The school education in Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine is currently in a state of active reform. This process began in primary school, where they already apply the principles of child-centeredness, abandon traditional teaching methods, move away from memorizing facts and focus on the child’s acquisition of competencies in the educational process.
The school ceases to be a place of standard rules and responsibilities, as has been the case since Soviet times and until recently was considered the norm. Modern education is about non-compulsory school uniform, an interactive learning, rather than a textbook “like a bible”. This is a non-public assessment of the pupil, his development as a person, the use of acquired knowledge in practice, and not just “memorization” of theory and facts.
Read our journalists’ report about how school education takes place and how it differs in Ukraine, Georgia and Armenia. To see everything from the inside, they visited Ukrainian, Armenian and Georgian schools. They talked to teachers, school principals, as well as pupils and their parents.
Knowledge Day in Ukraine is traditionally associated with the date of 1st September. This year, training started in more than 16 thousand Ukrainian schools. The first bell rang for 3.9 million pupils.
Ukrainian general secondary education is currently in the process of reform. Just look at the reform “New Ukrainian School,” which is in its third year and gaining momentum. It envisages the creation of a school at which it will be pleasant to study, and which will give pupils not only knowledge but also the ability to apply them in life.
The new State Standard of Primary Education was tested in 2017 in the first hundred schools of the country. Since last year, it has been applied in all schools. The NUS reform envisages the use of other teaching approaches by teachers, and other approaches to teaching and the content of education for pupils. The website of the Ministry of Education states: “The goal of the reform is to educate an innovator and a citizen who knows how to make responsible decisions and respects human rights.”
From the first form, children will not memorize facts and definitions, but will gain competencies. Their list is approved in the Law of Ukraine “On Education”. A total of 11 core competencies are defined there. But this is not an exhaustive list and it can be expanded.
A lesson for first-form pupils continue in one of the classrooms at Kiev’s state school No. 45. Dozens of the youngest pupils are closely watching the homeroom teacher. For the third time in a lesson, they do a few minutes’ physical activity break and then explore the world around them. The fourth academic week according to the NUS program is dedicated to this topic.
Teachers at this school are already trying to introduce new methods for secondary and high school. Oleksandr Posheliuzhnyi, principal of school No. 45, believes that a textbook is not enough for dealing with pupils. The process should therefore include the latest technology, practical methods and group work.
“The essence of the reform is not to force a child to get as much knowledge as possible, but to teach them to select what is necessary, to be able to apply it here and now,” says Oleksandr Posheliuzhnyi. – Another important component is psychological one. The child must not be afraid to use what they have learned at home, at school or in their leisure time. This will be the main qualitative indicator of effectiveness.”
Oleksandr Posheliuzhnyi, principal of school No. 45
During the tour of the school, the principal demonstrates a “living” wall, which was created by the hands of pupils. Dozens of home-grown flowers in flowerpots filled the wide corridor. Nearby is an exhibition on “Stop Bullying”.
There are now 363 children at this school. 33 teachers work with them. In addition to reinforcing the school with young staff, the school received, under a special programme, equipment for its science classrooms, projectors and other tools to modernise the teaching process.
“The reform points us in a certain direction. And every school, every teacher together with parents adjust it. Why should this project based learning (a method that involves pupils’ exploration of real, interesting and challenging questions – ed.) only be in forms 1-3 and not in all forms? Why can’t these methods be used with other pupils? They can. We have all the children working in groups, creating blogs and preparing projects,” says school principal, Oleksandr Posheliuzhnyi.
Mathematics teachers arrange quests with QR-codes for children. In history lessons, pupils model historical objects by themselves, and in biology lessons, they work in the yard with plants. In this way, they absorb information more effectively, teachers say. Pupils are interested and gain additional knowledge through practical work.
For the 8th year in a row, this school is actively working with children with special educational needs. There are currently seven such pupils in the school. Not only teachers but also special assistants work with them.
“Every assistant is like a mother. We study the child’s peculiarities, we get used to them, we are concerned,” says the teacher-defectologist, assistant Maryna Ivchenko. – I work with a seventh-form girl. It is difficult for her to absorb information in class for more than half an hour. Therefore, an individual approach works here: she and I can switch from the lesson topic to another activity, play a game for 3 minutes to distract her and reset her mind.”
