The Education Ministry of Ukraine plans to divide school subjects into subject-oriented and optional. Thus, in five years pupils of 10th and 11the grades will have a possibility to chose subject-oriented school disciplines, in accordance with a future profession.

ForUm has investigated into the matter to find out how the law will be realized, how teachers will be trained and what pupils think about the initiative.

Such system is a usual practice in the majority of EU countries and the U.S., and similar law has been recently passed in Russia. Experts are convinced that the changes will significantly improve the education system of Ukraine, enabling pupils to develop their flairs and gain deeper knowledge of subjects of interest.

Eighteen hours a week pupils will study core subjects, and twenty hours - optional. The Education Ministry plans to introduce the changes before 2018. Meantime, the project is under discussion.

"We plan that in 2018 pupils of 10th and 11th grades will be able to choose subjects, required for a chosen profession," Oleh Yeresko, director of the Deaprtment for secondary and pre-school education said. According to him, subject-oriented disciplines will be divided in parts - special courses, optional core subjects and additional hours.

Thus, choosing math as a subject-oriented discipline, pupils will have more hours to study it and the math program will be enhanced. Pupils will choose only one subject-oriented discipline and study rest of the program on special course. Moreover, among four optional core subjects pupils will have to choose two - one to study in the 10th grade, and another in the 11th. Physical training will remain among core subjects despite the talks that children cannot accomplish established standards and that physical training should be classed among optional disciplines.

In this respect, Yeresko reminded that modern young people do not do much sport, and one hour of physical training will not hurt.

Among other innovations the Education Ministry proposes to introduce subject-oriented practice. Thus, a future interpreter will have a chance to give a  tour in English, for example, and a future journalist will have an opportunity to work at the news desk.

Moreover, talented pupils will have a possibility to choose two or more subject-oriented disciplines and study, for example, both translation and physics.

However, the project is still under development, and may undergo changes.

Hidden rocks

The major problem of all innovations in the education system is readiness of teachers to adapt to changes. The project on subject-oriented studying immediately raise a question: "Where to find teachers?" Schools will be teaching disciplines, more common for institutes now, and new subjects, more precisely lack of qualified teachers, become a problem.

According to Oleh Yeresko, school teachers will start training already in teachers colleges. For example, physics teachers will also teach astronomy, literature teachers will teach culture and history of religion, etc. "The project will be adopted in 2018, so we have time to prepare staff, manuals and programs," he specified.

Teachers welcome the idea of the Ministry, but admit there might be negative consequences.

"The fact is that we must take into account needs of the labour market. For example, there are many lawyers, economists and bankers in Ukraine, and half of pupils will choose these very subjects, though we obviously lack other professions," Tetyana Vilkova, a teacher of a Kyiv school comments.
In turn, vice-principle of a Lviv school Galyna Panasiuk believe that  the new system should include a psychologist, who will help pupils to choose subject-oriented disciplines. "A pupil may choose this or that subject just because he likes the teacher, or because his parents want him to be become a lawyer, while pupil himself has a taste for medicine or math," she noted.

Child psychologist Olga Boiko opines that on one hand, subject-oriented studies is a great opportunity for pupils to gain deeper knowledge, but on the other hand there is a risk to choose wrong specialization. "To avoid unconscious and reckless choice of further studies, junior schools must have a system of pre-specialized training, when specialists will help pupils to make a choice," she said.

Galyna Panasiuk also points out that only the fortunate few make right choice at school and enjoy their professions during the whole life. Thus, according to her, to increase the number of 'happy specialists' the schools must pay attention not only to professional intentions of pupils, but also to their inclinations and capacities to this or that discipline.

Among other problems of the new system there is lack of rooms. School classes will be divided into numerous small groups. Every group will have its individual program and will need a separate room for study. Schools in small cities, already suffering lack of classrooms, will have major problems.

Every child is talented, he just need some help to find it

Subject-oriented system of education is common in the U.S and European countries. According to German teacher Sven Neiman, the whole education system of Germany is based on the principle "every pupils is special and talented". 

"Regardless of severity of German education, we try to reveal pupils' talents from first grades. If a pupil can sing, draw or ahs a taste for languages, literature or math, it does not pass unnoticed," he specifies. 

Neiman believes that demanding from pupils deep knowledge of all disciplines is wrong. As he explained, only a few children can apprehend both exact and humanitarian sciences and at the same time draw fairly good and demonstrate sport achievements. However, the teacher does not diminish the importance of basic knowledge, which form the outlook of a child.

"But if a pupil easily cracks complicated algebra exercises, why should we take his time? Giving him an opportunity to deepen the knowledge in this matter, the country may get a brilliant mathematician or program developer in the future," Neiman adds.

Tanya Protsak, a Ukrainian who has been living in Toronto for 15 years, tells that as an exchange student she entered a Canadian school and is endlessly thankful to its subject-oriented education.
"Exact sciences have always been a torture. In Ukraine, teachers treat well only A-students, while the rest get ignored, though they are no less talented," the girl recalls.

In Canada, teachers noticed Tetyana's talent for languages. "However, nobody cancelled such disciplines as psychics, chemistry and geometry. These subjects just seized to be core for me and I did not have to spend four hours a day to study them," she added.

Now Protsak works as a head of international projects department in a large company of Toronto, speaks eight languages and translates Ukrainian authors into English in between.

Estimating the innovations in  Ukraine, Sven Neiman warns that Ukrainian education system may face a number of difficulties at the beginning, because subject-oriented system of studies is a complex of measures to be applied already in junior school.

"There are such details as technical assistance, teachers, manuals, working practice, psychologists. Such changes require upgrade of the whole system of education," he says.

In this respect, Neiman cited an example of American teacher Erin Gruwell known for her unique teaching method. She was assigned low-performing students in the school, but thanks to her individual approach managed to make them exemplary. "This proves that subject-oriented education is something more than just a right to choose disciplines," Neiman underlined. 

Summing up, its is worth mentioning that subject-oriented education at schools will be successful only if the system is supported at proper level, not just formally. Innovations submitted by the Cabinet are indeed positive and necessary in Ukraine, but we should forget that such initiatives require changes in the whole system. Ukrainian pupils should not be just put in front of a choice, but assisted to make the right one.
Olga Karetnykova


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