An in­clu­sive Ukrainian ed­u­ca­tion

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Ed­u­ca­tion is one of the few ar­eas nowa­days that is still con­sid­ered a purely sov­er­eign mat­ter, an is­sue over which na­tional gov­ern­ments – and, in many coun­tries, even lo­cal au­thor­i­ties – should have con­trol. But, in to­day’s world, it seems that no is­sue is im­mune to po­lit­i­cal ma­nip­u­la­tion. That is the case with Ukraine’s new frame­work law on ed­u­ca­tion, which has be­come the tar­get of harsh op­po­si­tion not so much from within the coun­try, but rather from some neigh­bour­ing coun­tries.

The law, adopted last month by Ukraine’s par­lia­ment, re­flected a long and in­clu­sive pol­i­cy­mak­ing process. Among its pro­vi­sions is Ar­ti­cle 7, which spec­i­fies that stu­dents in schools and uni­ver­si­ties should study in the na­tional lan­guage. Ar­ti­cle 7 seems to be in ac­cord with Euro­pean norms. Per­haps more im­por­tant, it will ben­e­fit all Ukrainian cit­i­zens, in­clud­ing mi­nor­ity-lan­guage speak­ers, who will be bet­ter equipped to in­te­grate fully into Ukrainian so­ci­ety.

Un­der the pre­vi­ous ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, some stu­dents would re­ceive their en­tire 11 years of school­ing (to be raised to 12 un­der the new law) in a mi­nor­ity lan­guage, mostly Rus­sian, but some­times Hun­gar­ian and Ro­ma­nian. About 400,000 stu­dents are cur­rently on such a track, which has usu­ally ended with stu­dents grad­u­at­ing high school lack­ing even a work­ing knowl­edge of Ukrainian – the lan­guage in which the coun­try con­ducts its busi­ness.

In fact, just this year, more than half of all grad­u­ates of Hun­gar­ian-lan­guage schools failed tests of Ukrainian. Un­able to at­tend a Ukrainian univer­sity, these stu­dents have lit­tle choice but to find lo­cal work in Hun­gar­ian that re­quires only a sec­ondary-school ed­u­ca­tion, or move to Hun­gary.

The ed­u­ca­tion re­form will change this. From 2020, af­ter a three-year tran­si­tional pe­riod, a mi­nor­ity lan­guage can be used as the main teach­ing lan­guage only in kinder­garten and el­e­men­tary school, from which point (af­ter the fourth year of school) most in­struc­tion should be in Ukrainian. Some schools for indige­nous peo­ple, such as Crimean Tar­tars, will be al­lowed to keep the old sys­tem, but for the most part, grad­u­ates of Ukrainian high schools will, un­der the new sys­tem, be adept in the Ukrainian lan­guage.

This change will help to elim­i­nate de facto seg­re­ga­tion of mi­nor­ity-lan­guage speak­ers, thereby uni­fy­ing Ukrainian so­ci­ety – crit­i­cal to a strong and vi­brant democ­racy. It will also equip all stu­dents, in­clud­ing eth­nic and lin­guis­tic mi­nori­ties, not just to thrive in the labour mar­ket, but also to par­tic­i­pate more fully in Ukrainian democ­racy, po­ten­tially se­cur­ing gov­ern­ment po­si­tions that en­able them to ad­vance fur­ther the in­ter­ests of their fel­low eth­nic mi­nori­ties.

It should also be noted that, while the rule will lead to less mi­nor­ity-lan­guage in­struc­tion, it does not pre­clude it. Ed­u­ca­tion in mi­nor­ity lan­guages will be pro­vided through sep­a­rate classes and groups, with some pro­grammes al­low­ing for in­struc­tion in mul­ti­ple lan­guages. For ex­am­ple, if a Hun­gar­ian speaker were study­ing Hun­gar­ian lit­er­a­ture, they would be able to do so in their na­tive tongue.

All in all, the case for Ukraine’s new ed­u­ca­tion law could not be stronger. Yet neigh­bour­ing coun­tries are de­lib­er­ately dis­tort­ing the leg­is­la­tion’s sig­nif­i­cance, claim­ing that it is some­how a threat to eth­nic mi­nor­ity groups. And they are pre­pared to pu­n­ish Ukraine for it.