Ms Maryna calls Olichka “my darling”. She says: progress is already noticeable. The girl communicates better with peers, has become more open. Parents are also involved in the learning process. This, according to the defectologist, strengthens the teachers’ work with the child and consequently influences its effectiveness.
Any of the pupils’ parents can become a member of the School of Responsible Parenthood. It has been running at school No. 45 for a number of years now. Regular classes during the school year are held with specialists, where parents can get competent answers to questions that concern them, learn how to react in certain situations to a child’s behaviour, how to properly organise the learning process at home and so on.
A total of 10 projects for children as well as parents and teachers are listed on a flipchart in the principal’s office. Mr Oleksandr smiles: this is just a small list of tasks for the year. After all, teachers and parents must keep up with today’s children, be half a step ahead.
And this is gymnasium No. 9 in Cherkasy, one of the largest schools not only in the city, but in the whole oblast. There are now 1,667 children studying here. 123 teachers work with them, the average age of whom is about 40 years.
Education in the gymnasium has been running a modular system for 10 years now. Children have not 45-minute lessons traditional for Ukraine, but 1.5-hour modules, which consist of mini-modules: three 30-minute lessons, with 5-minute breaks in between. According to school principal Iryna Topchii, such a system allows lessening the load on pupils.
“Of the four subjects, this is the highest number of homework assignments that students can prepare for the next day. And if one of the modules is physical education, then even less. This allows children to do things they love outside school hours,” says school principal. – Young children do not carry five or seven textbooks to school. It’s a relief that parents are very supportive of, one of the reasons why they send their children to our school.
Ms Iryna recalls how teachers were just beginning to switch from a 45-minute lesson to the new system. She acknowledges: it was not easy. However, the young teachers who have now joined the school fell in love with the modular system immediately.
Another school highlight is the division of junior forms into “cadets”, where only boys study, and “young ladies”, where, respectively, only girls study. They are united only in the 5th form.
According to the principal of the gymnasium, once such separate education was very popular in private schools. However, back then children were taught that way until graduation. This technique was then over-criticized, claiming that it violated gender equality and had no right to exist. Today in Europe a number of establishments operate under such a system. But scientists have come to the conclusion that separate learning should be only in primary school.
“Why so? Young children need to be taught in different ways. For example, in cadet classrooms, the air temperature should be 3 degrees lower than in young lady classrooms. The boys feel themselves comfortable then. But girls may be cold and have a worse perception of the material. Another feature is the methodologies. It is enough for girls to be motivated and explained once; they have a steady memory. With boys it’s a different story, you have to repeat it several times,” Iryna Topchii explains.
Viktoriia Shepil from Cherkasy says that she deliberately sent her first-form daughter Sofiika to the young ladies’ class. The woman herself works as a psychologist, so she knows firsthand the difference in the psychology of boys and girls.
“I like the approach to learning. It’s not just a class of young ladies, it’s a class of real little ladies. I am impressed by the culture and traditions that the girls are taught. A separate topic is the school uniform. Today, attitudes towards it are different. But our girls wear dresses, they behave differently when they put them on. After two months of studying, I am not disappointed with my choice. The expectations came true,” says Ms Viktoriia.
Andrii Khyzhniak, the father of one of the school’s pupils, also supports the separate education system. His son Ivan is in his fourth year in the “cadet” class.
“He wanted to be a cadet himself, to wear the uniform,” says Andrii. – I like that the class has a patriotic orientation, there is drill training, the children learn horting (a kind of martial arts, – ed.) and they sing the national anthem every morning. I want him to grow up a patriot of his country. We were not disappointed in our choice of class and we are glad that we sent our child here”.
Gymnasium No. 9 has two pilot classes, which have been studying for the third year under New Ukrainian School program. Iryna Topchii calls their teachers heroes. She says they received little guidance from the Ministry of Education and Science at the start of the study, so they had to build the educational trajectory on their own. The following year, it was easier for teachers who worked with primary school children, as the ministry prepared a state standard for them.
“In general, I like NUS. There used to be loading with knowledge at school. Now it’s a loading with communications and competencies,” says the school principal. – We teach children how to communicate, solve conflicts and put their knowledge into practice. The first thing the teacher says in class is: what you need it for. Studying at school is completely practical and necessary for everyday life.”
