Nearly half of Ukraine’s teachers are of retirement age or nearing it, according to recent polls by the CEDOS think tank. Meanwhile, the teaching profession is not considered prestigious and does not pay well.
As a result, public education in Ukraine tends to be less lively and more old fashioned in many schools, especially in rural areas.
Ukrainian children from poorer families, according to the same polls, are three times less likely to attain higher education than their wealthier peers, as many struggle to get even the lowest score that would allow them to enter the university.
To help change that, Teach For Ukraine, part of an international program that trains young professionals and graduates to become teachers, was launched in February.
The program looks for motivated young people with excellent knowledge of any school subject — formal training or qualifications as an educator are not a must.
Rimma El Joueidi, CEO and co-founder of Teach for Ukraine, said that at least 200 people have applied for the program. The last application period for this year ends on May 1.
The organizers will interview candidates to assess their motivation and knowledge of the subject they want to teach. After that, 40 candidates will attend a six-week summer camp where they will be taught innovative techniques from other teachers and alumni from other countries.
Starting in September, each participant will spend at least two years in a rural school in either Kyiv, Lviv or Kharkiv oblasts, teaching kids from the 5th to 11th grades. Apart from a teacher’s salary paid by the state, the participants will have their living expenses covered by the program, which also provides a scholarship.
According to El Joueidi, many of those who have already applied for the program said they dreamed of being teachers, but didn’t have a diploma or pursued another career because of the teaching profession’s extremely low salaries. Most of the applicants are young Ukrainian specialists from 25 to 35 who have already participated in various exchange or volunteering programs.
“A lot of the applicants are idealistic: they want to bring change; share their knowledge to make those children, schools and communities develop,” El Joueidi said.
Teach For Ukraine is a part of a global international program called Teach For All, which has been providing aid to education in 44 countries for 27 years already.
The initiative has already seen successes, including in countries like the United Kingdom.
Elizabeth Hindmarsh, who consults Teach For Ukraine, applied to the U.K. version of the program, called Teach First, after she graduated from the University of Cambridge in England.
Studying at one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Hindmarsh, who attended a state school, found that most of her fellow students had gone to private schools.
Hindmarsh told the Kyiv Post that she was shocked and wanted to change the situation by encouraging more children from state schools to apply for places in the top universities in Britain.
Teach First transformed her life. Hindmarsh spent two years teaching kids in a school in London, which she described as challenging. The program is achieving results: students at schools that employed the program’s participants saw their performance indicators double.
Hindmarsh, who participated in the program in 2012–2014, said that Teach First is now one of the biggest employers for graduates in the U.K., including ones from top universities such as Cambridge and Oxford.
“We’re among the top three of graduate careers now. But ten years ago nobody wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
El Joueidi said that almost 20 percent of graduates from Ivy League universities apply for the Teach for America program in the United States.
“When you have Teach First in your CV it’s a huge benefit, no matter what sector you want to work in (after completing the program),” Hindmarsh said.
El Joueidi, who, with a group of other co-founders, decided to bring the program to Ukraine, says that while she was studying herself, there was one teacher who taught her a lot, and in a way had become her mentor.
“I thought: ‘Why can’t every child have such a teacher, and what would the world look like if they did?’” she said.