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Pedagogy after Maidan: Power Dynamics Between Students and Teachers in Lviv Region, Ukraine

by Olena Fimyar  University of Cambridge, UK  
and Svitlana Shchudlo Ivan Franko State University, Ukraine

Draft: Not to be Cited Without Permission

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.


The second inspiration for this study came from a brief conversation Olena had in 2002 in the US as a participant in the Partners in Education teacher-exchange programme supported by the American Council. After a presentation in which she tried to describe the state of Ukrainian education and, what were then, her two years of teaching experience, someone commented that ‘Paolo Freire’s ideas might be relevant for Ukraine’. At that point, she did not know who Paolo Freire was, but the seed was planted and her interest to Freire’s works was growing.


Olena met Svitlana, the co-author of this paper, at the Comparative and International Education Society conference in Toronto in 2014. Svitlana was the only participant from Ukraine attending the conference, which is further evidence of the intellectual isolation of Ukrainian researchers from the debates in the field of education research that are taking place in Western Europe and the Anglo-Saxon world. The difficulties involved in conducting research across countries (Olena being based in the UK and Svitlana collecting data with her colleagues in Ukraine) would require a separate discussion. The major challenge for fruitful collaboration was the language barrier and the need to explain, via countless Skype conversations, research procedures including ethical issues, coding, data management, analysis and presentation. Both authors often felt that there was a long way to go for their collaboration to become an inspiring intellectual companionship. At that point Olena felt the relationship between them was one between mentor and mentee, requiring a lot of support in terms of translation, developing forms, organisation, guidance with grant-writing and so on


Despite the fact that the authors are still searching for ways to reconcile our theoretical, methodological and organisational approaches to research, they have high ambitions for the development of education research in Ukraine. In September 2015, as part of a group of four volunteers Olena and Svitlana applied for Ukraine’s Candidate membership in the European Educational Research Association (EERA, see, and this application has been approved by the Council. This means that Ukraine now has four years to build an educational research organisation and apply for full membership of EERA. The team of people interested in spreading the message about the Ukrainian Educational Research Association (UERA) and raising the quality of education research in Ukraine grew to ten scholars with meetings with international educational organisations and governmental officials being scheduled in the months to come. It is envisaged that the study ‘Pedagogy after Maidan’ can be carried out under the umbrella of this organisation.



Let us be honest about the state of Ukrainian pedagogical ‘science’


The main problems of Ukrainian pedagogy as a ‘science’ are the absence of an empirical tradition in education research, a poor record of publication in international peer-reviewed journals and the dominance of a positivist approach, which seeks to discover ‘laws’ rather than reach ‘understanding’ (For comparison with the state of affairs in the field of sciences, see Zozulenko, 2015  [In Russian]).


The intellectual isolation of the Ukrainian pedagogical ‘sciences’ from the debates about teaching and learning taking place in other parts of the globe becomes most evident when one compares a local definition of the term ’pedagogy’ with the difficulty in providing such a definition in the Western literature. For example, in the Anglo-Saxon school, on one side of the debate ‘pedagogy’ is viewed as ‘a contested term’ (Mortimore, 1999: 1) and on the other as an ‘ugly’ word (Lusted, 1986: 2), an ‘ill-defined and poorly developed’ idea (Mortomore, 1999: 1) or ‘a shapeless and perpetually changing amoeba’ (Stones, 2000 in Tinning, 2009: 4).


Without acknowledging any controversy or difficulty in defining the term, Ukrainian textbooks on pedagogy offer a well-rehearsed local definition about the ‘ob’ekt, predmet, funktsii i zavdannia pedagogiky’ ( the ‘object, subject, 'functions and objectives of pedagogy’).  For the purpose of illustration, some of these definitions, which invite memorisation rather than discussion, are presented below:


Pedagogy is a science, which studies the essence, laws and trajectories of pedagogical developmental as a factor and a means of life-long learning. On this basis, pedagogy is developing a theory of pedagogical process, forms and methods of improving the work [activities] of pedagogogues [sic] and various forms of activities of students, [as well as] strategies and means of interaction between them.


The subject of the study of pedagogy are the objective laws of the particular historical process of upbringing, organically [sic] connected with the laws of the development of social relations as well as the real [sic] social upbringing practice of formation of young generations, particulars and conditions of organisation of pedagogical process.


