Education reform in Ukraine: Tolstoy in exile

With the war, Ukraine is radically changing the school curriculum. In fact, Russian is no longer taught, but first-aid training is.

children in uniforms.

Serious childhood: cadets at a military school in Kyiv start school on September 1st Photo: Efrem Lukatsky/ap

LUZK taz | For the new academic year, the Ukrainian government has revised the content of the curriculum in history, literature and other subjects. In grades one to four, students learn more about safety, air raid alarms and emergency response.

For grades five to eleven, the program has been adapted in the areas of history, basic health, law, literature and defense of Ukraine. Topics: the Ukrainian military and the principles of warfare in modern conditions. Pupils are also trained in shooting sports and medical matters.

The young people are taught what alarm signals there are, how to behave in the event of a fire, how to set up a safe shelter, how to deal with explosive objects, how to provide first aid and how to deal with panic.

“The school has to react to what is happening in the country, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum,” says Mykola Skyba, an education expert at the Ukraine Institute for Future Studies. The rapid change in the education system is understandable. Because the first thing the Russian occupiers did when they established themselves was to destroy Ukrainian textbooks and replace them with their own.

Message: The Ukrainians are fighting back

Social media has often written about how the Russian military used books from school libraries to heat houses in villages they had taken over. The policy of destroying and confiscating Ukrainian textbooks has become massive, reported the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

“The Russians destroyed all books that did not conform to the principles of Kremlin propaganda. Textbooks on the history of Ukraine, but also scientific and popular history literature were included in the list of ‘extremist’ literature. The occupiers have a list of names that are forbidden to be mentioned,” says the Ukrainian secret service.

“The Soviet Union is an imperialist state,” is what young Ukrainians will be told in schools from now on – for the first time since Ukrainian independence was restored in 1991. Another important change is that the programs are not only focused on investigation not only focus on the instruments of violence used against Ukrainians in the 20th century, but also on resistance to them.

“In the past, much attention was paid to the repressive actions of the Soviet Union. Now children are learning more about how Ukrainians defied this repressive machine,” says Yuri Kononenko, an official at the Ministry of Education.

Bulgakov is on the collar

That is, the Famine Holomodor (1932/33) is a subject of instruction, but so is resistance to it. In western Ukraine repressions took place under Stalin after 1939, but the response, it is now taught, was actions by the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).

A new lesson on the war that began in 2014 and for which the term “Russian-Ukrainian War” will be introduced is planned for higher grades. Students will also Concepts like “Russian World” and “Racism” taught, the concept of “collaborationism” will be expanded – using new examples from 2022. Instead of the expression “Politics of Russification” the expression “Politics of Russianness” will be used.

Literature is being sifted out: the bastions of Mikhail Bulgakov – one of the most famous Russian writers in Ukraine – are crumbling. The Writers’ Union of Ukraine wants to close the Bulgakov Museum in Kyiv, but some of his famous work “The Heart of a Dog” will remain in school reading if teachers and students want it.

The consent of the teachers is also required to read the novel by Anatoly Kuznetsov “Babi Yar” (on the Nazi massacre in Ukraine) from 2014 to deal with in class.

Due to hate

The Ministry of Education and Science has formulated several criteria for determining “harmless” writers who have written in Russian: their work must be closely related to Ukraine, that is, they were either born there or have lived in Ukraine for a long time, or they reflect Ukrainian themes in their works. For this reason, for example, the poet Nikolai Gogol, who lived in the first half of the 19th century, was left in the program.

Works by Anton Chekhov, Ivan Bunin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Lev Tolstoy, Alexander Blok, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova were removed from the compulsory programme. Instead, more European, American and Asian writers were included in the programme, such as Pierre de Ronsard, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Heinrich Heine, Adam Mickiewicz.

Another fundamental decision: all teaching units related to the study of the Russian language and literature were canceled without replacement. Since the beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine and the exposure of all the atrocities committed by the invaders, hatred of everything Russian has been growing.

The Kiev Ministry of Education has announced that pupils in the capital’s schools are no longer learning Russian (not even as an option) and other subjects are no longer being taught in Russian.

Russian: reviled, not banned

Also in one of the oldest universities in Eastern Europe – the National University Vasil Nazarovich Karazin in Kharkiv, the chair of Russian language and literature was closed. Instead there will be a department for Slavic Philology. Teachers for the Polish language were recruited for this purpose.

The respective educational institutions decide for themselves how the regulation is implemented. An official ban on learning the Russian language in Ukraine has not been introduced. But Anna Lychko, head of the education department of the Mikolayiv City Council, says that “there will simply be no more Russian language”.

In the School for National Minorities No. 18, there used to be three first classes with Russian classes. She switched to Ukrainian on September 1st. Ukrainian has been taught in this and other schools before, so management believes the change will not be a major problem.

“I’m not against people who consider themselves ethnic Russians learning Russian, but only if it supports parenting as a whole. I think every Russian lesson should start with the words: Russia is an aggressor, President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal and Russia is responsible for the Genocide of the Ukrainian people. You can learn this language under such conditions,” says education ombudsman Sergei Gorbachev.

South Korea, the new friend

Yevgenia Tsakharchenko, a lawyer for the public organization “Kropyvnytskyi Parents’ Council”, confirmed that the subject “Russian language” is only part of the variable part of education. “Learning the Russian language is not compulsory and depends on the wishes of the parents. If the school tries to make this subject compulsory, the parents have the right to write a waiver mentioning the freedom of choice.”

What, on the other hand, will be part of geography lessons in the future: the Republic of Korea and the reform process there, as well as Seoul’s positive attitude towards Ukraine’s struggle for independence. This also includes the acquisition of basic knowledge of international law.

From Russian Barbara Oertel

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