SETTING RECORDS … MAKING REDUCTIONS

A new academic year begins next Monday. In 2010 the term of general secondary education in Ukraine was reduced from 12 to 11 years. In actual fact, it was reduced even to 10 years, since there weren’t enough nursery schools to enroll all children at age 5. Some feeble protests could be heard: experts wisely said that the 12-year term of education at secondary schools was normalizing the education load and ensuring children’s health, because it enabled the kids to work five days a week, while an 11-year education foresaw six days of study per week. Another argument was that the international community would not recognize certificates of secondary education and diplomas of higher education because this would violate UNESCO recommendations on a 12-year secondary education system. That meant that Ukrainian school graduates would become less competitive in the international education market.  However, the experts’ opinion fell on deaf ears. The reformative spirit of the “destroying angels” was nourished by the lack of money for the 12-year schooling and by the example of the neighbouring Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, where children stayed at secondary school for 11 years. Besides, public at large was generally on the reformers’ side:  parents wanted their off-springs to get a foothold for a quicker maturity, students were sick-and-tired of their schools, and teachers just wanted to get rid of the students. Some teachers say with sad humour that school would be a good place to work at, if there were no students in it.

This year will also see innovations in the curriculum. One of them may seem peripheral to somebody, but  it’s also rather symptomatic: students will get no marks for physical education. For me, sports (also as a part of a school curriculum) has always been about achievements numerically expressed. As a pupil, I knew that to get a top grade in Physical Training I must, for example, run 100 metres in 13.5 seconds, or jump 4 metres 40 centimetres in length. We had PT twice a week, but I trained to jump and run independently every day – understanding that it’s not a lesson in history or literature that can be prepared overnight. I also knew all major world records in athletics: Ralph Boston’s 8.35 m (long jump), Valeriy Brumel’s 2.25 metres (high jump), Bob Hayes’ 10 seconds (100 metres), or Abebe Bikila’s 2 hours 12 seconds in the marathon.

One morning this past spring I was jogging in a stadium at the school nearby. It was about 8:30 and some pupils were having their Physical Training class there too. However, it could hardly be called “physical” and there was nothing of “training” in it either. The young people were simply walking all the way along the track talking with one another. I, a 63-year-old person, periodically picked up on them and overtook them while jogging in the same direction. Later I found out that because of a pupil’s death in a PT class in some other town of Ukraine (the case was also reported by the media), the Education Ministry ordered that the physical load on pupils should be reduced. What kind of health could one expect from young people if they smoke quite openly in the school yard (often standing next to their teachers), drink beer to excess, and all that smoking and drinking is encouraged by advertisements of alcohol and tobacco brands during football and boxing matches?  Besides, empty beer bottles and cigarette butts may be seen in the stadium’s terraces every morning – that’s what usually remains after young people’s gatherings in this stadium that last late into the night.

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