Communication skills are fostered in schoolchildren from childhood. In particular, while the classrooms used to have desks standing one behind the other, now the pupils sit in a circle.
“Children must see the eyes, be able to communicate, help each other, this will lead to fewer fights,” Iryna Topchio is convinced. – As for knowledge – there is no words “to teach” in the NUS state standard for the first form. There are words to be positive, to be able to socialize the child.”
The development of children themselves also requires new approaches.
“Now a small child can be given a mobile phone and they will understand how to use it faster than an adult. Previously, our sources of information were the library, television, school teachers and parents. Nowadays, a child knows so much information from an early age that they react to it in a completely different way”, says Ms Iryna. – And teachers must be different! It cannot be the case that a child of the twenty-first century is taught by a teacher using nineteenth-century methods.
Tetiana Demchenko has been working as a primary school teacher for five years. She is satisfied with the new education system for schoolchildren. She says: the program is child-centered.
“It involves game methods and takes into account the wishes of each child. If a pupil wants to relax – a minute to relax, if he or she wants to draw, please draw. We pay a lot of attention to the development of talents and collective skills,” says the teacher.
The mother of the first-form pupil Viktoriia Shepil assures: New Ukrainian School appeals to my daughter.
“We have no problems with the school. The child comes here with pleasure. This morning she even pushed me so as not to be late for class,” Ms Victoria shares. – I believe that the new approach to education is the right one. And the skills they acquire today in the first forms are crucial for further life. Earlier, a child was given a number of knowledge, but was not always able to realise themselves in adulthood, because they simply could not apply them in practice, to present themselves, to establish contact. Today, the education system is finally adapted to reality, not detached from life.”
There are also cadet classes for willing upper-form pupils, although they are mixed: the girls study together with boys in them. As in the lower forms, such pupils wear uniforms. They also have regular line-ups, more serious discipline and extra subjects, including fencing, martial arts and choreography. According to the school administration, graduates of these form often choose military-related professions. In addition, each of the cadet upper forms has an additional profile, such as physics and mathematics, social sciences, mathematics and information, and so on.
The school also has an unusual computer room. It is equipped with a 3D printer, which prints the works of pupils: from animal figures to mini-models of historic buildings.
A robotics room has been set up in the gymnasium on the basis of the manual training workshop. So, in addition to the usual carpentry, children create a variety of complex models from Lego. The robotics lessons are taught by labour and history teachers who have independently mastered the new subject.
The school has already built up its own robotics team, which competes in national and world competitions.
“We have been working with these construction sets for three years. Lego teaches not just to assemble some mechanisms, but teaches to work in a team. Not only children are enthusiastic about learning robotics here, but parents too,” says robotics teacher Mykola Tsymbal, showing one of the robots.
Reform of the Ukrainian education system started with primary school. This is only the third year of the “New Ukrainian School” reform, where children are taught competencies, not knowledge. But even for such a short time, both teachers and parents have formed a first impression of NUS. They say: The reform does not just has right for life, it is very important for the development of education. Interestingly, while the Ministry of Education is focusing its efforts on modernising the teaching process in primary school, teachers are already actively working on teaching methods in the upper forms as well.
Schooling in Georgia starts two weeks later than in Ukraine. On 16 September this year, more than half a million schoolchildren went to 2,313 educational institutions across the country to “gnaw the granite of science”. Later schooling start is explained by weather conditions: it’s still too hot in early September in Georgia. Lessons in schools also start later than in Ukraine. At 9:00 AM.
School uniforms are not compulsory here. Instead, every first-form pupil receives a laptop with educational programmes as a gift from the state at the beginning of the school year. This is the eighth year that such a project has been running in the country.
Every year every schoolchild in Georgia receives a voucher from the state: 300 GEL for a private school and 485 GEL for a public school. The state gives the pupil the right to choose where to study, without territorial lock-ons. However, in the case of choosing a private school, the parents themselves have to add a considerable amount of money to the voucher from the state. After all, private education, unlike public education, is only partially funded from the national budget.
