While officials are keen on starting the New Ukrainian School, primary school teachers pay attention to unreasonable workloads.

The New Ukrainian School (not in test mode, as it was the last year, but throughout the whole Ukraine) was working for the first month. And if the society, in general, complained first of all about the fact that they could not manage to acquire the equipment, necessary for the start of NUS (New Ukrainian School), to deliver modern single-desks, and in Podolsk they even managed to cut old desks in half to get out of the situation, then September, like that litmus test, showed us the other problems.

One of the main things is the readiness of the teachers themselves: it is clear that without the readiness of the teacher, who has to work in a new way, reform will turn out to be another bubble, even with single-desks and a modern educational space. Therefore, Opinion decided to find out where attention should be paid first so that a sufficiently successful start doesn’t turn into failure.

So, this year first-graders have been studying for a month already, and there are the first results of the introduction of the New Ukrainian School throughout the country. The other day, after the story on one of the TV channels, both parents and teachers discussed the unexpected visit of the Minister of Education and Science Liliya Hrynevych to two Kyiv schools: 194th and 75th. The reason for this visit was the parents’ message that at 194th school only one first grade, out of four, works according to the NUS program. There were no new desks, and no one was especially in a hurry to organize educational space for children. However, 75th was a positive example.

The lack of desks ‒ that’s not the only thing

“This story and this secret trip of the minister became possible because the parents were not silent that the NUS was sabotaging at their school (No. 194 in Kyiv). I hope for the director there will face consequences, the decision depends on local authorities,” Ivanna Kobernyk, an adviser to the Minister of Education and Science, co-founder of public organizations “Parental Control” and “Smart Education”, wrote on her Facebook page: “My respect to school No. 75. They haven’t said anything about this in the TV story, but the school was in terrible condition and there were very few children in it, although this is the center of Kyiv, until the current director won the contest. Word-of-mouth very quickly spread information about the positive changes in the district, and right in the middle of the school year 100 (!) children moved from other (formally more “prestigious”) schools. There are not only NUS in the first grade but also respect for all children and a generally healthy atmosphere.”

However, the lack of the envisaged under the requirements of the NUS desks and even the improper organization of the educational space does not exhaust all the bottlenecks that all those, who one way or another involved in this reform face today. Parents, with whom I spoke while preparing this material, unanimously declare: teachers accepted the idea of the NUS not everywhere, and, finally, in pedagogical universities, teachers were still trained the old way. Will they be able to? Will they cope? Will they want to? These and other questions, even if they do not sound out loud, they just sound in the air.

Progressive teachers have been before, but only a few

“The NUS was not born from the air: the ministry took as a basis the best practices of our progressive teachers, who for 5, for 8, and some even for 10 years have been working according to their own methods, they have been doing it, we may say, illegally at their own peril and risk,” Inna Kuznetsova, the mother of the first-grader Yulia from Boryspil and the expert of the “Open Policy” Foundation explains in the commentary for Opinion. “At a time when the Ukrainian education system was a continuation of authoritarian approaches to learning, these teachers were black sheep. There were not many of them all over Ukraine, but they were developing their own methods, finding each other and communicating, exchanging experience. Therefore, when the time came to enroll my daughter in school, we sent her to a regular class, but to a teacher, who has been working on new methods for 9 years. This is a pilot-oriented training, aimed at developing in children the skills, necessary for real life, it has long been tested”.

Of course, I ask how her daughter likes school. Inna says: “A lot. While she is interested in everything, there are a lot of impressions, she likes it. General lessons are taught by one teacher, the English language, which also has already begun, is taught by the completely different teacher. Together we learn to study in a new way”. However, the first-grader’s mom assures that not all teachers in Ukraine will change by magic not only in September-October but even in a year or two. “The authoritarian system that is familiar to everyone is actually simpler,” she says. “Yes, as it was before, conducting a lesson is easier than finding an approach to each child. Easier than sitting on the mat and looking at the child’s eyes not from the top, as it has been until now. Do you understand? I like the new system first of all because there is no usurpation in it, which was inherent in the Soviet school and was practically kept in our schools throughout all the years of independence. Teachers should get closer to the child, not force children to memorize the material, as it has been until now, but each teacher will still teach in his own way.”

