How Ukraine’s Education System Adapts to Coronavirus Quarantine
6 April, 2020
Disinfection of desks at an elementary school in Lviv, Ukraine. March 17, 2020. All educational institutions in Ukraine have been quarantined since March 12 due to the threat of coronavirus. Mykola Tys / UNIAN

All educational institutions in Ukraine have been quarantined since March 12 due to the threat of coronavirus. Initially, it was for three weeks, until April 3, but kindergartens, schools, universities and colleges both public and private remain closed for the foreseeable future.

As a result, education in Ukraine has gone virtual, and Ukraine’s National Online School project – announced by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on March 31 – was launched on April 6. 11 different TV channels started broadcasting lessons for schoolchildren from fifth to eleventh grade.

“40 teachers from Kyiv will become teachers for the whole of Ukraine during the quarantine. 11 subjects will be taught remotely,” reads a statement about the project's launch.

The lessons will also be available on the official web pages of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine on Facebook and YouTube.

Students from the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions and annexed Crimea will also be able to watch video lessons created within the framework of the project on air, broadcast by the recently launched Dom (“Home”) TV channel, the Office of the President clarified on April 2.

hromadske has taken a look into how education is brought online in the country beyond televised lessons.

School: Urban and Rural

Lyudmyla Yurchenko is a biology teacher at a gymnasium in Cherkasy, a city in central Ukraine. A month ago, the school had just finished a three-week quarantine announced because of the spread of influenza and SARS. But on March 12, lessons stopped again. Schools have been closed for over five weeks now, but no one knows when the quarantine will end.

The last long break in high school was in 2008 – when the desks were vacant for a month and a half. Therefore, according to Yurchenko,  teachers have little experience of working remotely.

Nevertheless, Yurchenko is familiar with, and uses some tools for distance learning such as "The OSHKOLA pilot program, which is an electronic journal where parents and students can keep track of grades and homework, which has been functioning in Cherkasy for over a year."

Teachers' communities are already uploading collections of online learning services on Facebook. Most high school teachers have been working with the Google Classroom platform for three years, where they can test, monitor homework, and provide useful videos and presentations.

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Yurchenko does not shoot her own videos, but she does have a presentation on each topic. Biology experiments have already been recorded by her colleagues.

There are also plans to launch special TV lessons for schoolgoers in graduating classes in Cherkasy, a practice initiated by Kyiv. This year they should be taking the ZNO (a unified state examination – ed.), which has currently not been canceled. But this has not yet progressed beyond discussion.

According to Yurchenko, the main problems are that not everyone is able to film and edit, or lack the necessary equipment, and it is also difficult to explain some topics remotely. For example, math teachers do not yet know how to work with classes to solve complex math problems.

Despite her e-learning experience, Yurchenko feels anxiety: "Nobody knows how to organize such long-term online learning – we appreciate that this may not end in three weeks."

The teacher states that schoolchildren do not feel responsible when it comes to remote learning: "If teachers were mentally and technically prepared for this situation, we could teach parents and children to take online learning with responsibility. Instead, it is often not taken seriously. It’s good if the child is responsible and diligent, but what about the others? Imagine if parents took their child to spend quarantine with their grandparents?"

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Yurchenko's colleague, Iryna Valentynivna, works in a rural school in the Cherkasy region. She is of retirement age, but she continues to teach history and is a class manager. In the early days of quarantine, the school's management had asked teachers to come and check in, but now the system has changed. Teachers over the age of 60 stay at home and the rest come on a daily basis – 1-2 from the entire staff.

Iryna says that even during the previous quarantine, she started using Telegram to communicate with her class. So she continues communicating with her students there. Every day, they write to her about their health, which she reports to the headmaster. Prometheus courses and tests are used for training.

“All of my students have smartphones,” says Iryna, “so we don’t have any problems. But there are poorer families, there are villages with poor reception, and if their street is "in a hollow" then people have to go up a hill in order to catch at least some reception. In fact, this is always a problem in villages.”

She adds that primary school teachers are in the worst position. Every other day, her colleague calls all of the parents in a class and explains what and how a child should learn and read. However, Iryna believes that these students will have time to make up for what they have missed, but that might not be the case for older students.