The main function of pedagogy is to study the laws of upbringing, education and learning of human beings and on this basis propose to pedagogical practice the optimal means for reaching the outlined tasks.


(Educational materials online, n.d.)



Apart from the evident tautology and the belief in ‘objective’ laws for the ‘real’ world, the above definitions share several important characteristics with Grebennikova’s (2012: 6–7) critical analysis of pseudo-sciences in the Ukrainian education system (including ‘acmeology’, ‘educology’, ‘human nanotechnology’ etc.). According to Grebennikova (2012: 6–7), pseudo-sciences are defined by:


  • explicit or implicit anti-intellectualism[1] manifested in the determination of their whole theory by a single holistic concept such as ‘objective law’, ‘system’, ‘information’, ‘chaos’ or ‘game’;

  • optimism in the applicability of their core concepts to major spheres of human life;

  • manipulative and mechanistic approach to social reality;

  • opportunistic definitions of ‘science’ and ‘method’;

  • substitution of methods by principles;

  • theological nature manifested in the belief that an ideal that is implicit in their holistic doctrine can and should be achieved;

  • hybridity of genres as a result of drawing on facts, methods and rhetoric used by different systems of cultural production, including religious and spiritual practice, sciences, media, art etc. 


Lindeman highlights another important feature of pseudoscience –a lack of empirical studies, which is a definite feature of Ukrainian pedagogy in its current state. In particular, Lindeman observes:


A typical pseudoscience includes hypothesis that cannot be proven false. It is not based on controlled empirical studies, it has not been refined over time in the light of new scientific evidence, it has not contributed research to new areas, and/or it is not compatible with well-supported theories in related domains.

(Lindeman, 1998: 257)


Although some scholars provide compelling evidence of Soviet pedagogy as a pseudoscience (e.g. Dmitriev, 1997: 260), we would not take such a radical stance against Ukrainian pedagogy. It should be noted that in post-independence Ukraine sociology of education, which was developing very rapidly, attempted to bridge the divide between theory and practice, which continues to be a main weakness of Ukrainian pedagogy. However, sociology of education studies had little or no impact on the practices of teaching. These studies were more interested in mapping out the value systems and differences in the lifestyles of students, rather than in empirically documenting teacher–student interaction. Furthermore, in the system of teacher preparation that the first author, Olena Fimyar, went thought, sociology of education studies were rarely a topic for discussion in the initial teacher training or the in-service teacher education.


In this section we have attempted to demonstrate that the state of development of Ukrainian education is constrained by the state of development of pedagogical ‘science’ in Ukraine. Many would disagree with such a proposition and insist that the level of education in Ukraine is high. They normally support their argument with examples of some Ukrainian students who have high academic achievement when they move abroad. The problem with this argument is that it is not based on research evidence; nor can the numbers of these students claim to characterise education system as a whole. What is evident is that the curriculum in the Ukrainian schools is overburdened, and this has health and well-being implications for Ukrainian students. Furthermore, none of the proponents of the ‘myth of success of Ukrainian education’ can think beyond the because of argument to consider that the success of these students might not be because they studied in Ukrainian schools but in spite of it.


To conclude this section, we will offer a definition of pedagogy that we are using in our research. In this definition we recognise that pedagogy is a form of power relation and a reflection of politics. It can liberate students or oppress them. In particular, drawing on Ewing (2005: 9) we understand pedagogy as a manifestation of a power relationship, which ‘incorporates pupil interactions and teachers’ practices, textbooks and curricula, celebrations and rituals, and the discourse of educational administrators and policy advocates.’ The next section offers a brief account of our methodological approach.



A note on methodology: Deconstruction and discourse analysis methods


In the pilot study, we have attempted to trace empirically the effects of Maidan on pedagogy and communication styles in Ukrainian schools. The data collected in the course of the study were analysed using deconstruction and discourse analysis methods. To understand the particulars of each of these methods, we will start with Olssen’s observation, which suggests that the differences between the two methods lies in the degree to which they engage with the social context outside the text. As Olssen further explains, deconstruction analyses texts and the conditions that give some terms preference over others, while discourse analysis focuses on the wider social context and on the various ways in which meaning is created in this context (Olssen, 2003: 195–197).


