Kuyers Institute Ukraine Update

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  • Applies to:
  • Sent: March 29, 2017
  • Expires: March 30, 2018

Teacher training and a Russian-language What If Learning website

by Jacquelyn Hubbard


A Big Dream

“My dream is for Ukraine to become a Christian nation. It’s a big dream, but we already see that children who finish Christian school can change society—they can change the system.”

Tatiana Chumakova, director of the International Alliance for the Development of Christian Education (IADCE, or MAPXO in both Ukrainian and Russian) spoke these words with shining confidence during MAPXO’s seminar for Christian teacher trainers this January, despite Ukraine’s history of religious and political persecution.

Chumakova and many other Christian educators in the countries of the former USSR have endured many hardships to uphold Christian education: they have had their schools closed, gone months without pay, and have exhausted the range of legal loopholes that could be exploited to keep their schools under the radar. Although the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 made Ukraine an independent nation, the promise of new freedoms that could benefit Christian education has remained unfulfilled during most of the years of their independence.

But in summer 2015, the years of persistent courage and faithfulness from these educators finally paid off with the lift of a century-old hindrance. The long-awaited Law 1447 was passed, granting religious organizations full rights to found institutions of Christian education, kindergarten through university.

Since then, Christian education has been rapidly expanding in Ukraine—twenty-two new Christian schools have already opened since the new legislation, bringing the total to approximately 50 schools. In the wake of this season of liberation, leaders of MAPXO knew there was an opportunity at hand to invest in the exciting new journey of these Christian educators.

With full freedom to teach Christianly, what if MAPXO could help these educators not only learn more about what they teach as a Christian educator, but the how and why behind their pedagogy? Was there more to be gained from this freedom than just being able to pray before tests or hold chapel services?

Training Educators

Thus, in April 2016, MAPXO launched an advanced training program to assist Christian teacher trainers in exploring this way of thinking about Christian education while suggesting ways to effectively train the teachers of their schools. Most of the 33 educators who participated came from Ukraine, but a few came from Russia, Lithuania and Belarus, where there are also Christian schools.

This training was led by David Smith, the director of the Kuyers Institute of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has dedicated much of his career in education to writing and teaching on an international level about what it means to teach Christianly. Smith argues that a Christian teacher ought to teach Christianly in all aspects of their practice, not dichotomizing faith and subject learning.

The April 2016 seminar gave these educators a new way of thinking to bring back to their schools, and this January, the same educators were invited back to begin learning how to train others with the same Christian approaches.

For this seminar, Smith presented a variety of teaching examples from the Kuyers Institute’s What If Learning website, showing them ways that they could incorporate Christian virtues such as kindness, patience and honesty into any subject. They then wrote their own examples for the new Russian-language version of What If Learning that will be live soon.

So, how has this seminar affected the teachers? What actual difference are these resources making? Here are some of the voices of the participants explaining why it all matters.

Equipping Professionals

Most Christian educators in the countries of the former Soviet Union haven’t had formal training specifically in Christian education available to them, so they have had few resources to help them develop their understanding and practice of Christian education. The new seminars and online resources are now filling a vital gap.

Elena Sychova, a primary school English language teacher and assistant headmaster of Vineyard School near Kyiv, has already seen the fruit of these seminars. “This is a great opportunity for us because in Western countries, they have Christian education experience. We have no example to follow, so this is very important to Ukraine,” Sychova said. “[In another MAPXO course,] one of our teachers learned how to actively evaluate her students by writing in-depth feedback on student work, which was new to her. She loves these sources and she started practicing what has been taught at the April seminar.”

Instead of relying only on self-educating or conversations with fellow believers, these educators have had a space to reform their own worldviews and pedagogies, and also to create their own pedagogy examples to share with others.

For some, these seminars have offered very practical ways of teaching, and even a space for spiritual growth. Tatiana Garkun, an English teacher at My Horizons School in Khmelnitsky, Ukraine, is growing in both of these ways. “These seminars have a very practical value because we’re not just speaking about spiritual terminology, but we’re discussing practical applications to our teaching. I’m also benefiting with personal spiritual growth and in knowledge of Biblical truths,” Garkun said.

And in the midst of the changing tempo in Christian education, it’s encouraging for these educators just to find strength in being unified. “These seminars influence us teachers and help keep us in the profession instead of giving up and choosing another profession,” Irina Zhabrovets said, a teacher of foreign literature and Russian language at Path of Wisdom School in Dnipro, Ukraine. “This seminar has been a reminder that God loves us, is taking care of us, and is devoted to us. We need to continue encouraging each other in our work like this.”

Changing Communities

Since the seminar in April 2016, educators have already seen the differences being made in the students and in their schools after implementing what they’ve learned. For instance, Dzulietta Gyachene, an elementary teacher and principal at Rainbow Way Lyceum in Klaipeda, Lithuania, has already seen excellent results in her school as her students’ relationships are improving with one another and with their families.

“I have tried things suggested in the April seminar with my own teaching,” Gyachene said. “For example, I gave homework to students that made them talk to their parents about something. It was interesting; it was new for me, and for them. They really enjoyed it. Many parents are busy and don’t have time for their children, so when they have homework that requires their parents, it becomes a good bonding time for them.”

Many have discovered the power of stories through these seminar examples as well. A teacher at Sychova’s school especially latched on to the idea of using stories. “One of our teachers loved these sources and she started practicing them. She wanted to teach students about Chernobyl, so she took a photo of a firefighter and taught the whole school about Chernobyl from the story of that firefighter.”

The development of intentional approaches to Christian education has had a strengthening effect on these educators’ communities, including the growing Christian community in Belarus. Svetlana Gabrus has seen God at work in unifying the community of Future Inheritance School in Minsk, Belarus, especially with the inclusion of students who are usually marginalized.

“We want to create an environment where special needs children are able to take part, because they are overall excluded from society,” Gabrus said. “We feel it is important for them to be accepted somewhere in society. Through the Christian school movement, we’ve seen churches and schools and leaders and pastors unite. We can see a good future for Belarus.”

Gabrus hopes that a new generation of Christian thinking will be raised in these children, and one of the ways to make that possible is through Christian education. “We believe that change in the youth’s thinking will create a change in society,” she said.

Future Plans

Thankfully, due to the intentional design of these seminars, this is only the beginning for furthering Christian education resources in the countries of the former Soviet Union. MAPXO will be hosting more sessions for these same educators in spring 2017 so that these educators can continue developing material for the Russian-language What If Learning website. The Russian version is being developed in a way that contextualizes it within local cultures and curriculum, rather than simply translating Western examples.

In addition, Smith will be publishing a new book closely related to the seminars in early 2018, provisionally titled Christians Teaching. MAPXO will also be translating a new book by Smith about the pioneering European Christian educator John Amos Comenius into Ukrainian and Russian, and has plans to place a copy in every pedagogical university in Ukraine.

Funding provided to the Kuyers Institute by a generous North American donor has enabled accelerated provision of training seminars and translated training resources to meet the new opportunities in the region. A key goal of MAPXO is to develop a range of distance learning resources for teachers far from Kyiv, so that the Christian education approaches of these seminars are accessible across the region.

“We want to educate the public about Christian education—we want to inform pastors, churches, parents, the government,” Chumakova said. “We want people to understand the difference.” And the Christian educators here are well on their way toward that goal.

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