Tuesday

19th Mar 2019

Opinion

Ukraine education law does not harm minorities

  • (Photo: Marco Fieber)

During the recent weeks the new Ukrainian law "On Education" became famous around the European media, and in the corridors of EU and Council of Europe institutions.

The law itself is our key instrument to modernise the whole education sector, bring it closer to the EU standards. Regretfully, some of the European politicians consider it as an opportunity to win political credits, and keep spreading shamefully fictitious arguments on the law as an impediment to national minorities rights.

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Let me make it clear.

Multiculturalism and diversity are at the heart of the Ukrainian state. Our difficult history and a peculiar geographical location make Ukraine a home for plethora of national minorities, who speak diverse languages and preserve their culture within the border of Ukraine, in the west, east and south. Ukraine is also the only home for indigenous peoples, like Karaims, Crimean Tatars, Krymchaks, who make our culture and heritage even richer.

We provide education for national minorities in 735 primary and secondary schools around the country. Nearly 400,000 schoolchildren use their native language as medium of education at school. The most widespread languages, apart from Ukrainian, are Polish, Russian, Romanian, Bulgarian and Hungarian and Moldovan.

The main principle that shapes the Ukraine's education policy is equal access to quality education regardless of one's ethnic origin. It does not matter, whether a schoolchild in a Ukrainian school is of Ukrainian, Polish or Hungarian ethnic origin. All citizens of our country have a right to have equal chances in life.

We are seriously disturbed by the situation in the areas densely inhabited by national minorities, where children grow up in a closed, exclusively mother tongue-speaking milieu, where the state language is very uncommon. In particular, this has been a traditional situation in the communities of Russian, Hungarian and Romanian minorities.

For years we have witnessed schools of national minorities give instruction in the native minority language, while the Ukrainian language has been taught only two hours per week as a subject.

No Ukrainian, no University

Such a state of affairs now results in devastating educational achievements. For instance, 55 percent of children from the Romanian national minority, and 62 percent from the Hungarian one failed the external independent testing (EIT) in 2017.

EIT is an obligatory test for all Ukrainian school leavers to have further access to higher education. So, those percentages mean that more than half of children from the minority groups have no chance to get into university in Ukraine.

More to that – they are deprived of an opportunity to get a job in public service, local government, or in higher offices throughout all regions of Ukraine. These are not just obstacles in children's lives. It is a rude violation of their constitutional rights. Unlike the Hungarian politicians, Ukraine is not interested in preserving the language ghettos any longer. Knowledge of the official language is and should be a factor of social cohesion and integration of all the Ukrainian citizens in the society.

The law "On Education" aims specifically at fixing this detrimental situation. By gradually increasing a number of subjects taught in Ukrainian we want to improve the state language proficiency during the whole school period. The law allows us to implement a language policy that is already used by some of the EU countries – flexible bilingual education.

From the first until the fourth grade children will study in their mother tongue with additional hours of Ukrainian as a subject. Primary school children shall have state language proficiency at least at A2 level. Fully-fledged bilingual education will start in fifth grade.

The instruction will partially be in the state language while a number of subjects will still be taught in the native language of minority. The ratio between subjects in Ukrainian and in native language will be gradually changing from fifth till twelfth grade. Ideally it should reach 60 percent/40 percent ratio after the ninth grade.

Dispelling Hungarian 'myths'

Let me dispel the myths that Hungary so vigorously spreads around with regard to the new law. There will be no ban of any of the languages of national minorities. These languages will continue to be used at schools, along with the Ukrainian. Not a single school of a national minority will be closed. Neither will we fire teachers. In fact, the reverse – state funds are already allocated for 2018 to provide in-service training and raise their Ukrainian language proficiency.

Ukraine values civilised dialogue and constructive discussion with our international partners. The Venice Commission will have its say on compliance of the law "On Education", and we are ready to consider its recommendations.

However, we call upon all the interested international partners to work together on viable and effective implementation of the progressive law.

Liliya Hrynevych is the minister of education and science of Ukraine

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