Decentralization in education should facilitate the autonomy of educational institutions and teachers. However, not all teachers in rural areas are willing to accept this innovation. In the course of discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center officials and community leaders tried to explain what problems the teachers and institutions face, and what to expect from schools.
According to Vitaliy Sitarskiy, Head of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Department at the Executive Committee of Polonska community, Khmelnytska oblast, when a supporting school was created in his community, the largest resistance was coming from teachers of those schools that had to become affiliates and enter the supporting school. Parents were easier to convince. “We held public hearings, talked in person. The best model – to take parents to school and show the best conditions for children – this is argument number one. When parents see better, competitive conditions – they are happy,” explained Mr. Sitarskiy.
According to Sergiy Dyatlenko, Acting Director of Secondary and Primary Education, Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, a supporting school is the best solution for children; there they have more opportunities for quality education and conditions for personal development. Parents, who feel mostly skeptical about such an innovation at first, can also be convinced. The main resistance comes from the school staff. “The competition that comes with the appearance of supporting schools is better for children and their parents, but teachers are of different opinion. To reassure them, we explain that a teacher, who remains at the branch school, has the same conditions, powers and salary as a teacher in supporting schools. Also, because they are in a supporting school staff, they can work well there, and thus have more hours and earnings. Working in teams, teachers also have more opportunities to grow and learn from each other than when they work alone in their village,” explained Sergiy Dyatlenko.
Oleg Fasolya, Director of Education Department at Khmelnytsky Regional State Administration, expressed the view that most people believe the myth that school is the factor that keeps the village. “This is the well-worn Soviet myth: no school – no village. It was thrust by the Soviet ideology to prevent rural population from leaving the village and moving to a larger city. Some high-ranking persons have built schools for 300 children, whereas only 19 pupils are studying there. What’s the point? School can be saved, but this does not influence the development of the village. We should abandon such thinking and focus on providing children with quality education in the first place,” believes Mr. Fasolya. He stressed that a supporting school gives us hope of the improved education level in the village, because now it is not very high. The Director of Education Department at Khmelnytsky Regional State Administration also noted that some teachers have refused to work in the supporting schools. He attributes this to the fact that teaching in large groups is unusual and more responsible to them. However, almost everyone who has decided to continue working, has got a job in one or another institution. “Everyone wants to get power, but when the question of responsibility arises, everyone starts to retreat. Not everyone wants to make a decision,” he added.
Ian Herchynskiy, expert at Swedish-Ukrainian project “Decentralization Support in Ukraine,”
noted that the establishment of supporting schools as a strategy differs from that in other countries. But the vertical structure of decision-making typical for the entire state system remains to be a problem. “There is a vertical power structure in Ukraine, when all orders are cascaded. This system weakens from year to year; its efficiency decreases. There should be an independent actor at the local level,” he believes. Electivity of directors may be a contributory factor for this process. It is also important for the quality education. “The competition for directors will contribute to the emergence of those who not only report, but defend the position of school and question the wisdom of a decision instead of being “yes men,” added Mr. Dyatlenko.
Polonska community allocated 60% of nearly UAH 14 million for education. Besides, they received nearly 3 million hryvnias as a grant. The money was spent on purchasing the modern equipment for the natural history classroom and conducting the overhaul with regard to energy efficiency.