Remote Schools in Ukraine: Tips for Parents

In addition to schools with the usual form of attendance, there are also distance learning schools in Ukraine. Anna Roshchyna is the director of one of them. She says that, in general, distance learning in Ukraine is only emerging because there was never demand for it. Some teachers used some specific tools, but did not apply these practices in general.

Remote education can be synchronous and asynchronous. In the first case, a teacher creates a virtual classroom where they work with all students in real-time.

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Because this can be expensive and technically difficult, most use an asynchronous approach – sending tasks and materials by email or messenger, and it is up to the children to decide how much time to work on them. Anna believes that this approach is less effective because the class often needs control and organization from the outside.

Remote Online School 977 has been around for four years. During this time, Roshchyna realized that the biggest problem was not making a video or making a presentation. The hard part is convincing your child to learn in this format.

“The most important thing for remote education is motivation, control and organization of the process. Most colleagues will find that students do not want to do anything online. This time can be wasted instead of learning,” Anna said.

To prevent the child from getting out of step of the educational process, Anna advises parents:

  • first of all, to understand that the ability to learn remotely is a useful tool for children in the future, as they will later be able to continue their education or work remotely for international companies;
  • to explain this to children – it is possible to agree with them that for the time being, they will work as they will in the future, and this will be useful training for them;
  • to organize a timetable, because in asynchronous distance education, children will receive heaps of information and tasks that are difficult to organize. In this case, planning will help – for example, today the child will study mathematics for an hour, and after a break – English. It is not necessary to start studies at 9 a.m. – let the children do as they see fit.

“In fact, the program of the entire Ukrainian school can be completed in seven years; Therefore, you should not worry that during quarantine, the child will lose time – there is enough time, you just have to plan everything correctly,” explains Anna.

Ministry and NGOs: How They Cooperate

Volodymyr Bakhrushyn, a specialist in education policy and an adviser to the Minister of Education and Science, said that remote learning was introduced in Ukraine 20 years ago. There are Regulations on remote learning, but since their adoption in 2013, the system has changed significantly. The document was created to regulate remote education as an individual approach rather than a form of education in all institutions.

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"There is a provision in the Regulations that schools must gather a pedagogical council to adopt a remote format of work, some issues need to be coordinated with their parents," Bakhrushyn mentions as one of the shortcomings. “As things stand, it is impossible and dangerous to do so. But since the situation is unplanned, I think these norms can be circumvented through decrees by the Ministry of Education and Science."

Bakhrushyn also notes that some of the clauses were described as a compromise between schools and universities, and as a result, the proposed methods in the Regulations do not suit anyone at all. In addition, the drafting of the Regulations did not take into account the existence of alternative education platforms, such as EdEra or Prometheus. Moreover, according to Bakhrushyn, no one thought that it would be necessary to use remote learning in extreme situations.

Both schools and universities have difficulty transitioning to remote education. Bakrushyn notes that not all universities have the Moodle remote education platform, and online education has been largely an infrequent initiative of individual teachers in schools. But there shouldn’t be any difficulties with the ZNO, the expert believes – everyone will be in the same conditions. It may be possible to change the threshold for some subjects, but this is still under discussion at the education ministry.

Currently, Bakhrushyn advises taking courses from EdEra or Prometheus. At the same time, the Ministry of Education and Science broadcasts televised lessons on the Ukrainian parliament TV channel and its own YouTube channel, which will focus on ZNO subjects – namely Biology, Ukrainian language and literature, and History of Ukraine.

The courses used by the education ministry were created by the Prometheus platform specifically to prepare for the ZNO even before the introduction of quarantine.

Prometheus co-founder Ivan Prymachenko says that remote education can be as good as classical education – it all depends on the content. Instead, Ukrainian teachers are now in a situation where they are forced to implement a new methodology for themselves, without experience and training. Therefore, the team agreed to the proposal of the Ministry of Education and Science to provide its own courses for the parliament.

"We hope the quarantine will end soon, but so long as there is no coronavirus vaccine, it may come back. Maybe in the next two years, this situation with long quarantines will happen again, and we should be ready to learn in such a format," Prymachenko believes.