Hun­gar­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Peter Sz­i­j­jarto has de­clared that, if the law is not changed, his coun­try will block fur­ther Ukrainian in­te­gra­tion into Europe. “We can guar­an­tee that all this will be painful for Ukraine in fu­ture,” he added. Sz­i­j­jarto, along with his coun­ter­parts from Ro­ma­nia, Bul­garia and Greece, also voiced op­po­si­tion to the Coun­cil of Europe and the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe. More­over, Ro­ma­nia’s pres­i­dent can­celled a visit to Ukraine sched­uled for this month, and with­drew an in­vi­ta­tion for the speaker of Ukraine’s par­lia­ment to visit Bucharest. And, per­haps most omi­nous, Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lavrov ac­cused Ukraine of try­ing to “Ukrainise” the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, in vi­o­la­tion of the coun­try’s con­sti­tu­tion and in­ter­na­tional agree­ments.

Be­yond be­ing a gross mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, this ap­proach is bla­tantly hyp­o­crit­i­cal, as the coun­tries that are com­plain­ing about Ukraine’s new lan­guage rules have sim­i­lar sys­tems in place. Though Hun­gary is home to some 8,000 Ukraini­ans, there is not a sin­gle Ukrainian-lan­guage school in the coun­try. The same is true for Rus­sia, with its Ukrainian mi­nor­ity of over two mil­lion. In Ro­ma­nia, with its roughly 50,000 Ukraini­ans, there is only one Ukrainian-lan­guage school. The Ukrainian gov­ern­ment has said that it will sub­mit the law to the Coun­cil of Europe, al­low­ing the Venice Com­mis­sion to de­ter­mine whether it meets CoE stan­dards. Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko has promised to con­sider chang­ing the law, de­pend­ing on the Com­mis­sion’s con­clu­sions.

But, judg­ing by Ar­ti­cle 8 of the CoE’s Euro­pean Char­ter for Re­gional or Mi­nor­ity Lan­guages, which Ukraine has rat­i­fied, it seems rea­son­able to ex­pect that changes won’t be needed. That pro­vi­sion states that a sys­tem that guar­an­tees suf­fi­cient mi­nor­ity-lan­guage learn­ing in or­di­nary schools (in sep­a­rate classes) is just as ac­cept­able as one that en­sures mi­nor­ity ed­u­ca­tion through sep­a­rate mi­nor­ity-lan­guage schools. More­over, the char­ter states that, in sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion, it is suf­fi­cient to guar­an­tee “the teach­ing of the rel­e­vant re­gional or mi­nor­ity lan­guages” – not nec­es­sar­ily other sub­jects – “as an in­te­gral part of the cur­ricu­lum.”

Re­gard­less of the Venice Com­mis­sion’s assess­ment, the re­sponse from Ukraine’s neigh­bours re­mains a se­ri­ous prob­lem, as it rep­re­sents a fla­grant ef­fort to ma­nip­u­late in­ter­nal Ukrainian pol­icy through in­tim­i­da­tion.

Ukraine, which has been oc­cu­pied for more than 300 years of its his­tory, knows what it is like to have its lan­guage threat­ened. Even its own gov­ern­ment, un­der de­posed Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych, at­tempted to un­der­mine the Ukrainian lan­guage in 2012 with its Rus­sia-en­cour­aged “Rus­si­fi­ca­tion” pol­icy.

Ukrainian is the of­fi­cial lan­guage of Ukraine, just as Rus­sian is the of­fi­cial lan­guage of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion, Hun­gar­ian is the of­fi­cial lan­guage of Hun­gary, and Ro­ma­nian is the of­fi­cial lan­guage of Ro­ma­nia. While mi­nor­ity lan­guages are im­por­tant and the rights of their speak­ers must be re­spected – as Ukraine’s new ed­u­ca­tion law does – it is the of­fi­cial lan­guage that unites a so­ci­ety and en­ables cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in it fully. Ukraine’s gov­ern­ment has the right – in­deed, the duty – to en­sure that all of its cit­i­zens are pro­fi­cient in it.

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