Posts Tagged ‘reforms’


August 28, 2016

subjectsIn Ukraine, the Ministry of Education has launched another reform. I say “another” because reforms are being launched in this country practically each time the political structure changes. This style of educational management has a long tradition dating back to the 1920s when communists prohibited reading fairy tales at school and introduced teamwork in the process of learning. The explanation of the “fairy-tale ban” was that the phantasmagoric imagery led students away from “concrete realities” of communist construction and also because many of “ideological enemies”, like kings, czars, etc., were positively presented in this type of folklore. The teamwork, in return, was said to add an element of equality and comradeship to the atmosphere of learning., and the slogans of “equality” and “fraternity” (borrowed from the 18th-century French revolution) were much touted in the Soviet Union. With the teamwork, only one student was “delegated” to the teacher to present the results of work in the group, and the grade was given to the whole group on the basis of the delegate’s answer. When it became clear that the standards went down due to the “team approach”, the Soviet school returned to individual assessment that had existed in Russia before the communist take-over.

To a large extent, individual academic assessment created the cult of learning in the Soviet school. High achievers were esteemed. They were praised at class – and school meetings, at PTA gatherings, their photos were placed on special boards of outstanding students usually titled “Our Best” or “Our A-Grade Students.” Please, notice the word “our”: the school was proud of them. On the other hand, to represent the school in inter-school competitions in different subjects was a great honor for every student sent to the competition. The “Olympiads”, as the competitions were called, were usually held during winter holidays, but if you qualified for the next stage (and then the next, etc.) you could “go Olympiads” well into March or April.

It may be objected that the “high standards” were not that high if we consider the “ideological component” of the teaching-learning process of those times which distorted the objective picture of academic subjects. That may be true regarding courses in History or Social Studies, and, partly, in Literature. But even with Literature, there were timeless masterpieces in which there was nothing of ideology, but only undeniable aesthetic values (take “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorites). If we take science or mathematics, intellectual challenges were rather serious. Long ago, when I was doing a research in the U.S. education, I read the book by Arthur Trace “What Ivan Knows that Johnny Doesn’t.” The book was written in the wake of the 1959-Sputnik launch when the Americans were alarmed by the then-Russian dominance in space. The author compared Soviet and American high school programs and came to the conclusion that in every school year the Soviet students were two years ahead (regarding the contents of learning) than their counterparts of the same age in the U.S.A. Here’s an extract from a review of the book I came across while preparing this blog entry:

By the time American schoolchildren get Jack and Jill up that hill, Soviet children of the same age will probably be discussing the hill’s altitude, mineral deposits and geo-political role in world affairs. This profoundly disturbing book is a comparison of American and Soviet school curricula and textbooks. It proves that the sciences and mathematics are not the only subjects in which our children lag behind. By the time the American fourth grader has learned to read 1500 words from his typical classroom reader, a Soviet student in fourth grade will be expected to read at least 10,000 words and will be ready to plunge into history, geography and science. Why does Ivan at the age of nine have a reading vocabulary so much larger than Johnny’s? Could it have anything to do with the fact that from his first reader on, Ivan reads Tolstoy and Pushkin and Gogol while Johnny follows the adventures of Jerry and the little rabbit that goes hop, hop, hop? If a Soviet student undertakes to learn English as his foreign language – as 45 per cent of those in the regular school do – he will study it for six consecutive years starting in the fifth grade, and he may well have read more literature in English by the Tenth grade than an American student will have been assigned by the twelfth grade.

I read the booklet with the outline of the present-day Ukrainian educational reform at primary (elementary) school very attentively. In their desire to make school attractive for learners, the reformers are simplifying the programs to make them more “accessible” for pupils. The booklet teems with the words like “take away from…”, “delete…”, exempt…” – meaning the themes covered earlier which should be removed from the programs now. From now on, the teacher will give grades “in secret.” That information will be confidential – not to traumatize pupils who have lower grades. Don’t the reformers think that this approach demotes the status of A-grade pupils too? Before, many of high achievers were kind of locomotives for the class by setting standards of how homework should be prepared and presented in the classroom. Besides, bright students usually helped slow learners in reaching a higher level of knowing and mastering a problem course.