A German flag and a logo with the wings of a seagull from the famous story by Richard Bach. This is how public school No. 21 in Tbilisi greets its pupils. The educational establishment is special. While other schools in Georgia mostly teach English and Russian as foreign languages, here the pupils study German in depth. Thanks to this, the school’s graduates can continue their studies at German universities.
Amriko Amzeshvili, school principal
“In order to receive their diploma, our pupils have to complete a certain number of academic hours of German. 1,400 if they plan to continue their studies at German colleges and 1,600 for higher education,” explains Amriko Amzeshvili, school principal.
The woman is proud to say that more than 900 of their graduates have continued their studies in Germany over the past eight years.
Afterwards, the school principal moves on to what the whole of Georgia is proud of.
“Our education reform envisages that the teacher no longer dominates the lesson. They are on equal footing with the pupil, collaborates with them using interactive methods,” says Amriko Amzeshvili. – Not only knowledge is important for me at school. Graduates may become good professionals, but the most important thing is that they become decent people, with the right values, without fear in life.”
The Ministry of Education is constantly working on improving the curriculum for schoolchildren. The latest version of the Curriculum, which is currently used in Georgia, was presented in 2016. It takes into account the recommendations and opinions of public and private school representatives, as well as the experience of educational reforms in other countries.
Teachers are also changing: compulsory testing has been introduced for them this year: for knowledge of a profile subject and teaching methods. Their results will determine not only their salaries, but also their possibility to work at all. If a teacher fails the test, he or she will be released at the beginning of next year.
The state is now also working to improve the logistical base. In particular, schools in Georgia have been providing resource rooms for children with special needs for several years now. Modern laboratories for physics, chemistry and biology classes have also begun to appear in educational establishments.
Digitalization did not pass by Georgia’s school education as well. For example, at school No. 21, the traditional parent-teacher meetings “migrated” to the Internet.
“We have closed Facebook groups for each form, the teaching staff, and the board of guardians. There the participants can discuss the learning process, offer their ideas,” explains Amriko Amzeshvili, school principal. – Every Friday is “my day”. I can be added to any group. If questions arise, I join the discussion. Once they are resolved, I am removed from the group so that participants can continue the discussion freely in the future.”
In 2005, a new development in Georgian education system was the decentralisation of educational establishments. Since then, the schools themselves have the right to decide what to spend money on. At the same time, schools have been able to earn money by renting out part of their premises, such as gyms or cafeterias. A special board of guardians agrees on the financial and economic activities of the school. It is composed of parents and teachers. The board is elected every three years.
Another role of the already mentioned board of guardians is the election of the school principal. It is to the board that the potential school principal presents his or her development plan. This is how Iryna Melkadze got the job in 2014. She has been working as the principal of school No. 16 in the city of Rustavi for six years now, where she herself used to study. She says: this is why I was motivated to change this school. During her tenure, the number of pupils at the school has doubled to 630.
“The small number of pupils at the beginning of my work was a challenge for us. We did some research. And we found that children from the district were going to other schools because nothing allegedly happened in this one. We started communicating with pupils, finding out what they needed. This rapprochement with pupils and an individual approach to each one triggered “word of mouth’, and more children started coming to the school,” says school principal.
At the request of the children, the school has introduced a number of clubs: drawing, sewing and even its own small vegetable garden. Now the pupils don’t rush home after lessons, but are happy to stay and develop their creative abilities and skills of caring for plants.
The specifics of the region make the school’s work more difficult. The lion’s share of the school’s pupils are orphans or children whose parents work abroad. “We have great kids! They just need a boost. That’s why we have created so many clubs, so that everyone could find themselves in life”, explains Iryna Melkadze.
The state helps with repairs in schools. In order to prioritise them, schools provide the Ministry of Education and Schience with logistics support data before the start of the school year. In addition to text descriptions, photos are also added.
There are also several schools in Georgia that have been lucky not only to wait until complete renovation, but actually get a new life. In particular, thanks to the Millennium Challenge Corporation (USA), school No. 4 in Rustavi was almost rebuilt from scratch. The educational establishment is one of the largest in Georgia with 1,770 pupils. The school was last renovated 40 years ago.
Mamuka Khamkhadze, the school principal
“There used to be a catastrophe here: there was no floor,” recalls Mamuka Khamkhadze, the school principal, who proudly takes journalists on a tour of the school. “Now it still smells like fresh renovation.”
