The competition for the position of Education Ombudsman announced in May this year followed not only by the educational community but also by parents of current students, has finally come to an end – in mid-June, the government approved the candidacy of the former headmaster of Kyiv secondary school Serhii Horbachov. The aim of the newly-minted Department of Education Ombudsman – to protect the legal rights of all participants in the educational process. Opinion talked to Mr Serhiy how exactly it will be implemented and what difficulties he had to face when starting the Ombudsman service.
Mr Serhii, your appointment for the post of Education Ombudsman has been approved by the Cabinet of Ministers, so you can get started working. In one of your last Facebook posts, you wrote that it is important now to launch the service itself and form a team. How long will it take? Do you have already someone in your team?
Our team will consist of two parts. This is the Education Ombudsman service staff, which involves 15 people and a large network of community-based advisers and consultants. The initial composition of the service team I hope to form in September. First volunteer advisers and consultants will appear also in September but, in fact, cooperation with them will be an incessant process since the life usually brings about changes – and we should react to them in a proper way.
There are already a few people I have known for a long time and who we are working with. They will be the backbone of the Education Ombudsman’s team.
Who are these people?
These are educators, psychologists, lawyers, media players, whom I know well in previous teamwork and I am confident in their ability to work on complex tasks in the Education Ombudsman service.
We are working now on the internal regulations, schedule and instructions. Without these things, without an understanding of what a person should do on this or that position, it’s impossible to open vacancy and hire the people. It is very important to have a clear awareness whom we invite, on what terms and what this person should do. I hope we will cope with these tasks soon and then open the vacancy. Actually, the selection of the team members is a rigorous process so it should be treated with great responsibility.
A teacher must teach those who need knowledge.
You mentioned that the part of the team will be community-based. Does it mean that the Office of Education Ombudsman will be represented by community advisors and consultants?
Yes, this is stipulated in the provision on the Education Ombudsman, which was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers’ decree No. 491 of June 6, 2018. At the same time, as we begin to form such community receptions, we will also look for opportunities to support this activity. It is clear that it may be Ukrainian or foreign sponsors. But we will see whether it is possible to find state financing for this activity. I want to say you on the spot – it is really hard.
However, I know that there is some interest from international organizations that promote democracy and human rights in Ukraine, supporting the Ombudsman’s service, because, in fact, almost everyone is involved in education. In any case, almost 90% of Ukraine’s population in one way or another face with education. Without exaggeration, I can say that it concerns everybody. Education as a pivotal, system-moding social institute is immensely important, so we will do our best working in this direction.
There is such a group “Parents SOS” in the social networks where mostly the parents of students write about various education-related issues. Do you intend to cooperate with them?
Well, firstly, I know people who created this group for a long time. And the founders of the “Parents SOS” group, a non-governmental organization, supported me as a candidate for the position of Education Ombudsman. It is very important that we share our view of the values in education. But in many questions I have my own standpoint, so we can ardently dispute when sharing common principles of humanity, values and quality of education, we can see different ways of achieving the goals.
To achieve it is necessary to reconcile different views and positions, and at the same time remember: the main thing is that education is – do you remember, as Zhvanetsky said, a “locomotive for a train driver”? So that this locomotive works, performs its main role, a teacher has to teach those who need the knowledge. This is the most important thing.
Many Ukrainians do not know their rights and how to protect them legally.
Does it mean that you will react to the problems mentioned in this group?
Here is an important question: in our country, there is a huge problem with the fact that many citizens do not know their rights and how to protect them legally. Moreover, quite often a violation of rights is not only unrecorded but even not perceived as a violation. Since the majority has used to some situations and accepts them as granted. But when a person realizes that his or her rights are violated, quite often they don’t know how exactly to protect their rights. And to protect legally, not through some extreme actions, which, in turn, also violate the law. That’s why it is extremely important to help raise legal awareness.
And the derivative from this is to help formulate various appeals (to the Education Ombudsman included): how to write eloquently and correctly, where to go, what to ask, where to direct a specific request, how to track the fulfillment of this requirement, how to act if the requirement is not performed, etc. That’s it, here is a great bunch of question which we are going to deal with. And it will be a very large amount of work processing and analyzing the appeals. I believe that there is a huge volume of work onward, so it won’t be quickly because we have a tangible stagnancy and huge gaps in the legal education of our citizens. We have to constantly and very carefully work on this.
