The Experience of Protestant Churches in Establishing General Education Schools
Yurii RESHETNIKOV, Candidate of Philosophical Studies
The spiritual and moral crises of Ukrainian society, which have had a negative effect on the situation in state institutions of general education, on the one hand, and the sharp increase of the potential of churches and religious organizations, including intellectual potential, and disagreement with certain worldview paradigms of the educational process of general education schools, on the other hand, have resulted in the realization by many Christians, especially the faithful of the Protestant churches, of the desirability of establishing Christian schools, where the educational process would be based on the Christian worldview and moral-ethical principles. One should also mention in this regard the wide contacts of Ukrainian Protestants with their foreign fellow-believers, which have allowed them to get acquainted with the experience of activity of such educational institutions, which are widely spread in many countries, and to use their practical help in the process of establishing similar institutions in Ukraine.
As a result, in the early 1990s, the process of establishing Christian general education schools by the faithful of Protestant churches began. Today in Ukraine, there are about ten such schools, the educational philosophy of which is oriented to the realization of the ideas of Christian morals and values. Four of them were established by Evangelical Christians-Baptists, one was established by the Seventh-day Adventists, and one by the faithful of the Presbyterian Church. Pentecostals do not have such schools under their protection so far and are just beginning the process of establishing a similar school.
At the same time, it is quite difficult to define exactly the number of Christian schools, as virtually none of them (with very few exceptions, like one in Chernivtsi) has official status, due to the status quo, about which we are going to speak below. Or, as His Beatitude Lubomyr Cardinal Husar [head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church] noted in an interview for the newspaper “Day” last year, as he spoke about his church: “we have six such schools, though not directly, but through private founders,” because “in Ukraine, schools can be either state or private, but not church-run.” At the same time, the delay in a positive resolution of the issue of granting religious organizations the right to be founders of general education institutions and the legal existence of Christian schools is not in line either with social realia or with Ukraine’s aspirations for European integration or with the policy of cooperation between state and church declared by the president.
The mentioned small number of Protestant general education schools is due, primarily, to unfavorable conditions for the establishment and existence of such institutions, on the one hand, and, in our opinion, to the specificities of church organization of Protestant associations, on the other hand, particularly, the principle of the independence of the local community, observed by many of them, which actually makes it impossible to establish such schools according to a systematic strategy of development of activity of associations and unions. Perhaps the Church of the Seventh-day Adventists might be an exception. This is indicated also by the fact that most of the Protestant unions (again, except for the Adventists) have no departments or at least employees responsible for the planned establishment and provision for the maintenance of the mentioned educational institutions, no particular church departments of education. (We are not talking about spiritual educational institutions [like seminaries].) As a result, in our case, Christian general education institutions are not so much the fruit of the vision of respective Protestant unions as an expression of the initiative of local communities, and even individual believers.
The situation results in the lack of union of such educational institutions, lack of established connection between them, lack of mechanisms for the exchange of experience, lack of mutual lobbying of state bodies for the protection of their interests, and so on. However, one should mention that part of the Protestant general education institutions maintain contacts with other private schools and are part of an association of private schools. In addition, part of them participate in the work of the civic organization Cultural-Educational Center for the Promotion of the Development of Christian Culture, which is oriented to integration of Christian private schools from various regions of Ukraine. In this regard, the present seminar may be important for the promotion of the establishment of an association of Christian schools of Ukraine which is to unite the existing respective educational institutions, regardless of their denominatonal identity or orientation.
The main objectives of Protestant general education institutions include: teaching and educating young citizens of Ukraine according to high principles of Christian morality and so ensuring the all-round development of children’s personalities; educating pupils in the spirit of a democratic worldview, respect for the rights and freedoms of the person, national traditions and traditions of other nations and cultures; ethical, aesthetic and ecological education and the formation of a humanistic culture of personality; provision of favorable conditions for developing a Christian character and formation of a personality capable of making personal and collective decisions, based on Christian principles; fostering in pupils a conscious attitude to their health and leading a healthy way of life.