The principal recalls how the whole school was temporarily relocated to another school. For about a year, during the renovation period, the pupils and teachers “stayed” in another building. According to the principal, the problem of the school’s material and technical condition has now been solved. Therefore, the resources and efforts are now being directed towards updating the teaching process.
“The main thing is to keep this repair and order,” sums up Mr Mamuka.
Georgian education is not in its first stage of reform. Here, as in Ukraine, learning accents and approaches to acquiring knowledge are changing. Interestingly, the Ministry of Education is working comprehensively. Indeed, in addition to approving the new Curriculum (program for the development and education of children – ed.), the Government of Georgia is actively working with educators. Teachers are tested on their knowledge of profile subjects and teaching methods. So far the only problems are related to the buildings. A significant part of Georgian schools is in need of renovation. And so far the state has been able to solve this problem only in a targeted way or with the help of donors.
Since 2006, school education in Armenia has been based on a 12-year system with three levels:
– primary school (forms 1-4);
– secondary school (forms 5-9);
– upper secondary school (forms 10-12).
Most schools in the country are segregated: in some establishments children study until the 9th grade, in others from 10th to 12th form. The only exception is schools in rural areas. It is not feasible to create separate establishments for a few dozens of pupils in small settlements, and it is difficult to get to them, given the mountainousness of the regions. Currently, there are 1,421 schools in Armenia. More than 360,000 pupils receive education in those schools.
According to the current curriculum, the aim of primary school is to develop the pupil’s mental, spiritual and physical abilities, language skills, literacy, logic and basic working abilities. At secondary school, the focus is on providing pupils with knowledge about people, nature and society. In upper secondary school, the focus is on vocational education and the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary for adult life and for entry into higher educational establishment.
The Armenian Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports is now working on a new state curriculum. The Ministry does not estimate how long it will take to prepare and fully implement it.
It’s afternoon. Armenia’s Independence Day is celebrated in the hall of a school in Yerevan. With poems, songs and dance routines, the one hour-long event brings together not only pupils and teachers but also their colleagues from other schools.
“Like in the Soviet Union, the study starts on 1 September here. At the end of May, it ends and then exams start,” says Artashes Torosian, principal of school No. 198.
He has worked here since 1991. He started as an ordinary physics teacher, then spent six years as principal at another establishment. After 2000 he returned to his home school as principal. He still works here.
Artashes Torosian, principal of school No. 198
It is one of the best schools in Yerevan, which back in the early 2000s had more than one thousand pupils, and now has only three upper forms. This is now the specificity of the division of educational establishments in Armenia.
This school was experimental until 2004. The school did not follow the traditional one-year, one-form programme. There was another principle: a child was promoted to the next form on the basis of exam results. The forms were formed during the school year. “It could be in the spring, for example. A new form was being form out of children who had passed another programme. We had pupils who passed three forms in two years. Some of them graduated with honors at the age of 14 and entered universities,” the principal recalls.
The school now has 240 upper form pupils and 28 teachers. They learn using the world’s most current “inverted lesson” method. The principal of the school calls it a hybrid lesson.
It is based on a teacher-created online lesson: with a digital laboratory, links to useful videos, additional information, and most importantly, an explanation of the new topic. This lesson is given to pupils a few days before they learn the material at school.
“In the traditional 45-minute lesson, with the use of videos and visual demonstration of processes and phenomena, the teacher does not have time to fully explain the new topic. After the lesson, the pupil goes home with questions that have not been answered in time,” explains Artashes Torosian. “That’s why, the “inverted lesson” method allows the child to get acquainted with the topic before the lesson, and already at school with the teacher to find answers to the questions that have arisen.”
Smartphones are enough for pupils to use this method of teaching. All upper form pupils have them. And the main task of teachers is to get students interested. Introducing hybrid lessons was difficult at first, as not all teachers were ready for such innovations. Now the school’s e-learning have become useful for other schools that don’t have enough teachers for certain subjects. This way, their pupils can learn through videos and additional information, and then work with another teacher in the classroom.
