White blouses and shirts, black skirts and trousers (a school uniform in Ukraine), bouquets and poems recited in front of the whole school. This is a typical celebratory assembly to commemorate the beginning or the end of an academic year at Ukrainian schools. These celebrations have been increasingly criticized. On the eve of the holiday of Farewell Bell (the last day of an academic year) this issue has become more essential. Opinion has found out how celebratory assemblies are connected with the soviet system, what pupils think about such assemblies, what schools have already given up these celebrations in Ukraine, what is the experience of overseas schools, whether parents need to make gifts for teachers and whom these holidays belong in fact.

What is an attitude of children towards celebratory assemblies and related activities?

Olha Luhova-Stepashko, a phycologist and therapist, commented on this issue and highlighted that children’s attitude to the assemblies as well as to other activities depend on their parents’ views and attitudes.

However, the expert emphasized that there is no use of trying to impose on a child any views as far as lies cause the greatest harm. The best option for parents is just to be sincere.

‘Children perceive any situation as well as people who are important for them do. They observe and feel an attitude of their parents (or of those who have influence with them) and take the same attitude. For example, if parents resent celebratory assemblies because they remind them of the USSR a child also won’t respect such school activities. If parents are indifferent to it so will be a child. If parents are interested, a child will be also interested. Lies harm the most. When parents say one thing but feel another. For example, when a mother can’t stand something but makes a child bear it. Developing of a mentally healthy individual requires parental sincerity,’ the expert says.

Olha Luhova-Stepashko believes that there is no need in refusing to celebrate if only it is not just a formality. It is not necessary to go to a restaurant or a picnic– the most important thing, according to the phycologist, is a parental attention.

‘As for celebration – I support informal ones. Formal activities can hardly develop a respect and self-respect. The first and last days of studying aren’t ordinary days, are they? The Knowledge Day and the Day of Freedom from school – why can’t we make these days bright enough to remember? For example, if you like going to a restaurant and celebrate this way – your children will also take fancy to that. Some like to arrange picnics – children will also love it. Some are keen on attending (let’s be honest, please) an exhibition or a museum – children will appreciate these activities.

To sum up, children need not just formal actions but a sincere engagement of adults. This is what they need. It doesn’t matter whether it will be a big party or a quiet evening,’ says the expert.

May celebratory assemblies be abolished?

On May 8, more than 50 pupils got poisoned with an unknown substance during the celebratory assembly in one of the Cherkassy schools. They were taken to hospital. This accident made parents and community very anxious and discuss the need of abolishing celebratory assemblies with increasing frequency. However, Liliia Hrynevych, the Minister of Education and Science, stated that her establishment is not going to abolish celebratory assemblies.

‘You see, it’s also a bad option to abolish celebratory assemblies. We need not to restrict something but to encourage teachers to look for more engaging methods of working with children,’ Mrs. Hrynevych said to journalists. She said that celebratory assemblies are not the only way to gather children and speak with them on important issues. There are other options as well.

Are celebratory assemblies a holiday for officials or children?

Dmytro Franchuk, a policy analyst, explained to Opinion that, as a matter of fact, celebratory assemblies are an opportunity for officials to promote themselves. Moreover, according to the expert, celebratory assemblies are often arranged under the pressure of a school administration.

‘If we deep into the history, we’ll find out that these assemblies take place from the soviet times. Today it is not a soviet tradition but rather a chance for officials and politicians to promote themselves. The most headmasters take these events very seriously and put pressure on teachers so to arrange assemblies,’ the expert believes.

Dmytro Franchuk also emphasized that there are schools in Ukraine, which have already established alternative celebrations of September 1 (the beginning of an academic year in Ukraine) and the holiday of Farewell Bell. The choice whether to celebrate or not depends solely on a school, because The Ministry of Education does not regulate this issue anyhow.

‘Nazar Yaremchuk secondary school №6 in the city of Ternopil doesn’t bother with this issue at all. They have their own way to celebrate this holiday – they arrange a picnic, which joins pupils and teachers together. Many schools have joined the initiative ‘September 1 without flowers’ and established the rule: to wear vyshyvanka (embroidered shirt in a national Ukrainian costume) in honor of the Knowledge Day. The Ministry of Education says that schools should decide how to celebrate this holiday on their own and whether to celebrate at all.

Europe and the USA don’t celebrate the holiday of First Bell because they just don’t have this holiday. The beginning of an academic year depends on a school. Nobody brings flowers or candy to teachers. Nobody gives a speech. There are no celebratory assemblies, line-ups and pathos. Teachers are congratulated only on their birthdays,’ the policy analyst adds.

Are there celebratory assemblies abroad?

Yuliana Bartash, a marketer, actress and mother of two children told Opinion about her studying experience at school and university of Great Britain. She says there are no such activities in Britain schools and colleges, even in the most conservative ones. They only have an induction meeting with a headmaster to get general information. It doesn’t involve any celebrations, and pupils go for classes just afterwards.

