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UC's College of Education Builds Partnerships Overseas

Date: Nov. 21, 2000
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Colleen Kelley
Archive: General News

The historic presidential election brought an unexpected civics lesson for Americans across the country, but it was also a valuable experience for a group of 10 Ukrainian educators building a partnership with UC's College of Education.

image of UkrainiansThey certainly have a challenge at home as they educate students about democracy a relatively new concept to the educators themselves in a country still struggling with these ideals since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Education Professors Piyush Swami and David Naylor led the group on an American exploration that included staying with local families, visiting area schools, churches and museums, meeting with local and state government officials, and touring the Ohio Statehouse. "There was quite a bit of talk about freedom of expression, because over there, you still don't know who is the enemy and who is not." Said Swami. "They're still grappling with this notion of why every American (including members of hate groups) has so much freedom. They can still become confused about how comfortable we are with the whole thing."

"Secondly, we consider education to be the key for positive change. We provide information, and we call information power, because people will call for change as a result of information," Swami continued.

"Things have changed drastically in our country over the past 10 years," says Vladyslav Andriyevsky, a high school principal who lives in the Zakarpattya region of western Ukraine . "In 1965, I was a staff sergeant in the Soviet Union. I saw Americans on the border between east and west Germany. I waited more than 35 years to shake hands with them."

"The main task of our visit here is civic education and future collaboration," continued Yevgeniya Navrotska, a teacher of history and law as well as an editor of a local Ukrainian newspaper. "We were selected because we were the winners of a national competition held by the American government in Ukraine. Only one in nine candidates were selected in the competition."

UC Professor David Naylor, a civics education expert, says on Election Day, the educators were impressed by a system that machine counted votes to get the total. In Ukraine, votes are recorded on a paper ballot, stuffed into boxes, and counted by hand. "They don't have what they call 'pensioners at the precincts.' Instead, teachers are required by law to work at the precincts."

"They were quite impressed in terms of resources available in American schools," Naylor continued. "These folks really have limited resources. As a teacher, they have to hold down other jobs if they want to make it. These jobs typically include tutoring children in English. Their pay is low, and they face significant inflation."

Olga Polubotko teaches English as a foreign language, lectures at a vocational school and works at a business center. She said she was impressed by the inclusive nature of Americans, particularly in schools. She pointed out a ramp to accommodate wheelchairs as she visited Sellman Middle School in Madeira. "I see you do a lot for disabled people. In our country, they cannot leave their homes."

"When I think about the American people, I feel you try to make life less complicated for everyone," said Polubotko. "I've heard that everything is not perfect and that schools have economic problems, but you do many things to bring people up as active citizens. Schools, communities and parents work together for the children."Polubotko explained the Ukrainian people suffered for hundreds of years as they struggled for freedom, but as the country still struggles financially under a new government, the citizens take nothing for granted. When an election is held, 80-90 percent of the citizens turn out to vote, something unheard of in the United States.

The U.S. State Department provided $30,000 for the visit that ended in Cincinnati Nov. 13. From here, the Ukrainian educators traveled to Washington, D.C., where they held a presentation on what they discovered about teaching civic education through active learning exercises. This was the second time Swami and Naylor hosted a delegation from Ukraine. The UC educators also spent two weeks in the western region of Ukraine last spring.

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