Talking about the establishment and work of Christian educational institutions, one should mention that, according to Part 1 of Article 18 of the Law on Education, educational institutions are established by state executive bodies and local self-government bodies, companies, institutions, and organizations, regardless of their form of ownership, and also by citizens. At the same time, paragraph 2 of the regulation on the procedure of establishment, reorganization, and liquidation of educational institutions, approved by Resolution 228 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine of 5 April 1994, restricts the capacity of religious organizations in this regard, as they do not appear on the list of agents of the establishment of educational institutions, whereas this right is given by the resolution to cooperatives, civic organizations, companies and institutions, and to private persons. So, the effective law gives religious organizations no power to establish general education schools. As a result, religious organizations wishing to establish a general education institution first have to establish and register a civic organization which is to act as the legal founder of the institution in question, or the institution has to be legally founded by a private person (though, as it was mentioned, some educational institutions are products of the initiative exactly of private persons representing churches and not of the religious institutions themselves).
It is understandable that the years of semi-underground and even underground existence of Protestant churches in totalitarian conditions taught Ukrainian Protestants to find the possibilities necessary for their activity. However, in our opinion, the fact that the imperfections of the law, artificial limitation or discrimination of religious organizations with regard to the right to found general education institutions, as compared to other agents, pushes part of the population, which is potentially the most law-observing, to find ways of overcoming obstacles presented by the law is a serious problem which requires immediate solution. Even more so, as it is an actual violation of international documents recognized by Ukraine, in particular the international pact on economic, cultural and social rights and the international pact on public and political rights, and is not in line with Ukraine’s policy on integration into the European community.
It should be mentioned that in the process of their establishment and existence, most of the Protestant educational institutions were treated with bias by officials of the Department of Education, which bias partly reflected an attitude to private schools in general and, partly, might, in our opinion, express denominational preferences, or rather, dislikes of individual officials for Protestant denominations. The bias was especially strong if the founders of a school did not conceal their denominational identity and the fact that the school was based on Christian foundations. One can completely agree with the thought expressed in a speech of [former] Minister of Education Ohneviuk that such officials were formed in different social conditions and inherited different traditions, particularly with regard to the treatment of Protestant churches.
In cases like this, state authorities made great efforts to prevent the activity of such schools, particularly giving as their motivation the separation of school from church. It was demanded of the founders to exclude any mention or even hint of the Christian character of the school from statutory documents. Otherwise, they were denied a license. Sometimes officials went to the point of absurdity. If a church building was to be used by a school and there were no grounds to prevent the establishment of the school, the founders were demanded to separate the school from the church by a fence or at least a line drawn on asphalt.
In view of the above, the constitutional principle of separation of school from church, in our opinion, requires an official interpretation, because the literal understanding of the principle contradicts both Ukrainian social realia and international, in particular, European, experience and current law, which permits the existence of religious educational institutions, including Sunday schools, which may be included in the notion “school.” In our opinion, the most adequate description of this notion is given in the current law of Ukraine “On freedom of worship and religious organizations,” which says in article 6 that it is the state educational system (and not any school) that is separated from the church.
As for the law of Ukraine “On education,” article 9 thereof says that educational institutions in Ukraine, regardless of their form of ownership, are separated from the church (religious organizations) and are of a secular character, except for educational institutions founded by religious organizations. So, the range of educational institutions separated from the church is much wider than as compared to the law “On freedom of worship and religious organizations.” On the other hand, the article actually implies the existence of educational institutions founded by religious organizations.
Even after being established, Protestant general education institutions quite often function under close observation of the educational authorities. It is obvious that this is a result of a biased attitude and rudiment of Soviet mentality. However the positive side of the situation is the fact that this bias and, consequently, the necessity to prove one’s right to existence again and again, obliges Christian schools to maintain rather a high level of education. On the other hand, such a standard is ensured by the fact that the educational process in such schools normally includes not only the obligatory state component, which complies with state requirements, but also a supplementary Christian component (optional courses, group activities, and so on), oriented to all-round development of the child’s personality. Christian schools are known for providing comfortable conditions of education, an individual approach to each child, psychological diagnostics, profound study of foreign languages and development of computer skills, fostering communicative skills and conduct based on Christian ethics.
In addition, the supplementary Christian educational component is introduced on the basis of advanced foreign educational programs and quite often includes study of foreign languages, and so on, which facilitate better preparation of pupils for continuation of studies in higher education institutions of Ukraine and abroad, as well as better development of their personalities, as compared to many state schools. Quite often, this additional educational bloc is provided in cooperation with foreign educational and charitable organizations. In this way, the task of combining the best achievements of state schools with the Christian educational system is fulfilled. Most importantly, the studies in such schools are combined with the real upbringing of pupils. The educational process in various forms (including both ordinary lessons and various kinds of group activities) lasts the full working day, and not half a day, as in state institutions. In Christian institutions, children stay under the supervision of teachers for the whole day, whereas in state ones, they spent part of the day independently. Therefore, such institutions are quite popular.