‘I’ve finished school and university in England. Naturally, there were no celebratory assemblies, even though my college was quite conservative. On the first day of studying (as well as on other holiday days) older pupils are gathered in the hall for meeting the headmaster and getting general information.

Naturally, there are no musical accompaniment and poems devoted to studying. Nothing like that. Younger pupils start their day as usual. As for the university, just before the beginning of an academic year there was an induction week for new students so they could learn about the university under the guide of older students. That’s all,’ Mrs. Bartash says.

Flowers and candy for teachers: is there any need?

Yuliana Bartash says that congratulating a teacher is a good and appropriate thing to do as far as it is the person you trust your child to for quite a long period of time.

‘If we want a decent education for our children and the government is not capable of paying for it, then why don’t we do it by ourselves if we can? We can follow the principle ‘education is free so why do I have to pay anything for it?’ I know some parents who think so.

But there is one catch. Are your principles worth of a potential negative attitude of a teacher to your child? Do you appreciate the person whom you trust your child 5 days a week, 9 months a year? Of course, if and when the situation improves, we’ll be able give up this ‘tradition’, Mrs. Bartash says.

At the same time, Svitlana Haiduk – a mother of the seventh grader of one of the Dnipro schools said that flowers, candy and other ‘presents’ for teachers are obsolete and inappropriate tradition. Not every family can afford to buy presents. As for celebratory assemblies, these activities are rather a ‘golden time’ for teachers than a holiday for pupils.

‘My son is in the Year 7 now, and the last 3 years we’ve come empty-handed on September 1 and on the holiday of Farewell Bell. I earn enough to buy a bouquet, coffee, candy or something else. However, I don’t understand what it is for. I support congratulating a teacher on the Birthday if other parents do. Or I can do it on my own. However, even this is not always appropriate. You see, every flower or present must be given sincerely and at ease. For example, as giving a present to a beloved one or a relative. But when a teacher can’t hold all the bouquets in her hands – it is absurd. She may be pleased, but it’s predictable and expectable. One teacher was even said to sell the bouquets because she had been presented too much of them and had no place to put them. It may be not true, however, there is no smoke without fire.

This is the holiday much more for sellers than for children. The children take a back seat, in fact. It seems we can celebrate without them. But not all parents can afford even a bouquet. And going without flowers is also unpleasant. The first two years I was worrying that my son would be a black sheep standing alone empty-handed. This year he wasn’t the only one to come without flowers on September 1. I’m very happy that the teacher doesn’t pay attention to it. Perhaps, she has got enough of other presents.

Everybody, especially children, have already got sick with these assemblies. Perhaps, they would like to celebrate somehow. But not in white shirts and ties, not so formally as it is demanded. A holiday is an opportunity for choice and freedom. For example, my son resents white shirts, dress shoes and trousers. What kind of freedom is it?’ Svitlana Haiduk says.

Are celebratory assemblies the echo of the soviet epoch?

Ihor Likarchuk – an educator, former director of the Ukrainian Centre of Evaluation of Education Quality, also criticized celebratory assemblies. He thinks that such activities are an attribute for martinet soviet system, but in fact, they are not educative, on the contrary, they are harmful to moral, physical and even mental health of pupils.

‘The problem is that these assemblies are an essential attribute for a martinet soviet system of the ‘morale building.’ They must be thrown out of our schools as trash. Because only soulless and insane people can make hundreds of children stand under a baking sun or sometimes in the cold bitter wind. They are not always warmly dressed. But guests-officials are happy. Children have to not only stand for 40-50 minutes but also perform ‘military commands’ like ‘Fall in!’ or ‘Attention!’, listen to some sickly poems, sing, chant etc.

In some schools, teachers can even start dancing… I know for sure that many teachers enjoy seeing quiet pupils identically dressed up, identically hair-dressed. They also must stand in such a way that a teacher could see ‘the chest of the third’… But tell me one thing, what is the use and an educational profit of this? How does it respond to the psychological, physical and age needs of pupils? Who needs this showing off except for its organizers and guests? Is there any official who can take responsibility of abolishing this soviet tradition as harmful for moral, physical and mental health of pupils? As for the martinet so called educators, they must be fired from schools. Immediately. They’d better go home and give commands there,” Ihor Likarchuk posted.

Yuliana Bartash agrees with Mr. Likarchuk. She believes that celebratory assemblies aren’t capable of creating the atmosphere of holiday, on the contrary, they only scary children before their first important step in life.

‘It is certainly just a soviet approach. As a mother of a first-grader, I can say that there is nothing festive for children nor for their parents about standing under the sun or in the rain or in a sports hall for an hour. Neither speeches nor poems and songs give children confidence before the first important step in their life, on the contrary, they rather scary them,’ Yuliana Bartash says.

By Dmytro Zhuravel

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