By Yuliia Kurnyshova and Paul Shields
Polina Verbytska is passionate about civic education. She has been working to improve it in Ukraine for much of her career and believes its importance can’t be underestimated.
“Better civic education could have protected Ukraine from Russia’s annexation of Crimea,” Verbytska says.
Her mission has taken on a new focus and even greater significance since Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity, the start of an ongoing war along its eastern border, and post-revolution education reform.
“Civic education is in a post-Maidan period,” she says. “We need new curriculum in schools that can lead to greater social and political integration in Ukraine.”
Last September, Verbytska and her organization, NOVA Doba, began working to create a new civic education curriculum for 10th grade students. Pact’s USAID/ENGAGE project helped NOVA Doba throughout the creation process. The new curriculum includes a textbook as well as an interactive online civic education platform. Called 3D Democracy: Act, Think, Take Care, it emphasizes building critical thinking skills and a sense of civic responsibility, and pushes students to act and deal with issues they can find just outside their front doors. Topics covered include anti-corruption awareness, transparency, conflict resolution and students’ role as citizens of the world.
The 300-page book and accompanying online platform emphasize an interactive methodology between teachers and their students. Assignments for students now revolve around writing arguments, active service projects and expressing their personal opinions. These methods differ from Ukraine’s traditional education methods of memorization and repetition.
The textbook has quickly become a success. 3D Democracy received the highest rating at a civic education textbook competition held by the Ministry of Education and Science. And as a result, the ministry will now sponsor the publication of an estimated 62,000 copies. The curriculum will be implemented in approximately 2,500 general secondary schools across Ukraine as a mandatory subject for 10th graders.
Verbytska explains that the online component is critical because education materials need to be constantly updated and modernized to serve students who learn best on digital platforms. The online education tool will also serve as a platform for schools and students to communicate across different regions of Ukraine, facilitating further integration.
As Ukraine continues to move through its post-revolution period, reforming the education system has been acknowledged as a key way to build a new democratic generation.
To achieve this, Verbytska says, NOVA Doba believes that students shouldn’t be told what to think, but, more important, how to think.
Pact’s ENGAGE project (Enhance Non-Governmental Actors and Grassroots Engagement) is increasing citizen awareness of and engagement in civic activities at the national, regional and local levels in Ukraine. Funded by USAID, ENGAGE is bolstering civic education, promoting democratic reforms through local coalitions, improving the capacity of civil society organizations and ensuring sustainability of civic engagement. In addition, ENGAGE seeks to promote inclusion of marginalized groups and build demand for fundamental European values.
Photos: Ukrainian high school students take part in NOVA Doba civic education activities.