Review of five myths about school network optimisation

By Viktoria Topol, “New Ukrainian School”

“No school – no village”, “Do not close the school – children will come” are the opinions that can be heard in hromadas, when it comes to school network optimisation. During a (non) conference EdCamp in Kharkiv, Iryna Kohut, educational policy adviser of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, debunked the main myths on this issue.

The New Ukrainian School should have not only modified state standards, curricula, but also teachers, educational space, management system. Nevertheless, the work of local educational administration is changing the slowest way.

Myth 1. No school – no village

A reasoned counterargument is as follows: if there are so few children in the village that the school has become categorically underfilled, it's not because something is wrong with the school, but because there are no jobs and people leave the village. On the one hand, there is the natural urbanisation process, which exists all over the world and in Ukraine in particular – that is agricultural sector does not need so many people involved, since new technologies have appeared. On the other hand, we have problems with agriculture, and this does not depend on education, but on economics, demography, social problems, etc.

The second counterargument is about the quality of education. First of all, the school should provide children with high-quality knowledge. Only then it should be considered as the place of employment of teachers, a public centre. If it does not provide good knowledge, something should be done about this school.

Schools in rural areas do not meet this challenge. That is, children from villages have more than three times less chance of getting into a good university and being successful.

Infographics from Iryna Kohut’s presentation:

Quality of education

(Distribution of pupils according to the results of External Independent Testing in Ukrainian language (elementary / sufficient / intermediate / high) and type of settlement (city / urban-type settlement / village)

Quality of education

(Distribution of pupils according to the results of External Independent Testing in Math (elementary / sufficient / intermediate / high) and type of settlement (city / urban-type settlement / village)

On the examples of individual schools, this picture looks even more fearsome. I will put it pompously: these figures are human destinies. These children, who will then not be employed, will be registered in the employment service, will not be happy and healthy, etc.

How to ensure the quality of education? We have tools that hromadas can apply through elected representatives, officials, appointed by these elected representatives, or directly. This is something that every hromada resident must know.

  • hromada can affect the way a school principal is appointed – a leader, who guides the team and affects managerial education processes. The competition involves representatives of parents and the founder.
  • initiate an institutional audit, which may, among other things, make a recommendation to change the principal.

Myth 2. Do not close the school: we do not have children now, but they may come later

It is treated simply: every local authority has information on the number of newborns by settlements.

There is statistic data at the level of the entire state. The blue line that has fallen the most is the number of pupils from 1990 to 2017. Yellow line shows how much the number of schools has decreased. This is a completely irrelative reduction. Gray line is the number of teachers, which has decreased the least.

Dynamics of the number of schools, pupils and teachers

The number of pupils per teacher is one-and-a-half times lower than the average in the developed countries. If you look at it in terms of statistics, we have more than enough teachers. They just sit in these small schools. If you gather them in one school, there will be less problems with personnel.

This is a line that shows the number of newborns. In 2013-2014 year there was a sharp decline because of territories’ occupation, but the recession continued further.

Birth rate in Ukraine in 1990-2017

This statistic data should be followed and the future number of children at school should be forecasted 6 years in advance. 

Myth 3. Individual approach

People say that in their small school, the teacher knows each pupil better and can give them a lot of attention. Therefore, they supposedly teach better than teachers in larger schools.

Here one simple thing can be said: according to the law “On General Secondary Education” and to the financial norms, if there are less than 5 children in a class, an individual form of education is functioning. Several tens of thousands of children study under this form not for health reasons. What does it mean? The left column features an approximate number of hours under individual form of education. It is 4-5 times fewer than that in the classroom.

Number of class hours (elementary school / basic secondary school / high school)

There is a clear correlation between the individual form of studying and the studying results (according to the State Statistics Service): the largest number of children study under an individual educational form in those schools, that show the worst results.

Even if there are 5-6 children in the class, when some do not show up, 2-3 children will remain. Within such a study process it is impossible to work in groups, study most of the skills, except for exceptionally subject ones. 

Myth 4. Hub school should be established, because money is allocated for it

One of the tools to solve the school network optimisation issue is the establishment of hub schools – educational institutions, additionally funded and attended by children, transported from other settlements.

Though another myth is connected with this one: we were told to establish a hub school – and we established it. Or: we were told that we would be given money for this.

The extra money will end once, but this does not mean that creation of hub schools should be terminated. Hub school is primarily a high-quality education, not the number of branches.

Ideally, there should be a detailed process of education development planning in the hromada with the involvement of all stakeholders, since the hub school establishment is just a small step.

Myth 5. One should address the Ministry of Education on any issue

Many issues fall into the sphere of responsibility of local authorities, but for some reason the head of the oblast department goes to the settlement to deal with these issues. They just got used to living in an authoritarian system, when the responsibility is to the maximum transferred to somebody from above.

The full version is available in Ukrainian – please click HERE




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