From the moment of quarantine announcement in Ukraine, the number of registrations for Prometheus courses has increased by 30%, for the ZNO preparation courses – even more. This is an unusual situation for quarantine – usually, students perceive it as extra vacations.

15% of those who register on Prometheus complete their studies. The average global figure is just 7%.

“We include a lot of interactive tasks in the course, we make short videos with clear explanations. But the final responsibility for motivation lies with the audience. Learning is difficult, it may not always be fun, but it is necessary to learn. As well as adults, the economic situation in the world is deteriorating due to the coronavirus pandemic, and this is an occasion to learn something new,” Prymachenko notes.

Interestingly, Prometheus also has a course on how to create massive open online courses (MOOC).

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Діти в захисних масках катаються на скейті в Києві, 18 березня 2020 року. Усі заклади освіти в Україні вийшли з 12 березня на карантин через загрозу поширення коронавірусу

Children wearing protective masks ride on skateboards in Kyiv, Ukraine. March 18, 2020. All education institutions in Ukraine have been quarantined since March 12 due to the threat of coronavirus. Photo: Vyacheslav Ratynskyi / UNIAN

Universities: Theory and Coordination

Alina Rudchenko teaches at the Faculty of Journalism at the Vasyl Stus Donetsk National University. This university was relocated from the non-government-controlled Donetsk, and for some time in 2014 the studies were only done remotely. The university uses the Moodle platform to work in such conditions.

Her faculty also makes use of Google Classroom, and students learn digital technology remotely even during the normal educational process. Teachers have devised a new daily plan, they report to the administration, and at the end of the quarantine, everyone should carry out modular examinations.

Rudchenko believes that the main problem with learning during quarantine is the irresponsible attitude to online learning and the inability to use certain tools. But quarantine does not mean that the evaluation system or the number of tasks will change, although the latter can be slightly adjusted.

"For students of the journalism faculty, we have prepared a task where they make infographics about the spread of the coronavirus, analyze fakes about the disease in Ukraine, and make lists of official sources and newsmakers," Rudchenko explains, showing how she's making use of the situation.

Viktoria Kravchenko teaches human anatomy at the Institute of Biology and Medicine at the Taras Shevchenko Kyiv National University. Part of her discipline is theoretical, while another involves practical work.

Three years ago, the Institute of Biology's building was closed because of heating problems. Therefore, she has had long-term experience of teaching remotely.

“Prior to the quarantine, my students and I formed groups in Telegram. I sent assignments and links to interesting materials there,” recalls Kravchenko.

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A month ago, she started using Telegram’s voting bots for testing. This has now become the main form of assessment: the teacher sends the group preparation materials, assigns time for the test, and sets a limited response time. She also uses Google Classroom for remote learning. Students have their own pages where they add completed tasks – for example, copies of anatomical drawings.

"Lectures and seminars are easy to do, the biggest problem is the practical classes," Rudchenko says. In order to somehow remedy the situation, she sends students videos of biological experiments: for example, a study of the behavior of rats – this topic should be studied by students. But it is impossible to learn how to stitch or dissect animals remotely.

Rudchenko hopes that if quarantine lasts only for another three weeks, she will simply change her lesson plans, and all the practical work will be done by the students upon their return to university. But if remote learning is extended, she will have to look for another way out. There were no instructions from the university management – teachers act at their discretion. Therefore, a centralized Moodle system is not used for remote learning at the university, which has 25,000 students.

In contrast, the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv had no problems adapting to e-learning – its own content management system (CMS) has been in operation for the fourth year running. All students have their own pages in the system where they work with the training courses – previously these were only for certain disciplines, but now the whole educational process has moved there.

Alina Synytska, who runs the UCU's Center for Educational and Innovative Technologies, says that every training program is connected to the CMS. The Center has areas to work with students, with full-time teaching staff and invited lecturers. "Our strategy: the main point of access to training is the CMS," she explains.

Preparation for quarantine at UCU began even before its introduction. The first step was to inform students how to protect themselves. The university has set up a working group to form a remote learning process and has conducted additional training for lecturers.

The Center continues to advise teachers on remote learning and recommends reading their blog to find helpful tools and platforms.

For all the latest updates on the coronavirus in Ukraine, follow this link.