“It is a general education institution, where all the educational standards should be observed and math or geography lessons are not substituted by catechism”
Interview with the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church’s Bureau for Contacts with State Authorities, Fr. Roman NEBOZHUK.
This interview is in response to the fact that on 26 June, at the meeting of the extended Collegium of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, with the participation of representatives of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations, a bill of national deputies V. Stretovych and V. Marushchenko (Christian Democratic Union) on granting religious organizations the right to establish general education institutions was approved.
However, for many Ukrainian citizens, such schools are a sort of “buying a pig in a poke,” raising their fear, prejudice and caution. At the same time, we know that Ukraine already has some experience of having such schools, particularly, schools under the patronage of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC).
— Fr. Roman, what kind of schools are these: what is their form and program of teaching and what is the church’s place in the process of education and study?
— The thing is that private schools have existed in Ukraine from the first years of Ukrainian independence. And within the network of these private schools, there are private general education schools which made the system of Christian education their priority and where the educational process is accompanied with the task of forming Christian community at school, of which the UGCC is a patron. Such schools pay more attention to the issue of passing Christian cultural and spiritual values on to children than at state or municipal schools. I know that similar general education schools exist in several cities of Ukraine under the umbrella of Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious communities.
The following educational institutions are run under the patronage of our church: St. Basil the Great School of the 1st and 2nd degrees (City of Ivano-Frankivsk), St. Sophia’s School of the 1st and 2nd degrees, St. Josephat the Martyr College (town of Buchach, Ternopil Region), The Sign Boarding College (village of Zarvanytsia, Ternopil Region), Patriarch Josef Slipyj Lyceum (City of Ternopil), Klymentii Sheptytskyi Lyceum (city of Lviv).
These schools do not include an educational institution of the 1st to 3rd degrees, but together they cover the whole age range.
The bill of Marushchenko and Stretovych should legalize the situation which has de facto existed in our education system for many years.
—What is the difference between the programs of schools under church patronage and programs of ordinary educational institutions?
—The primary purpose of establishing such schools is not teaching catechism or the faith. For these purposes, the church establishes Sunday or Saturday schools. The objective of the schools in question is to provide quality general education. However, the process of education is carried out in a Christian environment. That is, the general education standard is undoubtedly ensured in our schools. Supervision on the part of educational authorities has been and should be exercised. This is not questioned either by parents or the church. For our objective is the integration of children in society to enable them to continue their education in Ukrainian or foreign higher educational institutions.
Modern parents differ in defining the priorities for what they wish school education to give their children. Believing parents often make quality school education the priority, to ensure their children are educated in a Christian environment according to the moral and cultural values practiced by their families, not to be interrupted at school but so that the school continues and complements what is fostered by the family and church. Therefore, they seek to send their children to general education schools meeting these needs of theirs.
Here, another question rises: Are not the existing general education schools enough? It might be sufficient at the beginning stage of establishing such schools. But… First of all, we are backed by valuable domestic experience – from the beginning of the Christianization of Kyivan Rus up to the Soviet era, when the process forcing atheism in education was carried out. Ukrainian pedagogy is based on the experience of such Christian pedagogues as Pamfil Yurkevych, Kostiantyn Ushynskyi, Sofia Rusova, and the priests Yulian Dzerovych and Hryhorii Vashchenko.
On the other hand, we are learning from the modern international experience. For instance, there is a network of Catholic schools educating more than eight million pupils worldwide. These schools exist on all continents and in most countries of the world. Therefore, the bill in question not only legalizes what exists but allows such schools in Ukraine to unite in certain structures, which will allow a certain pedagogical trend to develop and enrich the palette of educational institutions and apply new experimental approaches. That is, a system is established which is certainly integrated in the national Ukrainian educational system but which enriches it with a rather valuable element that was eliminated by force until recently.
—What are the examples of such partnership?
—Schools under the patronage of the UGCC, as a rule, have a partner, a Catholic school from Austria, Italy or Poland. The cooperation includes joint summer camps and sporting events, prayer and cultural events. It is also an opportunity for further training of pedagogical staff and advanced learning of a foreign language, participation in international conferences and many other various possibilities.
—What about the pedagogical staff at schools under the patronage of the church: What is the qualification level of these people and should they be necessarily believers?
—Teachers are selected according to state requirements. In other words, those teachers are to have appropriate education and qualifications as in other general education schools. But in addition, as a rule, they are to be believers and bearers of Christian values. Therefore, we must understand that, on the one hand, it is a general education institution, where all the educational standards should be observed and math or geography lessons are not substituted by catechism. But of an extreme importance are the very person of the teacher, pedagogical approaches, and respect for the pupil’s personality.
As for the strictly religious education, it is provided outside the limits of the basic educational process. As a rule, we have a specially assigned priest who provides spiritual care. Services are celebrated, joint prayers are said.