Once I had to work for several years as a teacher in one of Kyiv’s schools — I taught Ukrainian language and literature. Since I am a journalist by profession, I was not familiar with the methodologies that the future teachers are taught in universities, I  just built my lessons in the same way as those of my teachers, whose lessons were not only liked, but also gave a positive result (at that time these were participation and victories in various competitions). Therefore, my fifth-graders already in the third quarter (and this was in the mid-90s of the last century) perfectly learned to put punctuation marks correctly, using participle and proverbial phrases in sentences (they were taught at that time only in the 7th grade). The secret was that the classes, where I taught Ukrainian, were with a mathematical bias ‒ and we and the children in the classroom created special schema-formulas so that they never made mistakes in the works, which enabled future physicists not to be ashamed before the lyrics.

How long does it take to reboot the teacher

Therefore, as they say, there should be a desire. The teachers themselves point out that it is very important that the teachers of the lower grades, on whom the main burden rests, take the idea of a new school as their own philosophy. “The main thing is for the teacher is to convey the whole concept, philosophy and idea of the reform to the pupils,” Serhiy Voronov director of the Department of Education and Humanitarian Policy in Cherkasy City Council said in a commentary for Opinion. “And the educational environment is an only positive condition for better material transfer. Therefore, it seems to me that the key will be the work of the teacher in the conditions of the New Ukrainian School”.

On the one hand, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine does not get tired of telling how these teachers were prepared in several stages to work in the NUS conditions. So, from February to the end of May, they took a 4-month distance learning course on the EdEra portal. At the same time, from mid-February, for three weeks, an introductory session for teachers continued in the field of postgraduate education institutions ‒ in each field and in its own time. In addition, there were three face-to-face sessions, the longest of which was held in May-June and lasted as many as… 5 days. A logical question arises: where is the guarantee that in such a short period of time you can reboot a specialist, who has been taught at the university for more than one year, to educate according to standard programs?

Therefore, Opinion decided to address its questions, which had accumulated a lot about the education, to the Minister of Education and Science Liliya Hrynevych, but the press service of the ministry told us that Mrs. Minister had everything scheduled everything one month ahead at least and didn’t even bring our media to some kind of interview plan. But in response to a request from the press service of the Ministry of Education and Science, they noted that all primary school teachers, who took 1st grade in the 2018-2019 school year underwent advanced training. In general, we are talking about 41,5 thousand teachers, of which 22 thousand are class teachers and 19 and a half thousand teachers of foreign languages.

“Registration for the online course will continue, the course will always remain open and free,” explained the head of the Department for Information policy and Communications of the Ministry of Education and Science, Tetyana Golubova, to the publication. “It is available around the clock 7 days a week, and not only for teachers but also for anyone, who wants to get to know it. Everyone can take it at their own pace and in a convenient format, and, if necessary, go back and review individual modules of the course”. As noted in the Ministry of Education and Science, the main thing is not to cancel all that knowledge that teachers received for 5 years in institutions of higher education and then through direct teaching experience, but to change the interaction of teachers with pupils from authoritarian to partnering.

So, the main emphasis in improving the qualifications of teachers, Tetyana Golubova says, it was made precisely for the teaching methods in elementary school, and this does not require much time. By the way, in support of the introduction of such techniques, a lot of money was allocated, and 40% of the billion was spent on the purchase of didactic material for working with children by active teaching methods.

“The teachers also received methodical support. For example, for the first month of education, the Ministry of Education and Science prepared very detailed guidelines that virtually describe activities with children for every lesson. So teachers feel more confident in the adaptation period, and parents get a better understanding of what children should do at school, the response to the request says. ‒ All these materials are sent to schools. If there is no possibility to print materials or there is no Internet, local authorities delivered the materials to teachers in paper form”. At the same time, the profile ministry is convinced that changing the values of each teacher is the work of many years. And in order to make them irreversible, one need to continue systematic work on them.

“It just needs to be experienced…”

I wonder what the teachers themselves say, on whose shoulders the lion’s share of the burden falls. Facebook has quite a few pages that currently unite the educational community. It needs two communities on the Facebook to understand that the teachers of lower grades, who took first-graders, today have extremely hard times: “SOS Parents” and “School Inspector”. “SOS!” shout not only parents but also teachers.

“I have 37 students in my class, sometimes I remember that I also have to do something for the family” ‒ writes Iryna Kravchenko, a teacher from Berdychev. – My daughter is angry that her mother forgot about her (she is only 3 and a half years old). I really want to have a vacation…”

According to Yaroslava Kovryzhko Yerega from the city of Sarny, “… the preparation for the lessons has changed somewhat. But if there are more than 20 students in the class (and there are 30 or more), then it is impossible to do many wonderful things, even the morning circle (I mean full-time work). It’s a pity… And I recently realized that if each teacher was simply given what they had promised into the classroom, then each teacher would silently introduce a remarkable and effective education reform. And so… sorry for the children, the teachers, and the parents”.

