In September 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted changes to the Law on Education that established Ukrainian language as the single language of school education. National minority schools can use their national language at the primary school but have to increase gradually the usage of Ukrainian as the language of education in the secondary school bringing it eventually to 100%.
The Law aims to fight discrimination of national minorities in Ukraine creating the possibilities to study Ukrainian language at national minority schools and thus giving the students access to Ukrainian universities.
Such a decision caused negative reaction first at national minority communities in Ukraine and later at the international level.
The Venice Commission analyzed the Law on Education and concluded that it contains ambiguities of the precise level of protection of the linguistic rights of Ukraine’s national minorities. The Commission warned that the Law could substantially diminish the “opportunities available to persons belonging to national minorities to be taught in their languages”1.
However, the Commission noted that the Law, despite reducing the role of minority languages, still leaves the room for some flexibility. It recommended the Ukrainian government to “ensure a sufficient level of teaching in official languages of the European Union for the respective minorities” in the implementing legislation, provide more time for a gradual reform, exempt private schools and continue dialogue with representatives of national minorities and all interested parties.
The Ministry of Education of Ukraine agreed with the recommendations and prepared the Roadmap for the implementation of the Law on Education2.
To clarify the positions and opinions of all the interested parties on the issue the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting conducted a sociological research (May-October 2018) in the regions densely populated by national minorities of Ukraine.
The research was done within the framework of the EU financed “Regions for Reforms” project. Field studies were completed by the project grantees3 in Zakarpattia, Chernivtsi, and Odesa regions of Ukraine in Hungarian, Bulgarian, Romanian and Moldovan minority communities.
In the sociological research, the grantees used methods of formalized and in-depth interviews to collect opinions of school and university students, parents, teachers, school heads, regional education authorities, cultural societies of national minorities, political parties, and employers about the role of Ukrainian and national minority languages in the education process.
In total, 960 people were interviewed: 770 formal interviews (questionnaire) and 190 in-depth interviews in 3 regions.
The research showed that the situation with studying the Ukrainian language differs in regions:
In Odesa region, the Bulgarian minority does not have national schools, their children study Bulgarian language as a separate subject, all other school subjects are taught in Ukrainian (or Russian in Russian schools). Thus, the kids have no problems with passing the Ukrainian language test and with admission to universities.
In Chernivtsi region, the Romanian and Moldovan minorities have national schools where all subjects are taught in Romanian and where Ukrainian language and literature are also studied. According to the interviews, the children know enough of Ukrainian language to use in the everyday life but not enough to comfortably study at Ukrainian universities.
In Zakarpattia region, the situation with the Ukrainian language is the most troubling. Ukrainian language is taught in schools but the level of comprehension is very low; the children of Hungarian minority cannot pass the Ukrainian language test and thus cannot study in Ukrainian universities. In Berehovo district, with 76% of the population belonging to the Hungarian minority, two thirds of students failed the Ukrainian language test last year.
The study revealed that university students, parents, and teachers do not share the negative attitude towards the “language article” of the Law on Education expressed by the representatives of national minority cultural societies.
University students, on the contrary, stressed the necessity of knowing Ukrainian for studying at the university.
Parents and teachers welcomed the changes but required more time to adapt to them. They urged the government to help with improving qualifications of teachers of Ukrainian and to create a favorable environment for studying the Ukrainian language.
These are the preliminary results of the study of the attitudes of national minorities in Ukraine to the changes in legislation on education.
The full report will be available in February 2019 on the webpage of the Institute for Economic Research and Policy Consulting (http://www.ier.com.ua/ua/regions_for_reforms).
3 National and Cultural Space “Dzherela” in Zakarpattia region, South-Ukrainian branch of the Sociological Association of Ukraine in Odesa region, Ukrainian Educational Research Association in Chernivtsi region.