MacLure notes that deconstruction carries a political and ethical charge, because it has the power to show how every social order rests on ‘the exclusion practices' through which 'one set of meanings has been institutionalised and various other possibilities […] have been marginalised’  (MacLure, 2003: 179–180). Unlike deconstruction, MacLure’s argument continues, Foucauldian discourse analysis does not confine itself merely to textual analysis nor to a discourse critique. Rather, it offers an interpretation of the different ways in which discourse is informed, perpetuated and dominates alternative, less privileged discourses. Thus according to MacLure, Foucauldian discourse analysis traces the historical formation of discourse, and is particularly interested in the interrelations between power and knowledge in this process (MacLure, 2003: 179-180).


Hence, the differences between deconstruction and discourse analysis arise at the level of textual or contextual analysis. Although the distinction – deconstruction analyses text and discourse analysis explores the context – is not absolute, it is helpful for emphasising the importance of both the text and the sociopolitical conditions in our study. Having noted this basic distinction between deconstruction and discourse analysis, in our data analysis, and in Freire’s powerful alternative that is offered afterwards, we transform these two methods into a critical attitude towards texts, context and discourse.



Data summary


We have organised this section around the answers to our three research questions.


1) What shifts in the philosophy and practices of teaching educators in Lviv region of Western Ukraine can be attributed to the events that followed the Maidan Revolution?


Maidan was not mentioned as a source of inspiration for teaching practice by our participants. Maidan, was referred to as a separate event, for some participants the third of its kind, which did not bring desired changes to the system of education as a whole:


We all had a lot of expectations from Maidan, although it is our third Maidan starting from the Revolution on the Granite, then Orange Revolution, now Maidan. To say that we are disappointed, it is to say nothing. All the initiated reforms, this is like a game [Ukr. zabavka] for them. They make an impression they give them for public discussion, but they approve what they plan to approve.



Importantly, the references to Maidan were closely linked to the image of a powerless, overburdened and underpaid teacher. Examples of teachers’ responses are presented below:


The teachers are very oppressed. That is why to implement reforms in education is very easy. Our Trade Union it is also corrupted (Ukr. prodazhna) and does not take any initiative.



Nothing depends on us in the system. We are not influencing the large-scale processes in Ukraine or globally. If something needs to be changed it should be a radical change. We cannot offer anything. In the past year the government did not offer us any project [reform]. Do you suggest we leave students now and start thinking about the project? What are the in-service institutes for, where a large number of people are employed? They tell me I have to have 10 variants of the test and I work until 3 a.m. at times to develop these tests, often to the detriment of my health.  I do not feel any help from them. Why do we need all this bureaucracy? I do not understand. Perhaps we need to channel all these money into schools.



Furthermore, financial concerns often overshadowed the concern for changes in pedagogy and teaching style in schools. As one interviewee observes:


We can talk a lot about patriotism, but when a teacher has a mobile phone, which is eight-ten times cheaper than the one his students have. What we can talk here about? We are paid coins. As the proverb says: ‘They demand us to work as the smart ones but they pay us as if we are the stupid ones’ [Ukr. Robotu vymahaiut yak z rozumnyh, a platiat yak durmym]. This cannot continue like this. They say we live in the market economy, then pay me as in the market economy and not as in the former USSR economy [Ukr. po-radiansky].



You cannot initiate changes without financing the reform. If you do not give money to sustain the change, the change will not happen.



Maidan was also was mentioned in relation to the need to bring changes to the system of education as a whole, rather than changes of individual teaching and communication styles: 


With Maidan we have passed the ‘point of no return’. If we will not initiate swiftly the reforms in all spheres, including education, what were all these deaths for? What is this bloody war in the east of the country for? Our history gave us a chance in 2004, but this chance, not because of our inability, but because of those in power, was not realised.   



At the same time, teachers notice some little changes in their work, in particular the system of reporting, which they welcome:


There are some tiny shifts in our work, due to the initiatives of the new Minister and in particular, his Deputy, Poliansky. We have less paperwork to do now.