School No. 198 has the necessary technical equipment. There are two computer classrooms here, and it is more than 20 computers. In addition, the school also has 12 netbooks for pupils, and they are actively used in teaching: for watching and showing videos, learning knowledge with the help of interactive programs.
Today, public school education in Armenia is as good as private education. Tatevik Khakobian, a mother of two from Yerevan, is convinced of this.
“Studying in private schools in Armenia is very expensive. And often children study there only because it is prestigious. But in fact they don’t get a better education than the one in public schools. In my opinion, it is better to let children go to public school and receive knowledge there. And after completing their secondary education you can spend money on studying at a good university in Armenia or another country,” says Ms Tatevik.
Aramus (Kotayk Province)
Nona Pogosian has been working as a village school principal for six months. Before that, young woman had been a primary school teacher for 15 years. She says she has always been decisive in character. So last year she decided to take a risk, receive special training and try her hand at the competition for the position of the principal.
Like in Georgia, Armenian public school principals are elected by special boards by secret ballot. In addition to teachers and pupils’ parents, they also include representatives of the Ministry of Education and local authorities. To participate in the competition, the applicant must present a school development programme. Nona Pogosian managed to win.
The school where Ms Nona works is the only one in the village of Aramus. Today there are 540 pupils with 42 teachers.
“I started the changes at school with teachers. We need to develop them, to make them want to change something in the learning process. I try to encourage them to go to trainings, seminars, to develop themselves first of all. So far in Armenia this is not happening as fast as I would like it to,” says the principal.
One of the problems she encountered was the fictitious school clubs, where no classes were actually held. They were closed down. Instead, Nona Pogosian set up new ones, this time real ones: handicrafts, volleyball, and choir.
A separate source of pride for the principal is the renovation of the school, which had not been carried out for years before her appointment.
“When I came to the school, it was virtually beyond repair. Everything was very bad. This summer we also managed to patch the roof,” says Nona. – There was no resource room for children with special needs – now there is. Video surveillance system has been installed to keep order. Of course there is not enough budget money for everything, but we are looking for sponsors. Thanks to one of them we are now renovating the gym.
Together with mathematics teacher Khasmik Sargsian, Nona Pogosian participates in the educational project ‘Modelling a Pluralistic Education System in Armenia’, which aims to learn how to introduce new teaching methodologies into the work.
“The main task of a teacher today is to get the child interested. Of course, new methods should be used for this,” says Khasmik Sargsian, who has been working as a teacher for 26 years. “The teacher should not present a ready-made solution to the pupil, but encourage them to find their own. In addition to the traditional teacher’s explanations, this should be done in groups, in pairs, so that children learn to analyse the problem and try to find a way out of it. Eventually, this knowledge will help them in real life.”
At the same time, Khasmik is convinced that the familiar techniques cannot be completely replaced by new ones. The teacher believes that it is worth finding a “golden mean” and synthesising all the techniques.
Among the important innovations in learning, she calls the use of computers and the simultaneous completion of pupils’ assignments on the Internet.
“In our business it is important to love children and our work. A child feels when they are loved. They will always cooperate if they feel the love of a teacher,” says Khasmik.
Armenia, like Ukraine and Georgia, is already working on a new curriculum and motivation for teachers. It is actively introducing experimental courses for teachers to master new teaching methods. A specific feature of the Armenian education system is the separate functioning of schools. While primary and secondary schools work together, separate establishments are set up for upper secondary schools. In fact, in upper secondary school, children work with several subjects – by profile – in preparation for entering their chosen speciality in higher educational establishment.
To educate a responsible individual and to teach how to apply knowledge in practice by modernising teaching methods. This is at the heart of the education reforms in Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine. Books are no longer the main source of learning about the world, but have been supplemented by the Internet, project work, practical classes and development clubs. The teacher is no longer a person who dictates ‘how to do it’. His role is to be a mentor, to go along with the child in the learning process, to find an individual approach to each pupil.
Such trends are also encouraging for parents, who are aware of the importance of quality education for their child’s future. Teachers are finding it more difficult to work in such conditions: financial incentives leave much to be desired, and teachers do not always receive explanations from ministries on time. Nevertheless, teachers are convinced that the future lies in this kind of change. That is why the renewal of teaching staff and approaches as the key to the success of the reforms is now loudly discussed in all three countries.