What will be the mechanism of appeals to the Education Ombudsman? That is, what should a person do to convey a problem?
Firstly, there is the resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, which is called “Some Issues of Education Ombudsman”. This resolution regulates the introduction of the position of Education Ombudsman, provided in Art.73 of Ukraine’s Law “On education”. Secondly, it contains two appendices. The first appendix is an Education Ombudsman’s provision that stipulates the general principles of work. And the second appendix is the procedure for submitting and processing appeals. It clearly states where the appeal should be submitted, what it should contain, what the term is, and so on.
Don’t you think that a person who has a problem will read the governmental resolution?
Such an approach implies legal illiteracy: only awareness of the rights and means of their insurance makes a person more protected. That’s why I will be busy translating the documents needed in such cases into “intelligible language”.
This is crucial for an ordinary person, who has little experience in dealing with legal documents, to understand how to act in a particular situation. It happens that some documents are written so my hair stands on end: they simply have to be translated into intelligible language. And explained what they mean. This is exactly what we will do first of all – to ensure that any participant in the educational process knows how to properly search for help. Because, again, the biggest problem is that we have a very low level of awareness of our rights and of legitimate ways to protect them.
Quite often, people who have some question, express their problem in such a way that the crux of it could be grasped only after the fifth reading. And in only one case out of ten people articulate what they want distinctly. Because 90% of appeals end with the words “please, restore the justice”. Justice is an abstract notion, everyone understands it in their own way. That’s why it is necessary that in every appeal it is written what a person wants: to reinstate the post, to reprimand a teacher, to help a child who got in trouble or something more. The claim should be clear and concrete in the appeal. And only then it can be reviewed or something can be done or said: this we can do, and this we can’t because it goes beyond the authority of the official you are contacting. And so solve your problem you have to take further steps. Or, it is also possible to reply that your claim is unfounded and, accordingly, cannot be satisfied.
Does it mean that a person can start with a written request or there will be an electronic one?
A portal will be created through which you can contact or write an official e-mail. When Ombudsman service and e-mail address are registered then we will create our own server. This all should be done because now there is a zilch except for my appointment. In the beginning, we have to deal with a big volume of organizational work. That’s why to receive requests and to process them we will be able no earlier than in November.
As a teacher and headmaster, what particular problems would you single out that you would have to deal with?
Well, I am not only a teacher and headmaster, but I am also quite an experienced journalist, and for the last few years, I worked as a member of the Ministry of Education board. I am also a participant in a considerable number of different working groups of the Ministry of Education and the State Service for Quality of Education, which have prepared various normative legal acts: laws, by-laws, orders, regulations, etc. It means I understand in-depth how the Ukrainian system of education works. Literally, until recently, I worked in education at almost every level – from the fact that I was actually working with children as a teacher, and to the fact that I worked as a member of the ministry board and was involved in making strategic decisions that affect the whole education.
This is the reason why I well understand the system and interrelationship of these problems. And the main insight of three years of experience at the Ministry of Education board is that education is an extremely complex system where one problem cannot be solved without having to deal with several related issues. Let’s say, we take any important for education problem – teaching standards, for instance – we all want educated, friendly, competent people who respect children to work at schools. And to find such people we have to work out a bundle of work starting from determining what to study, why to study.
It is about the content of education: from the state standard, the curriculum to who the people who will teach and communicate it to children. A system of teachers’ training is also important along with what kind of people go there. Utmost attention should be paid to young teachers. That’s why the teacher’s salary has to be immediately raised. We have to create a situation when being a teacher is not only prestigious in a social sense but also provides for normal life. The salary of a young teacher now absolutely does not meet the conditions of a more or less comfortable or simply decent life.
And it outrages me when I hear that there is no need to increase teacher’s salaries. Opponents of its increase (and they do exist) say that, no matter how much they are paid, they will not work better. This thesis is very dubious, but even if it is accepted, it should be understood that those who work now, simply without raising their salaries, without a whole complex of tangible issues that need to be solved, work simply with enthusiasm.