My strong suspicion is that the reform is being introduced not because we want to be “closer to the West”, as the popular mantra goes, but because teachers are less talented now and they cannot perform as before. The Ukrainian teacher is in the lowest-paid category of professionals. This year the greatest number of low-performing high-school students (with the equivalence of C- or D-grades) were enrolled at pedagogical universities, as has been sadly admitted by the Minister of Education. I ask myself: can a teacher who, academically, was below average at high school, inspire a high-school student for “aiming higher”? My answer is: NO. Incidentally, it may be another reason why parents, according to the new reform, have the right to exercise control over teachers’ methodology. I would hate to have any parent rush into my classroom and telling me (who had seven years of studying to get the required degree in teaching) how to teach his/her offspring. Is any “layman” allowed to instruct a surgeon how to operate a patient, or do passengers sit next to pilots to tell them which button to press or which lever to lift?

Meanwhile, I remember the time when I, a ten-year-old, come home after a day at school. I pull open the door, and, still with my winter hat and coat on, report to my Mom and Dad the results of my day’s work: “Reading – a five, Math – a five, Literature – a five…” (“a five” was the top grade). Even now, after so many years, I clearly see their faces – so young and so happy.


June 8, 2016

Here’s another typical moment that arose in the course of our apartment renovation (or, “re`mont,” as it is known to all expats in Kyiv, alongside with the words “`rynok,” / = a market, “marsh`rootka”/ = a shuttle-bus, and, probably “`yama”/ = a pothole on the road). To replace a central heating radiator, we needed to get it emptied of water first. Then the old radiator would be cut off and a new one fixed in its place. The welders said they would come the next day to do the installation. I hurried to the notorious ZHEK (see my previous blog for what ZHEK is), because it’s only with their permission that the water can be removed from the heating pipes. This time the lady responsible for letting the water out was busy looking for a key that a visitor who had come before me needed badly. She was fumbling bunches of keys on numerous nails on a special board, reading their numbers and illegible words on their tags – like “a cellar,” “an attic,” “boiler-room,” etc. I think there were more than a hundred such bunches on the board. After waiting for some longer time, I dared stammer out the reason for my visit. Without turning her head to look at me the lady said I should go the boss’ secretary sitting in the reception room and she would explain everything. The reception room with the secretary in it was a few blocks away. I rushed to the secretary who, after listening to me, called the same lady I had spoken to a quarter of an hour before, and after the phone talk she explained to me that I should approach the “key-lady” at the reception hour (3 PM) and write an application for the pipes. The application would then be considered by the boss, I would have to pay at the bank for the water drained and bring the payment check to the secretary. Then the sought-for permission would be given.

It was 10AM. Another five hours of waiting before the “reception hour”! Shall I be in time to arrange matters with the application considered, the money paid and permission received before 9AM tomorrow? On the way back home I called my wife explaining the situation. When I came home, my wife said I didn’t need to go anywhere. She had just called a ZHEK plumber who was in charge of maintaining our building. The plumber said he would drain the pipes today. That would cost us 200 hryvnias.…………………………………………………………..

The plumber called a few minutes ago. The pipes are empty. Phew! The renovation is continuing tomorrow!…………………………………………………………..

According to the policy of reforms introduced in this country, ZHEKs will be either privatized or dissolved starting from July this year. Good riddance to bad rubbish!


August 25, 2015

The water tap in our kitchen started leaking. My wife, who makes final decisions about what should be repaired or renovated in our apartment, has been putting off a call to a plumber for quite some time. The reason, she explained, was the irresponsibility and, more often than not, utter unwillingness of the plumber to provide the maintenance of the utility at an acceptable level (plumbers, electricians, yard-keepers, etc., are usually assigned by the local utilities service office, popularly known here as “zhek”, to each separate building in the area). Our plumber, Mykhailovych by name, was a stout man nearing his retirement age. He found it already problematic to bend his body or kneel down when he had to screw or unscrew some bolts in the bathroom, much less to replace a corroded water pipe. Knowing the professional qualities of Mykhailovich, my wife once called a private utility service to do some repairs, but the guy was no better professionally, though his service was much more expensive.

