“Is there a staff hunger or an excess of teachers in schools?” Interview with an expert
Serhii Dyatlenko, education expert of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, told about schools’ autonomy in amalgamated hromadas, closing of high school grades, bonuses for teachers and the need for parental control over the quality of studies
By Dmytro Synyak
Serhii Dyatlenko worked in a remote rural school of the Khmelnytskyi Oblast after graduating from the teachers’ college, then he graduated from a pedagogical institute and again went to work in school – already in the capital. After that, he worked in various positions in the Ministry of Education for over 13 years. We can say that he knows everything about Ukrainian education.
Let's start with the most important. Is the educational reform successful? What about the results of the year?
- Everything goes according to plan. If someone thinks that everything will change tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, in a month, in a year, he or she will be disappointed. Ideally, reform of any industry is an ongoing process.
Still, indicators are needed to determine whether we have reached point A to point B…
- There can be many such indicators. Here is one of them. In the last 6-8 months I have conducted more than 30 seminars, and only a few of them were held in Kyiv, all the rest – in the regions. At the beginning of the year, when I asked at the oblast seminars: “How many contracted school directors do you have?", I received the answer: "One or two." And at the last seminars I got an answer "Five to six". Here's a specific indicator ...
Those directors who had long-term contracts with rayon educational departments prior to the AH formation are not required to switch to contract. It is impossible to dismiss such directors. What should be done to "increase performance"?
- One can say “it’s impossible!” and put a fullstop, waiting for the moment when it is possible. And one can act: address the hromada head, deputies, offer his/her help in development of the corresponding programmes.
What global changes should educators expect from 1 September? Will the educational reform not stop?
- No, since it’s timely. At the recent conference, educators welcomed Education Minister Lilia Hrynevych with a loud ovation. Why? Because she proposed what they had long needed. People have been waiting for these changes for many years.
It seems to me that people are not so much concerned with the movement of the education ship as the steep turns it makes.
- We stood still for a long time, our muscles atrophied. Therefore, it is so difficult for us to move now. Here is what I will tell you: its nor the direction we are going to important, but the movement itself.
But we always judge by the result!
- Just because we do not have other clear, understandable, and most importantly, simple criteria. Meanwhile, people want to divide everything into two: good or bad, right or wrong, victory or betrayal.
One acquaintance of mine said that, according to her observations, the current reform looks like an "economy-class education model for the majority". Those who do not need education are likely to remain illiterate. Those, who needs it, can buy educational services in private schools. What would you say to that?
- But no, on the contrary, we are trying to move away from the Soviet economy-class education - one and for all. We try to do everything so that each child had the opportunity to develop in his/her own way, individually, and each hromada had the opportunity to choose this or that educational model.
It's very simple. When a hromada head wants to close a school in the village, he/she first of all says how much more the hromada spends on one pupil at that school than anywhere else.
- This is a huge mistake! One can't do that! The issues of economy and saving in education need to be discussed only with the head of the educational department of the hromada and local deputies, and only with those who are members of the budget committee. The economic arguments for closing schools should not be made in discussions with parents, teachers, or even school principals.
Meanwhile, they are very clear and understandable. This school spends UAH 10 thousand per pupil, and that one – UAH 50 thousand. So the question is: do we really need it?
- This is a fundamentally wrong approach! After all, parents do not understand the difference between UAH 10 and 50 thousand the study of a pupil costs at a particular school. So tell me, does it matter to you whether the cost of launching a satellite into space: USD 56 billion or USD 63 billion? You don't even know what these numbers are. In addition, there is a state to provide educational services for the taxes we pay. Let it fulfill its obligations! And parents in this case are right…
Which approach is right then?
- The main task in building a capable educational network is to assure and provide quality educational services. And I want to emphasise: this service is provided by the state and the hromada, and the teacher only carries out the educational process.
And yet, is the desire to save money at the heart of the educational reform?
- No, the desire to make education better and more capable is at the heart of the reform.