However, the reforms initiated do not target the most urgent need, which in the opinion of many interviewees is to ease students’ workload through integration of subjects.  In particular, one teacher from the rural school observes:


The students are overburdened as before. How a child can learn all 17 subjects perfectly? Or 12 subjects in Grade 5? This is impossible! Why do we study separately Art Culture, or Health and Safety, if these can be integrated into History, Music, Art or Biology? In terms of curriculum, I cannot comment on other subjects, but will tell about History. It is so fragmented, lacking logic, ‘gallop through Europe’ [Ukr. galopom po Evropi]. It is very difficult for children to understand, very difficult.

(S3_rural_Teacher_History_of_Ukriane_ late_career_F)


While the majority of interviewees referred to the effects of Maidan, or rather a lack thereof on the system level, one interviewee shares that she can observe the effect of Maidan on a personal level. In particular, she maintains:


If previously I organised extra-curricular activities as a class teacher or a History teacher, then after Maidan, I try to organise more interesting activities on the topic of civic and patriotic education. I never have to force students to participate. They join willingly. They are now more interested in these events than in school discos.

(S3_rural_Teacher_History_of_Ukriane_ late_career_F)


Another teacher from the rural school observes:


I try to be more accessible for students. Spend more time on professional development. I pay more attention to politics and watch some programmes that I would not consider watching before. This is so I have something to talk to with students. They now know more, especially in what is going on in the country, political situation.



Yet, for many, the philosophy of teaching is still anchored in the traditional mode of teaching, whereby innovative methods are viewed as unnecessary add-ons, a ‘game’ that gets in the way of (rote) learning:


You cannot just go without a traditional lesson. No matter what they all say. There is a blackboard, there is a chalk, there is a [teacher’s] word and these will always be. All these interactive methods are needed, but you cannot use them on their own, you need to combine them with traditional methods. You cannot just ‘play’ all lesson long. 



To conclude this section, our data do not show evidence of any direct effect that Maidan had on teaching philosophy and methods in the schools participating in our study. Many interviewees reported that they got inspiration for their teaching from their own practice, the internet and their colleagues. Many respondents demonstrated already established beliefs about teaching, with Maidan deemed to be a separate event, rather than a metaphor for changing power relationships in their own school. The effects of Maidan were internalised on the level of civic awareness and participation, which has not yet resulted in the empowerment of teachers. Instead, the questions about the effects of Maidan on teaching, brought to the surface the image of powerless, underpaid teachers, who view themselves as ‘hostages of the system’, on whom nothing depends.  



2) How did the events in Maidan affect communication and power relationships between teachers and students?


We will now turn to the analysis of students’ responses to the question of what changes can be observed in their schools following the events in Maidan. We will start by outlining what Maidan meant for our respondents and how it affected them. As there are some observable differences in the responses of rural and urban students, we will present their answers separately.


Thus, the students from urban schools had more direct experience of Maidan, while many rural students and teachers followed the events on television or online. For example, one interviewee maintains:


My father went to Kyiv and was in Maidan in December. My sister was a volunteer. She was helping to collect aid and contributions [for Maidan]. My mother was buying clothes and sending to Maidan … My cousin was in Maidan and now he is in ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation].

We all worry about him.

(Female student A/S1_urban_Focus_Group1_2M_3F)


At the same time, a common response from the participants from rural schools was:


I did not have close people in Maidan, but by viewing the events on TV, I felt myself as a participant. I saw deaths in front of me, online. You could not separate my fate from the fate of the country.

(S4_rural_Teacher _History of Ukraine­_mid-career_F)


For urban students, who were more articulate in their responses, Maidan was not a sudden event, but a process:


For me Maidan was not a sudden event, because a lot of developments have been contributing to it for a long time. People just could not take it anymore. That is why what has happened in Maidan, with all the horrendous losses, is logical. This is an important phase, which just had to take place.

(Female student A/S1_urban_Focus_Group1_2M_3F)


Another common theme in the responses of the urban students was Maidan as a point of no return:


I think our whole mentality has changed. Finally, all that was imposed onto us by the Soviet Union was gone. It has pushed us to understand that we are a very different nation and we have to fight for it. 

(Female student B/S1_urban_Focus_Group1_2M_3F)


The third common theme in the responses of the urban students was Maidan as an embodiment of the nation. The same interviewee observes:


Every person: the rich, the poor and the woman with a long manicure – all were taking the stones in their hands and passing them to the next person. All she knew in that moment is that she is Ukrainian. People were forgetting whether they were businessmen or workers. They all were Ukrainians.

