Inspired to Reform: Improving Educational Opportunities in Ukraine

  • Emily Brouch

To bring about change at all is difficult enough; to inspire change when no one else acknowledges the problem is practically a Herculean feat. “My colleagues did not understand why I was addressing the issue of out-of-school education,” recalls Ukrainian Olga Chichina. “No one has worked with this issue for decades or developed ideas for solving it.”

Olga Chichina, who currently sits on the Kharkiv City Council, is working hard daily to change this lax mentality regarding education. Extracurricular programs for students in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, have long been depressed by a lack of both updated resources and support from the local community. Chichina and her colleagues from the Council’s commission on humanitarian issues have brought renewed vigor to the work of transforming out-of-school programs into an active and vibrant educational resource for the youth of Kharkiv.

Chichina attributes the inspiration for this movement to her participation in IRI’s Political Leadership Academy (PLA) last spring. Our six-day program trains current political activists and leaders in how to responsibly and effectively execute their political roles. Chichina’s experience in the Academy helped her both understand the educational difficulties facing her region and design a targeted plan for reform.

“As a result of my participation in the PLA, I was inspired with an idea of reforming the out-of-school education system though I had never worked with this issue before,” she said. “During PLA workshops I gained important tools for implementing my project. I acquired information about clear steps of building an effective lobbying campaign as well as enlisted the support of IRI experts, who helped me with writing a draft decision [for the Council] after the Academy.”

Upon returning home to Kharkiv, Chichina wasted no time in putting her newly acquired skills to use. Under her influence, the Kharkiv City Council decided to allocate funds to the improvement and reclassification of a young technician school into the Start Education Center, a hub for out-of-school programs.

Since its renaming in July, the new community center has exceeded expectations in attracting the support of the pre-existing educational community. Teachers from surrounding schools conduct extracurricular lessons and activities at the center, where topics range from human rights and ethics to financial education. Participating schools are also taking steps to fund the purchase of new, updated technical equipment for the Start Education Center, and working with local civil society organizations to obtain grants to organize a new program of English lessons at the center.      

For Olga, this progress is not just a public victory, but a personal one as well. “I understand better how to make my work as a council member more efficient and that the main indicators of our activity are decisions which have positive results for the community,” she explained. She has become a shining example of how the skills imparted through IRI can be internalized, adapted, and applied with resounding success through the determination and innovation of one exceptional figure.   

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