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Olena Fimyar


Olena Fimyar is a Senior Research Associate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge, UK. Her PhD thesis (University of Cambridge, 2010) was concerned the questions of education reform, actors and power of educational policy-making in Ukraine. She previously worked as an EFL teacher in Tsyurupynska Gymnasium, Kherson region, Ukraine.

U of Cambridge, UK



Draft: Not to be Cited Without Permission

Pedagogy after Maidan: A Case Study of Changing Power Dynamics Between Students and Teachers in Lviv Region, Ukraine

by Olena Fimyar  U of Cambridge, UK

The shootings in Maidan, the annexation of Crimea and the atrocious war in Eastern Ukraine that resulted in eight thousand dead, 17 thousand injured and 1.5 million internally displaced people are a painful modern-day reality in Ukraine. A symbolic break with Ukraine’s communist past, often referenced in studies on Ukrainian politics and society (e.g. Fimyar, 2010; Riabchuk, 2002; Way, 2008; Wilson, 2005), has become real. The awakening to a new reality brought with it a painful realisation that a break with the values and practices of the past, which was long overdue, has now come at a high human cost. ‘Apocalyptic’ scenarios from the early 1990s outlined in commentaries such as ‘Ukraine – The birth and possible death of the country’ (The Economist, 1 May 1994, cf. Riabchuk, 2002), seemed inconceivable at the time of their publication, but decades later they are hanging over Ukraine’s future and posing a real threat to security in a wider Europe. 


The events in Maidan, also known as ‘The Revolution of Dignity’, have affected all spheres of social and political life in Ukraine, which is now being thought of in terms of ‘before’ Maidan and ‘after’. Documenting the conflicting feelings that the events in Maidan stirred up in the general population, the Ukrainian media reported dignity on the one hand, and growing hatred toward the aggressor, fear, disillusionment and powerlessness on the other. Caught up in these processes and conflicting emotions, the Ukrainian education system, which is now governed by a new political leadership, is desperately trying to cope with new and existing challenges, such as the structural adjustments needed to accommodate 25 displaced universities from Eastern Ukraine and long-standing problems of corruption, rising costs, hierarchy and inequalities, which have become more acute as a result of the unleashing of market forces in Ukrainian education (Koshmanova and Ravchyna, 2008; Fimyar, 2010; Schudlo 2012; Kovalchuk and Shchudlo, 2014). In the field of education research little attention has been paid to the analysis of teachers’ and teacher educators’ practices and beliefs (with the exception of a few recent studies by Koshmanova and Ravchyna (2008), Kovalchuk and Shchudlo (2014), because the majority of studies of Ukrainian education focus on the level of policy analysis (Fimyar, 2010; Halperina, 2003).


The study reported on here is a small-scale scoping project conducted as part of the preparation for a large-scale mixed-method research project, scheduled for 2016–18. The scoping study (2015) involved eight in-depth interviews with six teachers and two head teachers, and five focus groups with 24 high-school students from two urban and three rural schools in the Lviv region of Ukraine. In the selection of our schools, we aimed to represent the various types of schools existing in the Lviv region. According to the Press Release of the Main Statistical Office of Lviv region (20014), the system of schools in the Lviv region includes 1,399 schools (340 urban and 1,059 rural), 256,200 students and 36,200 teachers. Out of the total number of schools, there are 20 gymnasiums and 9 lyceums enrolling 101,000 students. The provision of private education in the Lviv region, as well as in a larger Ukraine, is confined to the regional city where 13 private schools serve 955 students. The sampling of schools and research participants reflects the school composition of the region. The analysis of qualitative data was guided by two critical methodologies: deconstruction (Derrida, 1996; Olssen 2003; Wood and Bernasconi, 1985) and discourse analysis (Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1982; Foucault, 1980; Hall, 2004; Peters and Besley, 2007). In the course of the analysis, the relationships between power and knowledge saturated in texts and a wider context were examined. Particular attention was paid to silences and ruptures in discourses (MacLure, 2003).



Outline of the paper


The paper is organised in five sections. We will start with retracing the steps, works and conversations that inspired this study. We will also map out the field of education research in Ukraine, which is currently in its nascent form, reflecting the decades of isolation from the intellectual debates in Western Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world. We will then outline the process of data collection, which points to the limitations of our study. The note on methodology is presented next followed by the data summary section, where particular attention is paid to the differences in students’ and teachers’ responses between rural and urban schools. The paper concludes by drawing on Freire’s timeless work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968/2006) as a powerful alternative to the ‘banking model of education’, which is a dominant paradigm in many Ukrainian schools, which suffer from pressures to ‘teach to the test’ and the unleashing marketization forces that widen the gap between the rich and the poor.



How did this study come about?


The idea of documenting teachers’ and students’ experiences and reactions to the Revolution of Dignity was inspired by many conversations, Olena Fimyar, first author of this paper, had with her family, friends and former colleagues who are teachers of English in the Kherson region of Ukraine. One friend and former colleague explained that when her younger brother, who volunteered to go to ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation in the East of Ukraine), leaving his baby daughter and wife behind, she understood the meaning of every word in the Ukrainian national anthem. The embroidered Ukrainian shirts and national symbols acquired a totally new significance for her. She had never felt so connected with the history of the Ukrainian struggle for liberation and never felt she could talk openly and honestly with her 11th-grade students on these topics. Her words: ‘I feel it now as never before’, which were evidence of the embodiment of the national idea, were the first real inspiration for me to plan this study.

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