Natali Vlasenko from Chernihiv adds: “We all work as best we can, because who cannot or do not want, do not remain in this profession. But I always have one desire: to see at least one official, who would spend one day in the first class on all the requirements of the NUS, from the first to the fifth lesson. Then we will talk…” Iryna Teslyuk her: “One teacher in the classroom cannot accomplish everything that someone has made up. You have to be lonely and dedicated only to the profession”. And Lena Yantsen from Kamenets-Podilsky also clarifies: “To work in the NUS, it is necessary: to get a divorce, the children should be given to grandparents, and who lives in the village, it’s unequivocal to sell the whole household. Therefore, there is really not enough time. I have the impression that I am on the merry-go-round and it does not stop. Although, there are advantages: it is interesting for children in the classroom, and they enjoy going to school, they do it with pleasure”.

While reading the posts of her colleagues, Olena Efimova adds: “I, thank my fate, I have the third grade. My colleagues are indeed crying. They come to work at 7.30 am, in order to have time to get ready, they go when my second shift ends, sometimes at 20-00. The working day is 12-14 hours… Creepy…” “There used to be weekends,” complains Tamara Kosovan from Tokmak, Zaporizhzhya region, “now we need to think and prepare the topic for next week. They require the spaces in the classrooms, and there’s a few space available. The teacher monitors the children, the rugs, he or she rearranges the desks for work in groups.”

It turns out that with new desks, where they were delivered, not everything is okay. “It’s hard for me with new desks,” reports Oksana Veremchuk. “They are light and mobile, but everything takes off from their surface. “Lego” falls, children cry and assemble it on the chairs. It is difficult to organize work in groups because it is inconvenient for children to communicate and to compose something together on those desks. The stands constantly fly to the ground. It is difficult to give the material as you plan. I am disappointed…” But Maryna from Kyiv writes the opposite: “Light? On the contrary, they’re heavy! A child cannot slip a chair while sitting on it. They sit on the ending, instead of chairs they slip desks. They answer sitting because it’s unreal to get out of the desks… The details are disappearing constantly: bolts from desks and chairs, plastic plugs… And we haven’t been given any stands for books at all”.

According to Svitlana Zamoshnyk, “much has been promised, but little has been fulfilled. The state did not provide the most necessary things. The foreign factory “Lego” was supported, but its own printing houses were not. Here we sit with cubes, and without textbooks! Teachers are ready to work, but with what? And there are many talks on the inclusion but in fact? Without parental consent, there is no question of any kind of inclusion. But which parent is ready for inclusion? So, we have what we have. A child, who needs a simplified program learns “to the full” and does not have time. And the teacher bears it! And will do it!! Because a teacher cares about other children and forgets one’s own”. Svitlana, the mother of three girls, one of whom is studying in her first grade, adds that there is absolutely no time for her own child. “It’s necessary to survive it ‒ she shares with colleagues. ‒ before the family, before the children, I feel guilty. And those eyes are still in front of me: the child did not make tantrums, just stood there and silently waited for her mother to be free. And she did not wait, she asked for care from her mother, which she clearly lacks”.

Are there “pupils” in the new law on education?

There are distortions in other direction. For example, the adviser to the Minister of Education Ivanna Kobernyk notes the so-called phantom pains of teachers or officials, who understand the reform in their own way. “Today I learned that in some schools they did not write a student/pupil, but an applicant for education in the signatures of notebooks, referring to the new law “On Education”, she said in the social network. “I don’t know who invented this, and I don’t know how to eradicate this foolishness of the complicating life out of nowhere. Only put each individual initiative bureaucrat in place.

Therefore, the first: there are no uniform standards for writing notebooks. How to sign them ‒ the teacher decides. Therefore, any references to the law, the President and even the district are groundless. Secondly, even the word “pupil” is superfluous. Suffice is the name of the subject, school number, class and name, and surname. Or someone might think that this is the name of the director on the notebook? And thirdly. If someone insists that there are no “pupils” in the new law, but there are “applicants for education”, show him (her) the text of the law”.