In view of the fact that one religious organization cannot provide all the teachers needed in the educational process, the teaching staff of such schools includes not only representatives of the founder’s denomination, and even not only the faithful of Protestant churches. In most Protestant general education schools, the teachers are selected regardless of their denomination or worldview identity, but they all have to meet the same moral-ethical requirements of the institution, particularly with regard to their relations with pupils. As a rule, the teachers are chosen by competition, which fact, on the one hand, is conditioned by the necessity to maintain a high quality of education and, on the other hand, helps to keep such a high standard.
Normally, the high quality of education in Christian institutions results in their higher popularity as compared to state educational institutions, which fact, in its turn, leads to the admission of pupils from families representing other denominations, in addition to those representing the founder’s denomination. On average, only up to 50 % of pupils of such schools represent the founder’s denomination. There are cases (for instance, in Chernivtsi), when even Muslim families send their children to Christian schools. On the one hand, it prevents the indoctrination of children in such schools, because any attempts of that would immediately provoke the parents’ indignation, and, on the other hand, it is a serious reason for maintaining the atmosphere of true freedom of worship, tolerance, and respect for pupils’ religious feelings in such schools. At the same time, Orthodox parents very rarely send their children to Protestant schools, which is partly due to the availability of “their own” schools.
In view of the above, one can hardly talk about the considerable doctrinal influence of certain religious communities on the educational process and about the distinct denominational orientation of such institutions.
Some difficulty is presented by the fact that some of these educational institutions are institutions of primary education only, and children who are used to a certain level of relations with other pupils and teachers need further adaptation for the much more aggressive environment of other institutions. Therefore, Christian schools offering the full cycle of general education most probably will prevail in the future.
The financial issue remains a quite complicated one for the work of Christian schools. At present, the schools are normally run at the expense of the parents’ contributions for the education of their children and the sponsorship of their fellow-believers from Ukraine and abroad. One should mention that the rate of tuition fees in such schools is quite high, which limits the number of pupils from families with low incomes. At the same time, a number of schools offer preferential terms for children of poor families or families having many children. However, the high rate of fees is conditioned by the necessity to cover expenses for rent, teachers’ salaries, and so on, and is rather transparent and adequate in view of the quality of education. At the same time, the state actually keeps itself aloof from financing private, particularly, Christian schools, even though it is supposed to undertake the provision of at least the obligatory state component. Therefore, in addition to paying taxes for financing state educational institutions, the parents again have to pay the tuition fees for private institutions. It is appropriate to mention here the president’s expression about the need for funds to follow children. One should note that, according to many directors of Christian general education schools, exactly the lack of financial support from the state is the most urgent problem for their functioning today.
In view of the above, we consider it advisable:
1. To establish an association of Christian schools of Ukraine (regardless of their denominational orientation) for the joint protection of interests. To set up an initiative group for this purpose and to entrust it with the task of performing the necessary work to prepare a constituent conference of the association.
2. To approach the president and prime-minister of Ukraine with a proposal to make alterations to Paragraph 2 of the regulation on the establishment, reorganization and liquidation of educational institutions in order to include religious organizations in the list of agents of establishing such institutions.
3. To approach the president and prime-minister of Ukraine with a proposal to initiate alterations to article 9 of the law of Ukraine “On education” so that it defines that exactly the state educational system in Ukraine is separated from the church and is of a secular character.
4. To approach the president and prime-minister of Ukraine with a proposal to consider the question of financing by the state of the provision of the state component in private general education institutions.
5. To set up a work group for preparation of proposals on making alterations to statutory acts from among directors of Christian general education institutions and lawyers.
6. To approach the Parliament of Ukraine, Ministry of Justice, and the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches with a proposal to return to work on the elaboration of the “Concept of the Development of Church-state Relations in Ukraine,” and, in particular, to provide for ways of cooperation between state and church in the field of education.
7. To approach the Ministry of Education of Ukraine with a proposal to allow establishment of general educational institutions by religious organizations as an experiment for the period until the mentioned alterations are made to the statutory acts.
Report given at a round table discussion “Education Law of Ukraine and the Church” (19-20 January 2006, Kyiv)
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