(Female student A/S1_urban_Focus_Group1_2M_3F)


Rural students recognised Maidan as an event rather than a process, which stirred in them a range of emotions:


For me Maidan was an expression of people’s patriotism. I was full of fear, desire to help, the fear of the unexpected. It was very scary.

(Female student A/S2_rural_ Focus_Group_1M_4F)


We were full of fear but also pride in being Ukrainian. Because we have people who are ready to die for my future.

(Female student B/S2_rural_ Focus_Group_1M_4F)


References to religious practices, such as ‘praying alone’ or ‘with a whole school’, were also prominent in the responses of rural students:


All we could do is pray. We should all go to church and pray for our sinful people.

(Male student/S2_rural_Focus_Group_1M_4F)


We always react to different events. Every Monday we have an assembly (Ukr. liniyka) and we all pray together and sing the Ukrainian anthem. In the past years, we notice children do this very sincerely.

(S4_rural_Teacher _History of Ukraine_mid-career_F)


We also asked students about heroes and anti-heroes of Maidan. The responses to this question are presented in Table 1.


Table 1: Heroes and anti-heroes of Maidan












The questions about what Maidan meant to our interviewees and how they have experienced it, paved the way for our next questions about the changes in communication style in schools. While teachers and head teachers were prompt to admit that schools have a well-established tradition of school parliaments and other ways for students to participate in the decision-making process, many recognised that students have no say about curriculum overload. The only influence they have is over the choice of extra-curricular activities.


Looking at the students’ responses from the perspective of the rural/urban distinction, urban students did not have a unanimous opinion about the changes in communication style with teachers. For example, in the beginning of the discussion one interviewee maintained: ‘With teachers the relationships have improved’   (Female student B/S1_urban_Focus_Group_2M_3F), whereas later in the discussion the same student admits: ‘The communication style has remained unchanged’ (Female student B/S1_ urban_Focus_Group_2M_3F).


Another student, from the same focus group, reports:


I do not feel these changes. … Only if we touch particular topics, like Maidan or the war, then there are some changes in communication. But when we talk about day-to-day things, nothing has changed.

(Female student A/S1_urban_Focus_Group_2M_3F)


A useful summary of the relationship between teachers and students in the school is offered by one of the students: ‘The communication style is authoritative, not authoritarian’ (Female student C/S1_urban_ Focus_Group_2M_3F).


Rural students were more unanimous in their responses, stating that no observable changes can be seen in the communication style between teachers and students in their schools:


Changes as such, I do not feel any changes. [In school] everything is as it was before.

(Female student A/S2_rural_ Focus_Group_1M_4F)


Another student shares the fact that fear is often present in communication with teachers. In particular, she observes:


We are often afraid to say what we really think. For me teachers are distant people [Ukr. chuzhi]. There is no communication as such. There is a lesson and that is it.

(Female student B/S2_rural_ Focus_Group_1M_4F)


In the opinion of this interviewee, the problem is that teachers still treat students as children:


I do not think teachers treat us as adults who are able to solve our own problems, who are able to understand a lot in life. We do not have it here [in our school].

(Female student B/S2_rural_ Focus_Group_1M_4F)


However, in another rural school students reported more equal relationships with teachers. In particular, one interviewee observes:


Teachers pay us special attention. Not like some strict teachers: ‘Good morning’, ‘Good morning’ and then ‘Goodbye’ She waves to us and asks: ‘How are you?’ or something like this. She is on the same level with us, on the same wave. It is very nice.

(Male student/S3_rural_Focus_Group_2M_3F)



3) What are the obstacles that are yet to be overcome on the way to the democratisation of schooling in post-Maidan Ukraine?


The responses to the question about the obstacles on the way to the democratisation of Ukrainian schooling came from the teachers’ responses about various professional development opportunities they had used in the last five years. Thus, the teachers working in urban schools were highly critical of the existing system of in-service teacher training, the methodological support they are getting from the regional, city and district educational authorities, the lack of adequate financing and a crisis of government in education. In what follows we will provide examples of the issues raised:


The [in-service] courses in the form they are offered now in Ukraine, be it Kyiv, Lviv, or any other city, are a mere formality. To continue like this is just to put a ‘tick’ [Ukr. stavyty halochku]. This system has never been effective. We cannot continue like this. Teachers should have a choice where to go to get the training. It can be Poland, or Dnipropetrovsk. It can be short-term course, or a long-term one. But money should follow the teacher.



