Education in Ukraine and the United States through the eyes of Professor at Stanford
Svetlana Khutka is a professor at Stanford University, CEO of Democracy.Development.Education, develops Ukrainian hub UA.HUB in San Francisco. Based on her experience, she tells why American students are more active than Ukrainian peers and what initiatives will change Education in Ukraine.
In Ukraine, I worked on my PhD in the University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, defended in KNU; the first-class specialists gave me an excellent schooling: both theoretical and practical. That’s why I managed to get the Fulbright Student program at Stanford.
After graduation, I was invited to teach at Stanford University. First, as a visiting professor, I read a course on changes in Ukraine, general trends over the past 25 years in the economy, politics, and the social sphere. In many ways, it was based on a block of sociological research: I’m a big fan of facts, not philosophical reflections. Subsequently, I was invited to teach on an ongoing basis, and this was the offer I could not refuse.
In parallel, I studied at the Stanford Graduate School of Business for two years. This is an incredibly supportive environment: it is nice to generate ideas and learn from the most famous professors.
On the difference between Ukrainian and Western universities
It is necessary to take into account the contexts in which Western and Ukrainian universities developed, how the staff was formed. That is, everything depends on the reference point. Our universities, for example, Mohylyanka, are funded by the state. And Stanford, which is considered quite young, formed its own endowment: the founder of Stanford was rich, his money and land were invested in the university. Now the Ukrainian MES has given universities a very small element of the autonomy – universities have got the right to open own accounts in banks. Previously, the finances passed only through the accounts of the Ministry.
The quality of students and teachers can also be very different. Among other factors, it is determined by the financial soundness of the universities. But, for example, the concentration of graduates of Mohylyanka in the Silicon Valley is extremely high. In Stanford, there are two graduates of Mohylyanka teaching – this is also not bad.
The quality of education largely depends on the personality characteristics of the student: you can get into a very good university, but at the same time get a fairly low education.
On the motivation to study
Motivation has a significant role in the learning process. Being a teacher at Stanford University, I never needed to somehow motivate students to receive information. For some reason in Ukraine they are convinced that a scientist should invest a lot of time in order to interest students. In my opinion, this is a somewhat strange approach.
In foreign universities, this is the student who seeks the ways to get the information from the teacher. All my consulting hours at Stanford were filled, students were constantly writing e-mails and were asking how to improve the work that was already written, how to get additional points. The average score is important: either you are very smart and you get a scholarship, or you pay for training, take a loan, work. Therefore, the motivation there is indeed much higher. It would be nice if in Ukraine we had such an attitude towards education.
By the way, it is really possible for Ukrainian to study in Stanford; however, one has to work a lot. All he needs is motivation and a lot of work.
One of the areas of my work in Stanford as a scientist is the study of protests. In Ukraine mostly in Kiev people usually face three problems when protests begin: a) do not know their rights; b) do not know how to show their opinions to the authorities; c) do not know what to do after the protest. In addition, protests are irregular.
In the richest Nordic countries, for example, in Sweden, every year 30% of the population participates in peaceful legal protest actions. In Ukraine, during the Orange revolution 15% of the population has been involved; during Maidan this figure was only 17%. We need to study the materiel – learn our rights, get ready for constructive proposals and defend our opinion on ongoing basis.
About student activism
In fact, in all universities I have been to – Stanford, Berkeley, Washington, Oxford, student organizations have a horizontal structure and very powerful unions. These are not administratively managed puppets with children’s protests and unstable work. They have their buildings on campuses, small business: souvenir shops, cafes, recreation centers. These structures are traditionally very developed and are one of the components that contribute to the formation of proactive personality.
In the US, student movement is very powerful due to the autonomy of universities.
During the years of my stay at Stanford, I saw a lot of local protests when students walked in the streets or occupied some campus areas, placed tents. Once, oil pipeline was built in the state, and students who were against this construction, quietly put the tent on campus, brought up posters and persuaded the university administration not to sponsor the construction. And the night when Trump was elected president, the students publicly addressed the administration, and came to campus. They are more conscious in their actions than post-Soviet students.
“The potential of Ukraine is fantastic! Whatever they say, we have a very strong education “
However, the events of the last 10 years in Ukraine show that our students are also not indifferent. On October 27, 2004, I celebrated my birthday surrounded by my students on Maidan (I then taught in Mohylyanka). We were chanting “We are strong together, we will not be defeated” and ate a cake.
During the Euromaidan it was also important to be close to the students, but not to push them in any way to protest. In general, I believe that participation in student and political actions should be a measured decision, and a person should be aware of the possible consequences.
For the student, the main thing is education. If there is any other activity, then, of course, this is also important for the formation of the individual, but there must be a clear understanding of how social roles are distributed. I remember well how I met my students in 2014 on the Maidan. Everyone came on their own initiative, but they were already pouring into the stream of friends, because all these people are usually from your communication networks, and you certainly meet there. Perhaps it was because of a common idea of where you need to move.
On the prospects of Ukraine
Ukraine still presents itself to the world as an incomprehensible teenager, while our historical and modern experience should be rethought from the position of an adult who goes through certain stages of working with his past and moves on, and does not start every ten years, losing the memory of what has already been done.
In fact, as a promising country we can give a lot to the world and at the same time take it. I have the impression that we underestimate our level of skills, resources, capabilities and potential. The potential of Ukraine is fantastic! Whatever they say, we have a very strong education, if you are ready to take this knowledge, and not wait until it falls into your head. We have large human resources that we can work with. In my opinion, now the optimal development option for the country is to maximize asymmetric international relations in a wide range of sectors: science, technology, education, corporations, business.
It is also important that more educational workers have the experience of academic mobility. In Ukraine there is a certain group of people who have such experience. But, for example, Fulbright graduates are invisible, although they are people who receive one of the most prestigious scholarships in the world.
Therefore, one of the reasons why I returned to Ukraine is to work towards creating a network of public ambassadors. These are people who could represent the interests of Ukraine regardless of the official institution of diplomacy and could help to develop the asymmetric ties we need so much. The network projects work for the future of the country. Now we are implementing a local project in rural schools. Later I would like to increase it to national scale. Children, who study under our program, learn English from the first form, computer science – from the second, half of the information is given in English. They see what needs to be done for their community to live better; and most importantly – they are ready to do it.
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