As an Education Ombudsman, will you be involved only in school or pre-school and higher education are also within your competence?
Pre-school and higher education too. This is defined by the law on education and duplicated in the resolution of the CMU. It will be difficult to cover all at once, but you have to work with it. So we will search for variants, involve public organizations, colleagues who work in this sphere. Already now we co-work in this direction with numerous public organizations and state departments.
From the search for compromise – till the changes in the laws.
The Education Ombudsman Institute was created to protect the rights of participants in the educational process, and what tools do you have in place to do so?
It’s important to specify first who the participants in the educational process are.
The law on education defines three groups of participants in the educational process:
– those who study, i.e. students;
– those who teach – teachers, professors;
– and parents of those who receive an education if we talk about minors.
Each of these groups has its rights and now we have multiple incidents when legal rights of different groups of participants in the educational process are at odds. This imposes additional responsibility and creates surplus obstacles in the work of Education Ombudsman otherwise you will have to protect the rights of groups that may be in a real conflict.
In my opinion, two options are possible here. The first one – finding a compromise when the parties to the conflict, knowing that they have their own legal rights, not only assert their own rights but also respect the legal rights of the opponent or partner in the process.
However, if the compromise can’t be reached, in this case some changes must be introduced to the legal acts thus the rights are regulated in a more formal, legally ensured way. This is hard but it must be done.
In our schools now the plague has come and there is no way to get rid of such a negative phenomenon as bullying. And the thing is that not only children bully children but parents bully those parents who don’t have the opportunity to donate sums of money defined by the parents’ committee. How to deal with it?
Bullying has always existed in schools, unfortunately. If you remember Soviet film Scarecrow by Rolan Bykov, this is a very bright example of what happened in Soviet schools. This a sore point which should be fought first of all through justice, awareness of our rights and the realization that other people have the same rights.
And this problem is really connected to the problem of raising money: there is pressure on parents who refuse to do so. First of all, we have to find a means of financing without raising money.
Is it real in our time?
Quite real. You see, money is never enough. No matter what we do, we always want more. The question is whether parents can help a school voluntarily. Of course, they can. If this is of course voluntarily. And the issue of bullying, since some parents refuse to contribute money for certain needs, is really painful and will have to be dealt with. And I think that there will be claims – they are already there. The biggest problem is the board of the school that takes the same position.
As a headmaster, I was strongly against such things. And for the last two years, there has been no such thing as a “parents’ fund” at school. However, there were two cases where parents began to bully one mother who refused to contribute money. And they did this despite the fact that I had publicly and repeatedly supported this mother, convinced other parents that they couldn’t do this, that it was her right.
And what are other work directions of the Education Ombudsman?
They are four in total. These are:
– consideration of appeals, complaints about violations of the rights of participants in the educational process – and actions to restore the violated rights;
– financial analytics: how education is financed, how well budget funds are used. That is, we need to understand how much money we receive for education and how well it is spent;
– media communication, broad educational work: how to protect your rights, what algorithms to use. The network of public receptions;
– the work with psychological services of education institutes which should build rapport and prevent bullying. These are practices of understanding, mediation, finding a way out of certain conflicts. People have to be taught to live in society and understand they are not alone. You have the rights and you have the right to protect them. But bear in mind and respect the rights of others.
How the Education Ombudsman service will be financed?
These finances are laid in the state budget. The estimated amount for 2020 is about UAH 8 million. For 2021 – about 7 million. Why more in the first year – it is clear: it is necessary to tidy up the premises where we will work, to equip jobs for full-time employees of the service.
For comparison, the estimate for 2019 of only one regular Kyiv school which I have headed for the past four years, is almost two and a half times more – UAH 20.38 million.
Mr Serhii, in one of your last posts you wrote that you had a good job at school. What do you expect from your new job?
Even more joy because it is much more ambitious and requires much more responsibility and capabilities. Basically, this is a new job, and I am always keen on launching something new – something that nobody had previously done.
Text by Larysa Vyshynska
Photo provided by Serhii Horbachov