“We did not expect that there will be so many first-graders”

Do officials know about the problems of teachers? This is what Opinion asked the director of the Department of Education and Science of the Kyiv Regional State Administration Vira Rogova. We were only able to talk with Ms. Vira around midnight – the head of the teachers in the metropolitan region was able to leave that day at about 22.00. “I don’t know whether they know or not, but I know this  precisely,” she said in a comment to our media. “Of course, there are problems, but the introduction of the New Ukrainian School cannot be measured in one day, one month, or even one year. Gradually, everything would be all right. As for teachers, it so happened that in Kyiv region there are more first-graders this year than was expected: in August there were about 26,000, today there are more than 26,000. Therefore, many classes, especially in cities and villages near Kyiv, they are overcrowded and we lack teachers there…”

The director of the educational department of KRSA notes that with 68 million UAH of educational subvention, which this year was allocated to the region for the needs of the NUS, 17 million hryvnias was allocated for the teacher’s professional development. “At present, we have almost 2,5 thousand specialists, who are involved in teaching in the first grades,” Vira Rogova says. “This is not only primary school teachers, but also teachers of physical education, art, and those deputy directors of schools that work in elementary school. As for the teachers of the first grade, the corresponding training was conducted for 1,300 people in the region. But precisely because we have more children than we expected, we have a need to train a certain number of teachers.”

The head of the department notes that last year in Kyiv region a large-scale project was implemented to introduce the NUS: 100 educational institutions with experimental first grades worked throughout the country, 4 of which were in Kyiv region. In addition, in the region, 56 more schools were piloted at the regional level ‒ these are primarily supporting and basic schools in rural areas. Therefore, the region now has 60 schools, where not only the first but also the second classes work on the basis of the NUS and are experimental.

I am interested if my interlocutor believes that all teachers, for the short period of time during which they learned new teaching methods in elementary school, can change, and, most importantly, do they want it? Indeed, as can be seen from the messages in social networks, it is not so easy for them to restructure their work. Vira Rogova explains: “You see, we must prepare the child for life. So that a child, using obtained competencies, could find its place in it. Therefore, an integrated approach, and activity-based and competence-based and student-centered approaches are the basis that should be included in the New Ukrainian School today. The basis of the teacher is actually good, and on the basis of these approaches, teacher training is formed. As for whether they really change… You know, I want to believe it. And this is the matter of each teacher. If a teacher understands the essence of change, he or she must change. Of course, in a short period of time, you cannot change the teacher completely. But the introduction of the NUS is not a September-month. We will go to this for 12 years, and it’s wrong to draw conclusions about the New Ukrainian School based on the results of one month only”.

In MES they create a mechanism for certification of teachers

And, although one month can hardly be indicative, the issues of monitoring the work of elementary school teachers are also important. At the first stages of the reform implementation, the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine maintains a rather supportive approach to working with teachers, explained to Opinion in the Department for Information Policy and Communications of the Ministry of Education and Science, therefore it is necessary to encourage the initiative and also give everyone the opportunity to express themselves within the reform.

“This year, everyone, who began work with the first grade must undergo mandatory professional development,” Tetyana Golubova, the head of this department, notes. “In fact, it was an admission to the education of children. A mechanism is also being created for external independent certification of teachers, which will check whether the teacher has the methods necessary for teaching children at the New Ukrainian School”.

First, external certification would have encouraging nature, clarified in the Ministry of Education and Science, after passing it, the teacher will receive a 20% salary increment. Gradually, certification will become mandatory for every teacher, who wants to teach children in school, and will replace the teacher attestation system. “However, it should be added, ‒ Tetyana Golubova says, ‒ that the State Service for the Quality of Education deals with issues that relate to violations of student rights or other serious situations, which from 2019 will be strengthened by the institution of educational ombudsman, who will also be involved in solving conflict and other difficult situations”.

One way or another, but the first step is the most important one, and, at the same time, the most difficult. Both experts and parents of first-graders say that it’s done. “Summarizing and analyzing a vast array of information about the beginning of the approval of the NUS, which I received from the network, official messages, from numerous friends and acquaintances,” Igor Likarchuk, a famous teacher, shares his opinion, “you can make certain conclusions. The first conclusion: the launch of the NUS took place. I will dare to say that it was successful. Let me remind you that this is the first systemic education reform that has begun in all the years of independence. There were programs, strategies, concepts, but there was not the beginning of systemic reforms. Today this is the beginning. I did not expect great success and triumphant reports. They a priori cannot appear yet. But there is a beginning”. And we can only hope that after a successful start, there will be a successful continuation.

By Larysa Vyshynska

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