In 2017 and 2020, new educational legislation was adopted, which changed the rules of teaching in the mother tongue for representatives of national minorities. I emphasize that it did not prohibit teaching in the languages of national minorities, but rather changed it, because there is a whole constellation of myths surrounding these changes in the law.
The law regulates the question of what percentage of education for representatives of national communities should be in the Ukrainian language. From the 5th to the 9th grade, the percentage should increase from 20% to 40%, higher grades to 60%.
At the beginning of the negotiation process, Hungary advocated for the full return of the old legislation. For today, such a return would push back the changes regarding the quality of education and the reform of the NUSH, which were being implemented. After all, the children who entered the school since the beginning of the implementation of NUS, starting in 2018, are already studying according to new programs, according to new textbooks and materials. This applies to all children studying in Ukraine, in particular in the classes of national minorities.
The Hungarian side had fears and misunderstandings about the calculation of interest, whether it is good or bad. We have explained the changes and what is behind them in quite some detail. After all, when we talk about 20-40% of education in the Ukrainian language, then for secondary school this includes a purely Ukrainian component – language, literature, history, and then culture and jurisprudence are added. We asked our Hungarian colleagues in which language they would like the children of representatives of national communities in Hungary to study such subjects in their country. Their answer was “Hungarian”, so we found an understanding.
We tell Hungarian partners about the importance of the NUS reform and put the quality of education first. Therefore, we are finding solutions that would solve the essence of the problem, and not simply roll back the legislation until 2017. And there are already agreements and a common position on this.
During the negotiations, we reached a common denominator. Our goal is to provide an opportunity for representatives of national communities to be worthy citizens of Ukraine, preserving national identity, culture and language.
What is the problem with the laws passed in 2017 and 2020 today?
Today, the key problem is a sharp transition in the language of instruction for children who started their education before 2018, i.e. 7th grade and older. For such children, the transition to new rules would occur instantly, without adaptation, which requires additional resources, investments and pedagogical efforts.
That is why, understanding these problems, especially taking into account the periods of the pandemic and full-scale invasion, a law was passed and signed in June 2023 that extends the transition period for another year, that is, the transition to new programs for such children.
A draft law is now registered in the Verkhovna Rada, the very one that was noted by the European Commission to exempt children who started school before 2018 from this transition. This will solve the problem completely if the bill is passed and signed. We discussed it with Hungarian colleagues and had support. This would relieve tension and allow children to study under the legislation that was in place until 2018. In fact, this is what we hear today in Hungary’s political statements.
Also yesterday, I had a meeting with the Minister of Education of Romania, Ligia Deca on the sidelines of the 42nd UNESCO General Conference and received support on this issue and on our plan to harmonize the transition process and ensure education for national minorities. In Ukraine, there are currently approximately 100 schools that teach in the Hungarian language and approximately 80 schools in Romanian (of which 16 were previously in the Moldovan language).
In August, rounds of consultations were held with national communities in Ukraine, schools, their principals and teachers to identify problems and ways to solve them. All our actions and proposals now, in negotiations and in legislation, are proposals supported and discussed by representatives of national communities.
At what stage is the negotiation process with Hungary now and what are the agreements?
In September, we resumed the activities of the Hungarian-Ukrainian intergovernmental working group on education, which includes representatives of the Ministry of Education, the State Service for Ethnopolitics, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and parliamentarians from our side. She was on hiatus for several years. We can say that this process has moved from a dead point and today there is quite active interaction between Ukraine and Hungary in matters of education, we are in constant communication.
We have a common understanding regarding access to textbooks, access to the compilation of NMT in the languages of national communities, and bilingual education.
Regarding arrangements. We have agreed on a Roadmap that we will follow in order to achieve the common goal that I have already mentioned.
The key blocks of the Map are:
- First. Working with the regulatory framework. This is about training programs for grades 10-12, recognition in the State Standard of specialized secondary education in the language of national minorities, a component on the history and culture of national communities of Ukraine in the program for all Ukrainian schools.
- Second. Conditions for studying languages of national minorities. Provision of textbooks, manuals, holding olympiads in the languages of national minorities, bilingual extracurricular education.
- The third. Training of teachers who will work in such schools.
- Fourth, consultations with communities and international organizations, the format of a broader dialogue.
In fact, we are currently building an education system for representatives of national communities, because the issues that we currently have identified in the map are necessary steps so that children can get a quality education in two languages.
This applies to all national communities studying European Union languages in Ukraine, not only Hungary.
We have received a first note from our Hungarian colleagues regarding the support of the general plan and are now awaiting their confirmation regarding the technical components. Hungary says today that these agreements must be implemented for their support for our European integration, and their implementation is now quite actively being promoted. We hope that the Hungarian side will adhere to the agreements reached and approved jointly.
Why, apart from negotiations with Hungary, is this issue important now?
Today, we prioritize bilingual education, in particular education in English. This is about our Euro-Atlantic integration, not only as a decision to join the EU, but also about the possibility of wider interaction with different countries. Ukrainians who are currently abroad or have already returned have started their journey of learning different languages quite well, it is important to continue this journey of language learning here as well, after returning.
We are sure that we have common interests with our European colleagues, first of all, it is high-quality education for children – and it is around this that we are building our activity today.
Evgeny Kudryavets, First Deputy Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Hungarian-Ukrainian Working Group on Education, especially for UP. Life
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