Those who teach on these courses, they perhaps worked in schools some 30–40 years ago. Do you believe they can teach us about innovation in schools? Where can they learn them from?



Similarly, the methodological cabinets [subject specialists in city, regional and district educational authorities], they are not doing anything. There are the ‘organs, which are long pronounced dead’ [Ukr. metrovonarodzhenni organy], which survived only in our education system.



The crisis of government in education and a lack of transparency in financing education were mentioned by many as the major problems in the system.


The problem with our education system is that it is governed by people who never worked in schools. Their knowledge about schools comes from the time, when they went to school. They are related to schools as I am to the ballet.



Finances, for examples, I am not mentioning the salaries, but the transparency. Several times I asked our MPs where the amount of 8,300 UAH for one student per year comes from. No one can answer … No one asked teachers whether we need new textbooks, or we need new windows and radiators so children are not cold in winter. Nothing has changed.



A particular concern for some rural teachers was the existing level of bureaucracy required to organise students’ study trips even to the regional centre – a situation that puts rural students in a disadvantaged position in comparison to their urban peers:


There are so many beautiful places in Ukraine, where we can take our students on a study tour. And the major obstacle not only finances. But to get a permission to take students even to the regional centre, we have to submit so many papers! The level of bureaucracy is appalling. If we go around it we have to drive on hidden roads so no one stops us. But we do want to make the life of our students with these educational tours more interesting.  




Where is Maidan in Ukrainian schools now?


We started this pilot study with the expectation that we would find more evidence of changes in schools in post-Maidan Ukraine. However, as our data suggest, Maidan has become compartmentalised as a curriculum theme and extra-curricular/political information theme and has not affected teaching styles in Ukrainian schools. The following quotations can be used as evidence of this claim: 


In pedagogy nothing has changed. Everything is how it was before. But we became more patriotic. We have a lot of extra-curricular activities. We did fundraising for internally displaced students. But in the form the lesson is conducted there are no changes.

(Female student/S3_rural_Focus_Group_2M_3F)


No, we were just discussing the events. There were no changes in teaching.  

(Female student A/S2_rural_R_FG_1_Male_4_Female)


If there is a lesson, we study only the lesson. But on Thursdays from 9:00 until 9:30 we have Political Information (Ukr. Politinformatsiia) then discuss what is going on in Ukraine. 

(Female student A/S1_urban_Focus_Group_2M_3F)


Another important observation is that students from urban schools had more direct experience of Maidan and were more articulate in their responses about the effects of Maidan on their civic standpoint. At the same time, students from rural schools were more critical of the established hierarchy of relationships in some of their schools. We have little evidence of changes in teacher–student relations in urban schools.


We are also aware of the limitations of the pilot project as responses from other regions will complicate the picture. For example, in the Kherson region, the native region of the first author, some former colleagues shared with us that school administration advised teachers not to deal with the subject of Maidan in schools. 


To sum up, the vision of dialogic pedagogy Freire proposed in his work is a distant goal for Ukrainian schools participating in the scoping study. The Ukrainian education system as a whole is deeply anchored in the traditional mode of pedagogy, which is now being reinforced by the pressure to prepare students for standardised testing – a task that many teachers view as the primary goal of education. The uncertain and delayed developments in the field of education research in Ukraine do not raise high hopes for meaningful changes in Ukrainian education in the immediate future. To put it differently, the change of educational paradigms, in Ken Robinson’s sense (2010a, 2010b), is yet to unfold in Ukrainian schools for the benefit of Ukrainian students and educators. 


However, what can instil a degree of optimism is that on the level of individual ethics, as one student participant described it: ‘Maidan continues in each of us’. What she means is:


Maidan is still going on in each of us. In every governmental official Maidan is continuing, because he is now thinking whether to take the bribe or not to take. He now understands that people’s deaths were not in vain. By taking the money he is betraying the country.

(Female student B/S1_urban_Focus_Group_2M_3F)


What is left for us to do is to wait until Maidan is embraced by Ukrainian educators as a metaphor and an impulse for changes in pedagogy, which are long overdue and are anticipated by all participants in the process. For us, awaiting and contributing to this change has become a matter of personal and professional interest and of overwhelming perplexity. If neither the years of education reform, nor Maidan, nor the war brought changes to Ukrainian education, what will?


