Investing in education is an investment in the family

How educational reforms affect children and teachers.

Andriy Zakaliuk is a history teacher and the principal of the Lvivskiy Lyceum under the Lviv City Council


By investing in education, we are contributing to real change. Why? Education, first of all, means people who change us every day. Each in their place, each in some small area that we often don’t even notice, these people can actually transform the fate of a child.

I believe this because I myself followed this path, from pupil in a very ordinary school to principal of a lyceum. My story began on January 16, 2014, when I was appointed principal of the #2 Boarding School in the city of Lviv. At that time, I was only 27.

The school had 126 children, some 26 of whom were either orphans or had been deprived of parental care. All these children spent the night together at this school. In other words, it was a standard public boarding school at the time. There was almost no material support and nearly 100 staff worked at the school: teachers, counsellors and technical personnel.

In fact, this school had a terrible image, as there had been plenty of scandals over abuse of position that tarnished its reputation. As to the kids, there was nothing new there, either. Little positive was ever said of the kids, everybody kept saying they were bad, and no one gave their interests much thought. The main problem was the stereotype of “boarding school kids,” and the kids all knew it. It was very hard to work with them because they had been deeply disappointed in life. And really, this was probably one of the worst boarding schools, not just in Lviv, but in the entire oblast.

But I came in prepared to change all this. And I began to act: the main accent now went on the time that all the staff began to spend with the kids. Moreover, it was not just about school learning, but also quality free time. Our job was to hear them, because every one of these kids had a difficult back story, a difficult fate, often very complicated life experiences. All too often this experience could easily set their further fate and the rest of their lives. We began to take trips with the kids, to go on excursions, to spend holidays together, to organise camps for them, and together we conquered the peaks of the Carpathians.

The next challenge was to give the teachers more freedom, because their every step was being controlled and that made things very difficult for them, too. We completely let go the educational process, so that the teachers would firstly feel themselves free and then be able to create and teach the children the way they wanted. After all, many of them were actually decent, experienced professionals.

We also trained the teachers and searched out new professional development opportunities for them. We participated in a variety of programmes, workshops and courses so that they could pick up the kind of knowledge that is impossible to hang on to during the working process itself or through the standard formal things that our educational system offers.

Over five years, we replaced 70% of the staff. This was not through some kind of forced dismissals, but the people who didn’t see themselves as part of the school’s future moved on to another job or retired of their own accord. During the first year, we replaced nearly 100% of the school’s administrative staff.

In order to change the educational system, we also needed to attract sponsors. One pretty universal problem was the complete lack of funding. We had next to no sponsors, with the exception of a few small items. It’s hard to talk about improving the quality of education if there are almost no supplies or equipment. We began to look for sponsors and we eventually found them. As it turned out, there were quite a few of them, nearly 20 organisations and dozens of individuals. Our sponsor funding soon increased by 30 times.

Another of our objectives was to establish international cooperation. In short order, our children were able to travel on big exchange programmes to Italy and the US, where they could enjoy a vacation. They also took part in learning, cultural and educational camps in Poland, Germany and Switzerland.

One key task was setting up a series of clubs so that the children could not just get a quality education in class, but also develop themselves outside the classroom. We brought a huge number of educational, athletic and artistic groups to the school, too.

It was also very important for us to break the cycle where every graduate of a boarding school immediately went to a technical-vocational school. We began preparing the kids to take the independent external exams or ZNO at the end of Grade 11. We looked for sponsors who would cover the cost of tutoring for the kids and the results are clear: 70% of the graduates from our boarding school in the last few years were admitted into post-secondary institutions on state scholarships.

The key result of all these steps—trust

Nor did we stop at this. We understood perfectly well that, no matter how good a boarding school is, no matter how well supplied and equipped it is, it will never replace living parents for a child. We decided to go the path of reforms to the boarding school system.

We got everyone involved who had any relationship to boarding-school reforms, both local government agencies and community organisations. The Lviv Educational Foundation helped us enormously and we’ve taken every step in this reform jointly with them. We even travelled together to visit families that needed help.

The upshot was that we decided to close the Lviv Public Boarding School #2 in 2018 and establish the Prosvita Lyceum in its place. By the way, the kids themselves came up with the name “enlightenment.”

Part of the premises was separated into a Child Support Centre, where about 20 kids continue to board. These are children who, due to a variety of circumstances, have been unable to return to their families.

Many folks are afraid of reforming boarding schools because they think a lot of people will lose their jobs. But the main principle behind this reform is that everyone is important. Of course, the kids are the core, but our experience has shown that, having reformed the boarding school, we’ve even been able to generate new positions. Not a single person was let go because of the closure of the boarding school. We’ve been able to establish conditions similar to a family situation within the context of the school, while the school proper has become an ordinary school where ordinary children go to learn.

And so, the idea that educational reform is necessary for educational institutions to function effectively in Ukraine is consistently being confirmed in a slew of examples like those above. One small step at a time, we have changed the lives of kids because we understood that every step we take and everything that we do affects the fates of real children, their pain, their lives and their experiences. That is why we had to really pay attention to this, in order not to traumatize the children, not to somehow bring more unhappiness into their lives.

Investing in education is an investment in the family. We understood that, if we teach children properly, if we invest in their education, the results will soon be evident. Later on, these children will bring something good and worthwhile to their own families. They will come back and be able to change something themselves.

 

Translated by Lidia Alexandra Wolanskyj

All terms in this article are meant to be used neutrally for men and women


Andriy Zakaliuk has participated at the International Expert Exchange, "Development of Municipalities: trust, institutions, finance and people", organized by U-LEAD with Europe Programme in December 2020. His speech delivered during one of the workshops is to a great extent depicted in this article.

In the name of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, we would like to express our great appreciation and thanks for both inputs of Mr Zakaliuk. The article will be included in future online publication Compendium of Articles.

Compendium of Articles is a collection of papers prepared by policymakers, Ukrainian and international experts, and academia after International Expert Exchange 2019 and 2020, organized by U-LEAD with Europe Programme. The articles raise questions in the fields of decentralisation reform and regional and local development, relevant for both the Ukrainian and the international audience. The Compendium will be published online in Ukrainian and English languages on the U-LEAD online recourses. Please, follow us on Facebook to stay informed about the project.

If you have any comments or questions about the Compendium of articles or this article in particular, please contact Yaryna Stepanyuk yaryna.stepanyuk@giz.de.

 

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, the government of Ukraine, the European Union and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia.

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