This time, when the leakage of the kitchen tap reached a degree which made it possible to also wash your hands and face while your original intention was only to fill a glass with water, my wife gave a ring to the “zhek.” After a few minutes of the phone talk she entered my room with her eyes shining. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” she said. “Before it was next to impossible to contact them in the morning. This time the answering machine told me I was a third in line to place my order. When my turn came, a pleasant young voice answered and apologized for the inconvenience caused – they had so many repair orders after the long weekend. Then the lady registered my request and asked when it would be better for the plumber to come – in the morning or in the afternoon… Could a talk like that be possible only a year ago? The plumber is coming at one o’clock in the afternoon. No, not Mykhailovych. Mykhailovych has retired. Our house has got a new plumber!“ My wife voice was energetic and young.

“It looks like they have begun introducing the long-promised reforms. Europe is getting closer,” I murmured.

The plumber came at a quarter to one. He was a young man wearing a baseball cap and an unbuttoned shirt. Instead of the usual kit with instruments he held only a spanner in his hand. And he was noticeably drunk. He staggered to the kitchen, gave a long stare at the tap and said that the thread “was kaput,” but he had no instruments at the moment, because he had left the kit at another building – the kit was too heavy to carry it from one place to another. But he would try (!) to come tomorrow, though he wasn’t sure because he had about fifty orders to do. If he did not come, we might call him. His name was Roman and his mobile number was…

After Roman had gone, my wife and I looked gloomily at each other and then at the note with Roman’s number. Luda was clearly downhearted. “Take it easy”, I said. “At least, that lady on the phone… she was polite…”



August 11, 2015

2015-08-11cThe police reform project in Ukraine is being implemented with the backing of the United States. Washington has provided training and money. Generally, the United States has contributed $15 million to the effort. Earlier this year 100 Ukrainian police instructors were trained by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Those instructors then went on to teach the new police course in Kyiv for the first class of officers. The U.S. influence is seen even in the U.S.-style uniforms with the kind of high-crowned, black-brimmed caps worn by the police in American cities.

The hybrid cars Toyota Prius used by the police now were bought for the money that Japan paid to Ukraine in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol – the amount is the price of Ukraine’s emission quota.

The organizational side of the reform was secured through hiring the Georgian Eka Zguladze as the supervisor of the project. Her experience of successfully overhauling (under then President Mikhail Saakashvili ) the previously corrupted police force in Georgia was taken into account.

It seems that the Ukrainian party is also doing its best by enrolling young people who possess higher moral standards, have better education and are, on the whole, more intelligent compared to the contingent of the “old militia.” The video with a policeman playing the instrumental version of One Republic international hit “Apologize” (he was doing it on the piano placed in one of Kyiv streets) became viral ( ). Personally, I know a young lady – a sincere believer, a devout Christian – who joined the new police corps here in Kyiv. The number of applicants for one vacancy varied from 7 to 10 people, depending on a city.

The new police are better paid too. Average monthly pay for the new officers in Kyiv ranges from 7,000 to 10,000 hryvnyas ($320 -$450), a cut above the average Kyiv salary of 6,000 hryvnyas. It must be admitted, though, that many of those enrolled come to the capital city from provincial towns and have to rent apartments, which eats away a noticeable amount of their earnings. The average monthly rent of a one-room apartment in Kyiv is at the moment as high as 4,000 hryvnyas. Considering that the real value of the consumer basket in Kyiv in 2015 equals more than 3,000 hryvnyas, it becomes clear that the new police can hardly be placed into the bon-vivant category.