As a possible answer to this question we propose Freire’s powerful critique of the ‘banking model of education’, which is contrasted to ‘dialogic teaching’ as an appealing and very much needed alternative for Ukrainian schools. As our data demonstrates, both teachers and students in Ukraine are awaiting change, but up until now have not been able to get inspired by a viable alternative. In the concluding section we will outline Freire’s critique of the ‘banking model of education’, in which many who are involved in Ukrainian education, including the first author of this paper (who taught in a Ukrainian school during her teaching career), could recognise themselves. However, the purpose of the concluding section is not only to critique existing practices, but, importantly, to offer a powerful alternative.



Freire’s powerful critique as an alternative for Ukrainian education?


Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, first published in 1968, swept the globe with the message that pedagogical methods should recognise the experience and dignity of students and their culture (Gibson, n.d). The problem with education at the time, as Freire saw it, which also reflects the state of Ukrainian education now, was that it was ‘suffering from the narration sickness’ (Freire, 2006: 71). What he meant by this is that:


The teacher talks about reality as if it were motionless, static, compartmentalized, and predictable. Or else he expounds on a topic completely alien to the existential experience of the students. His task is to ‘fill’ the students with the contents of his narration – contents which are detached from reality, disconnected from the totality that engendered them and could give them significance. Words are emptied of their concreteness and become a hollow, alienated, and alienating verbosity.

(Freire, 2006: 71.)


Freire criticised ‘banking’ educational methods, seeing students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Most importantly, he maintained that ‘banking education maintains and even stimulates the contradiction through the […] attitudes and practices, which mirror oppressive society as a whole’ [our emphasis] (2006: p. 72). These attitudes and practices are:

(a) the teacher teachers and the students are taught;

(b) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;

(c)  the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

(d) the teacher talks and the students listen – meekly;

(e) the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

(f)  the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;

(g) the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;

(h) the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;

(i)   the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his or her own professional authority, which she or he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;

(j)   the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

(Freire, 2006: 73)


Paolo Freire was a strong believer in the transformative nature of dialogue, in the process of which students and teachers learn about their common humanity: 


Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-student and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student with students-teachers. The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow. In this process, arguments based on ‘authority’ are no longer valid; in order to function, authority must be on the side of freedom, not against it.

(Freire, 2006: 80)


In contrast to the ‘banking model’ of education, Freire proposed a ‘problem-posing education’. The essence of the model, Freire described as follows:


Problem-posing education, as a humanist and liberating praxis, posits as fundamental that the people subjected to domination must fight for their emancipation. To that end, it enables teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process by overcoming authoritarianism and an alienating intellectualism; it also enables people to overcome their false perception of reality. The world – no longer something to be described with deceptive words – becomes   an object of that transforming action by men and women which results in their humanization.

(Freire, 2006: 86)


Written almost four decades ago, Freire’s critique of established educational practices – and the powerful alternative – is directly applicable to Ukrainian education, which is caught between the need to ‘teach to the test’ and the pressures of marketisation and the resulting growing divide between rich and poor. This section also comes as a response to several comments by student interviewees, who admitted that they ‘could not imagine any changes in schools’. We would like to encourage both teachers and students to get inspired and imagine a different, happier, more equal future for Ukrainian schools. This vision incorporates the values which were held dear during the Maidan Revolution and which are yet to unfold and be embraced in Ukrainian schools at the level of pedagogy and communication styles for the benefit of all teachers and students.   





We are immensely grateful to our colleagues Professor David Bridges, Olga Mun, Iryna Kushnir and Mariya Vitrukh for their comments on the earlier drafts of the paper. We appreciate the help of Michael Neal for looking through the final version of the paper for language and grammar. The first author is particularly grateful to Paul Wells for many inspiring conversations about freedom and truth.





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[1] In her definition of ‘anti-intellectualism’ Grebennikova draws on Fuller’s view of ‘anti-intellectualism’ as ‘an inductive heuristic approach that can be contrasted to the deductivist rationalism and counter-intuitive “intellectualism”’ (Fuller, 2009: 95, in Grebennikova, 2012: 6). 

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