. It is hardly believable. To get to such a level one must make an effort and it is unlikely that this can be done within such a short time. Therefore, the state chose only one criterion from a series (the distance) and assumed it to be guaranteed by “down selection” of those who can confirm their place of residence. In the first version of the Procedure of enrollment, this confirmation could only be a “residence permit” of parents or a notarized rental agreement (a requirement that simply contradicts the current Civil Code of Ukraine). And all the reasons that we brought to the Ministry of Education and Science for not taking into account the interests of those who live outside the place of registration (which in large cities comes to 30%), came across a wall of misunderstanding. Later, after the public debate and numerous discussions, the list of these documents was expanded, and in the final version it completely disappeared (due to the active position of the Ministry of Justice and Office of the Commissioner). However, the position of the Ministry of Education and Science, which is in the explanations, is such that the place of residence must be confirmed by some document. And if it is not documented, the child will not have the right to go to school for the first time. This means that those children whose parents do not have, for example, a rental agreement, will not have the same access to education as those children who have a registered place of residence in the school service area. Such an approach is discriminatory and contradicts the Constitution of Ukraine.

In addition, it should be explained why there will be no rental agreement in a family with a child. The fact is that, under the current system of registration of a place of residence, the existence of a rental agreement, set up in a simple written form, is the basis for registration of the place of residence at the address of the rented accommodation. If  mother / father of the child registers in a house, their child / children can be registered at this address without the consent of the owner of the house. Once the children are registered in the house, the owner of the house gets the right of ownership restrictions. In other words, you can’t to sell, or to grant it. The family is almost impossible to evict. For any property transaction there must be a permission provided by the Child Protecting Services. This permit will be obtained if there is another dwelling where a child can be registered. That is why the landlords are more likely not to conclude a rental agreement with a family with children, ” – Alona Lunov said to Opinion.

Dmitro Franchuk, a political analyst, reflects on the complexity of the situation of families who rent housing. According to him, it is difficult to make an arrangement with the owners of housing about the registration, since such initiatives can not only increase the cost of the rent, but also completely break the deal. Also, the expert does not exclude the possibility for manipulations or corruption by unconscientious educational institutions’ headmasters.

“We shouldn’t be totally against the innovations, because there are its “pros” and “cons”. Of course, now the “firstgraders” will go to schools according to the place of residence, and those who live in a small distance to the school have more chances to be accepted first. There will be plenty of people willing to give their children to a school out of the place of registration, they will have to turn to the queue or hope that the school will be outnumbered and will accept their children. It  comes to mind, that, in some schools unconscientious headmasters will be on to corruption.

Another unclear advantage when enrolling a child to school – if its relatives work in that school, then it has more benefits. This is a bit of a kind of discrimination against other children. Pupils who came from kindergartens do not have any advantages at educational institutions over other children.

Parents who live far from their place of registration have fallen into a difficult situation. For example, in another city.  It is difficult to make an agreement with owners of rented accommodation about registration or a notarized contract , this can increase the cost of rent or even break the deal. It is also unclear how these children are guaranteed the right to the entry first. It is unclear who will check the authenticity of the information provided by them “, – a political expert shared his views with Opinion.

Manipulation and corruption – should we expect it?

The manipulation or corruption trait, mentioned by Dmytro Franchuk above, and which Alona Lunova, advocacy manager of the Center for Human Rights Information also does not exclude. In her opinion, violations can occur not only in educational institutions, this situation is breeding grounds for corruption in the “black” rental market, because it is impossible to check weather the registration is real or not.

“This year, schools headmasters will decide themselves, whether to confirm the documents on the child’s residence brought by parents. In addition, there is a new  option on the “black” estate market, they sell registration documents. It is onwards and upwards, and it is impossible to check if the registration is real or it is temporary and used only at the time of filing applications”, – explains the expert.

According to Mykola Skyba, a new principle of first-grades enrollment, sure thing, can somehow provoke corruption. However, the problem is not in the very changes, but in people, who find the problem solving with the help of corruption acceptable or even traditional thing.

“Where there is a high tolerance for corruption in society, people with such a culture, in any case, are looking for ways to pass over the law. Therefore, of course, it will provoke, and it will somewhere restrain the corruption gestures, hold back for a while, but won’t destroy this element completely, because it is eliminated by completely another approach “, – the specialist is sured.

What problems already exist?

Commenting on Opinion, Alona Lunov stressed that in reality there are already a number of quite obvious and notable problems. Expressing her opinion, the expert gives an example of Kiev, as the authors of the changes were oriented primarily on the capital.

“First of all, this is a division of the territory. District state administrations have secured a service area for schools – literally by houses. And for some reason it turned out that the “good” schools secured small areas of service (several houses, a street), and for not very good – 50 streets. Secondly, in densely populated areas, where new buildings have been built, there are schools where simply all children, even those  who have a confirmed primary right can not be enrolled due to the lack of places. Thirdly, if you apply for vacancies elsewhere, the school requires a document confirming the fact of non-admission to the first grade at the place of registration. Theoretically, it may happen that the parents refused to go to school in the area of their residence, and in a place with a draw procedure they may got the short straw. Then, according to the explanations of the Ministry of Education and Science, it is necessary to apply to the departments of education, and they will arrange a child somewhere (where vacant places are available).

A new principle can only work out if all educational institutions are guaranteed to provide high-quality education (according to the standard developed by the Ministry of Education and Science), and also when the system of registration of the place of residence itself will be changed from the permissive, which it is now, to the notifying one. Then there will be no such difficulty in registering a place of residence where you actually live. Without additional permissions and restrictions, ” –Alona Lunov summed up.

What’s next?

Summarizing this topic, Mykola Skyba noted that the theme of changes does not end only on the first grade’s enrollment, since this is only the beginning, which gives a certain delay in making strategic decisions. In particular, the expert includes here the issue of creating the necessary social infrastructure, which is often ignored.

“The first grade is just the beginning, and what’s next is a matrix of educational pathways, and it’s worth thinking about. So far, this provision, which has been put into effect, only postpones the need for this strategic decision. So, they made headmasters’ and education managers’ life easier, they have some kind of a mechanisms with the help of which they could transfer their responsibility to either the ministry or the provision.

But strategically the issue is not resolved. In particular, the question of the responsibility of the developers who do not create the social infrastructure, the responsibility of local governments, which give permits for such construction. This question is totally deprived of attention and removed from the agenda, which is a disadvantage, because one must press the opinion of those who have the power to make different decisions, that it is necessary to solve it “,  – the expert believes.

Text: Dmitro Zhuravel

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