What is particularly unique for Ukraine is the style of communication between the new police and the TOs, or “typical offenders.” The police speak too much, which, in my opinion, is an indicator of their inexperience. They try to explain to an offender what wrong has been done, instead of proceeding from the position of immediate law-enforcement. This expostulatory approach is unfortunately interpreted by many wrong-doers as a sign of weakness. On the other hand, quite a number of perpetrators keep thinking that they are above the law and, as a result, conflicts arise. While it is easier to cope with a guy who is driving under the influence ( ), it is already more difficult to withstand a hysterical blond who is coming up with threats saying that her husband is a militiaman, and who attempts to run over the policeman before her car is blocked by two other cars – one in the front and the other in the back – to prevent a much heavier crime ( ). I think the new police should undergo another course of American training to learn how to deal with the offenders, regardless of how high-positioned they may be, or what kind of cover or protection they may enjoy ( ).

The police reform project is considered experimental. I do wish for it to succeed. For me the project is no less important than the educational reform, which is under a fierce attack now on the part of those who are used to manipulating laws by pushing the buttons of their cell-phones (see my blog entry of July 23). If implemented, both projects would make people believe that ideas defended on the Maidan in the winter of 2013-2014 have started to materialize.


July 9, 2015

2015-07-09ukr_police_carEarly yesterday morning, when going to the railway station in a cab through the sleepy Kyiv, I saw a snow-white car with the word POLICE on it and the light-bar blinking on top. The car was moving along a deserted street – slowly and importantly. To my remark about how impressive the police car looked, the cab driver said with a kind of courteous respect: “They are just doing their job –the way it must be done.” I was surprised. Until that moment I had never heard any driver speaking so deferentially about the police, moreover, about the traffic police. Actually, the word “police” was new: before, the Ukrainian streets were patrolled by the “militia.” That is why I thought it worthwhile to repost a BBC blog (author:
Mike Wendling) the moment I came across it.
2015-07-09ukrainepolice1a 2015-07-09ukrainepolice2a 2015-07-09ukrainepolice3aUkraine is trying to reform its police service, and the efforts – which include the hiring of a number of young and photogenic new officers – have reaped some unexpected rewards online.

Not only are Ukrainian police notoriously corrupt, but they also played a violent role in last year’s dramatic events in Maidan Square, where more than 100 people were killed before president Viktor Yanukovych was eventually ousted from power.

As a result, the new administration in Kiev has been trying to reform the force – changing its name and uniforms, enlisting US and Canadian trainers, firing older officers and hiring 2,000 new ones – a quarter of them female.

The new force started patrolling the streets of the Ukrainian capital over the weekend and since then they’ve been a big hit on social media, with many people sharing photos taken with the new recruits. Many of the selfies were being posted on Facebook pages.  And the hashtag#KyivPolice has been used more than 3,500 times on Twitter in the past week.

“Time will tell if the [police] reform will work or not. But the fact that there are people who sincerely believe in the ‘serve and protect’ thing, makes me really happy,” said Facebook user Kira Kirilenko.

A well-known Ukrainian actor and TV personality, Antin Mukharskiy, shared a story about a group of, as he put it “traditional policemen” who were shouting and swearing underneath his window. “A patrol arrived in three minutes and traditional policemen started to disperse like elementary school students … When my wife thanked [the new officers] from the balcony, they replied: ‘From now on, we will always take care of you.'”

And a popular coffee shop even offered free hot drinks to police officers via a Facebook post that has been liked more than 5,000 times.

But despite the PR boost, there is still some scepticism as to whether the reforms will stamp out corruption. One poll indicated that four-fifths of Ukrainians believe the fight against corruption is not working.

“A feast for the eyes. All the traffic was staring at and waving to #kyivpolice, and we almost missed the green lights,” said journalist Oksana Denysova, who posted a picture of two police cars. But she ended her post with a note of caution: “Do not let us down, darlings.”

Reporting by Dmytro Zotsenko, BBC Monitoring‏

Blog by Mike Wendling 


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