—Nevertheless, some of our public are biased against educational institutions founded by churches or religious organizations. Many people believe that such schools will train exclusively “fathers” and “priests’ wives” and that, therefore, one cannot even talk about any level of education. Why do you think these opinions exist and why are they not rare?
—I think the main cause of these biases is lack of information. Most of our citizens do not distinguish between a church Sunday school, which is called to provide religious education, and a general education institution under the patronage of the church. There is a fundamental difference there to be understood by the majority of citizens.
The second cause is prejudices from the past. In the past, the principle of separation of school from the church was understood so as to say that there should be no religious component in education at all. In other words, this prejudice from the past says: religion is incompatible with learning and education. But the “well-roundedness” of education does not consist in its exclusively atheistic character. It lies exactly in what meets the needs of both believing and unbelieving parents and children. Therefore, I believe that our national system of education should allow the opportunity of study as well as provide an environment for study which is religious both as far as the teaching staff is concerned and as far as the majority of pupils are concerned.
The third cause lies in the fact that many people think that it can be another threat to society, as closed communities can form there which will produce religious fanatics. This danger really exists and, I think, one should not so much talk here about prohibitions as care about the social control over schools founded by religious organizations. I am convinced that the educational and public monitoring of such educational institutions is absolutely necessary. These schools should be open to the attention of society, parents and educational authorities.
—What is the system of financing the private schools under the patronage of religious communities?
—The financial factor in such schools is decisive for their development in the existing legal realities, of course. Therefore, only 800 pupils study in our schools all over Ukraine: there are many interested persons, but not all of them can afford it.
The problem is that a private school in Ukraine is virtually put on the same footing as profit-making business structures. Therefore, it enjoys no benefits with respect to taxation, provision of text books, payment of public utilities bills, and building or land rental. The state actually does not recognize the social role of private schools, including those patronized by the church. A specificity of the schools under the patronage of the church is the fact that they have opportunities for additional financing, though. These are, primarily, donations from the parents, additional financial support provided by individual citizens or structures of our church, and cooperation with international charitable foundations of a Christian character: together, they provide the minimum necessary for the schools to survive. Unfortunately, no one can talk about development so far, mainly for financial reasons.
However, there is a deep social injustice here. For, on one hand, the Constitution guarantees obligatory general education, and on the other hand, the parents who partly pay for their children’s education are citizens of Ukraine and tax payers. But the state does not allocate any funds from the budget for their children’s education, because they chose a private school. Therefore, the whole burden of financing is laid on the parents’ shoulders. According to our position, the state should provide financing of the mandatory educational standard, and the additional possibilities offered by private schools should be financed by the church and parents, of course.
—Education in a private school is not cheap and, therefore, what system of benefits is offered for pupils whose parents cannot afford the education?
—In Catholic schools, each educational institution, the administration and the parents themselves define the conditions of admission to the school. The state law in force is considered. Therefore, there can be no general benefit rules. But there exists a system of scholarships for gifted children from poorer families. They cannot cover all the children, of course, but funds to complete financing of the education of 10-15 % of the pupils are provided in various ways.
The financing is completed either by separate foundations or the church or aid from charitable organizations. Also, we are currently developing an idea of establishing a general education charitable foundation to complete financing of the needs of children in schools founded by the UGCC.
—You are a father. You have three children. If you had a choice to send your child to a state general education school, a private school or a private school established by the church or religious organization, which school would you prefer and why?
—It is a theoretical question, for, in reality, the situation is different: unfortunately, we do not have a school under our church’s patronage yet in Kyiv. And, in general, we cannot talk about such a choice in the majority of the territory of our state. However, for me, as a father, the important thing is not only the church affiliation of the school, but its openness to the religious palette of Ukraine, its multi-denominational character. For one should bring up a child on the basis of one’s own tradition, but should prepare the child for life in our society’s denominational profile.
I see the task and calling of parents not in separating the child from all the rest but, on the contrary, in integrating the child. That is what I consider the task of the parents and such schools. And, actually, I think that the most optimal and available choice in Kyiv now is a municipal or state school, but with additional financing provided by parents through charitable foundations. There is a large selection of private schools in Kyiv, but, again, they are not available to nearly 90 per cent of our children for financial reasons.
Therefore, my activity and the activity of our church and like-minded people in other environments, both teachers and other churches, is aimed at legislative provision of the right of religious organizations to establish schools. This is point 1.
Secondly, it is aimed to ensure that the state partially provide financing instead of shifting all the burden onto the parents’ shoulders.
And, thirdly, to ensure a considerable increase of the number of private schools in Ukraine, for this means new possibilities for the choices of pupils and parents, for the improvement of the quality of education, establishment of social partnership between society and the school and for the development of our national educational system.
—Thanks for the interview.
Interviewer: Svitlana YAROSHENKO.
Kyiv, 4 September 2008