You said last year that candies-and-flowers period, and when you talk about schools, the computers-and-windows period is over in hromadas and education. Therefore, we need to move on and take care of the quality of educational services.
- The situation is different everywhere. But it is true to say that those hromadas that came together in 2016 were most prepared for the change in approach to education. Everything is different in the hromada: strategic and operational decisions are taken by one institution, which is fully responsible for these decisions.
Is it different in big cities?
- In big cities, people live generally better than in the periphery. And education is better there - primarily because of the competition, since big city schools compete for pupils, and the quality of education from this competition increases. In hromadas, it is difficult to create such competition between educational institutions, so it is very important to create it at least among teachers.
How is it possible in case of staff hunger?
- It seems to me that all the talk about staff hunger in schools is a mere manipulation. On the one hand, teachers are shouting: "We have a staff hunger!". And when you raise the issue of closing of underfilled schools, they will start shouting: “What should downsized teachers do?”. The state will look for opportunities to involve them in school work.
However, professional teachers are often lacking, not only in villages.
- And are there enough professional drivers? What about professional heads of local seld-government? What about professional doctors? We have a hunger for quality staff, which has always been there. You need a physics teacher, give him/her a higher salary, give him/her a service car. You should go for it if you really need this teacher.
However, not all hromadas are active in this matter.
- We have to get used to the fact that we are all different, if we want to move away from an economy class that is the same for everyone. Hromadas can be compared to families, and not all families pay special attention to children's education. Some spend money on travels, some on entertainment. So does the hromada.
So, if you were born into a family where it's not usual to invest in education, do you have to put up with it?
- No way! Parents as customers of the educational service should control the educational process.
It is difficult for me to imagine a state without teachers, but it is even harder to imagine how parents have to control education in practice.
- Parents need to get together and go to school director requesting to replace a math teacher, for instance. This is unusual, it requires some courage, but it has to be done. For example, the programme allocates 8 hours a week for English, 3 - for German, and the result is zero. So, probably children need to study all subjects evenly, and not delve into language learning that still fails? Parents should ask such questions to the director.
And he/she will answer that such are the curricula and that it’s difficult to find foreign language teachers…
- Curricula can be adjusted, and a good teacher can always be found if there is a desire to do so.
Listening to you, it seems that parents need not only to find the right teacher, but also to contribute to his/her salary. Then why are they paying taxes? Where is the state here?
- The state cannot know that there is a bad math teacher at this or that school. Go to the hromada head or your deputy with the school director, ask for help and solve all problems together. Because no one will solve them for you. You can invite a university student, you can pay for university tuition of a good local pupil. There can be many options!
This year, many educators are discussing the government's initiative to close gymnasium classes and open lyceum ones. It was, in fact, that sudden turn of the education ship that should be best avoided.
- There is nothing new about this topic. There are no specialised schools in the law on education, and the terms “gymnasium” and “lyceum” mean the degree of the institution. Lyceum is a third degree, grades 10-11, gymnasium includes grades 5-9. And education must be equal for all, so elementary school was renewed enrollment without competition.
The director of a rural school in the Khmelnytskyi Oblast told me that he was puzzled by giving up school specialisation. They had a specialised school, in humanities ...
- Tell me, do the children of this village have a chance to choose another school? Most likely, no. Are all the children in this village humanities-minded persons? Exactly not. And what about the tech kids? They are ignored, broken, and they must have 8 hours of foreign language. Is that right?
But there is another point. For 10 years of specialisation, the school has gained considerable experience in teaching humanities, there are proper teachers, techniques… Now all this must be abandoned and started over?
- The trouble is that teachers do not want to work more. They have worked out something - and will follow these techniques until retirement. But the techniques must be improved and changed every year. On the other hand, we need to look closely at the results.
According to which indicators should teachers be paid a bonus?
- This should also take into account specific achievements of a teacher, reviews of his/her pupils and their parents. Together, they must determine who is worthy offinancial support and who is not. From Kyiv it is impossible to say which teacher is fully committed to the job and who works just for the check in the box. You know everything on the ground.
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