A Discussion with Nadiya Kalachova, Employee at Ukrainian Catholic University, Lviv, Ukraine

With: Nadiya Kalachova

July 2, 2017

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in July 2017 undergraduate student Anastasia Sendoun interviewed Nadiya Kalachova, who works at Ukrainian Catholic University's Emmaus Center, a center for persons with special needs. In this interview, Kalachova talks about her personal experiences with higher education and her work with individuals with special needs. She emphasizes the importance of creating an educational system that allows both students and professors to pursue independent projects.

Can you introduce yourself and explain your role at the Ukrainian Catholic University?

My name is Nadiya Kalachova. I am 26 years old and originally I am from northern Ukraine, from the Zhytomyr oblast. I completed a bachelor's degree in finance in Kyiv, and a master's in journalism from the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv. I now work in the Emmaus Center at the Ukrainian Catholic University, which supports families with children with special needs and which has a mission of changing how Ukrainians perceive individuals with special needs.

How did you end up in this role?

At the Ukrainian Catholic University, we have an environment that is very open to individuals with special needs. When Bishop [Borys] Gudziak talks about the university, he says there are two bases for the school: the experiences of the martyrs of Ukrainian Catholicism and the experiences of marginalized individuals who were rejected by society under the Soviet Union. If we do not reject these people and instead put them in the center of university life, we can benefit. On the first floor of the student dorm, there are four residents with special needs who live in the Emmaus Center. When I was studying at the Ukrainian Catholic University, I would often visit the center and would write about individuals with special needs. Little by little, I became more involved in this sphere. Eventually, I realized that I would like to continue working in this area, and I was offered the position of public relations manager for the Emmaus Center. 

The Ukrainian education system has such a vibrant history. Can you share some significant parts of this system, how it has changed, and grown over the years? What is your personal experience with education? Will you share some stories with me to illustrate the importance of education in your life?

I have academic experience from two universities. First, from Kyiv from the State Economic and Technological University of Transport as well as the Ukrainian Catholic University, which is a private institution of higher learning. My personal experience shows a big difference between these two universities. 

In the government university, the quality of education was truly low. The quality of instruction was low. While much depends on the individual student and his or her motivation to study, this university illustrated many of the problems in Ukrainian education. The Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) has a different model of, not only education, but also relationships between individuals in higher education spaces. At UCU, students and professors are equals and can communicate openly. Much is expected of students, but professors show that it is indeed possible to achieve much and they are willing to help by connecting students with different resources. I feel that this style of education at UCU helped me immensely in my current job, and I feel that it is a stimulus for people in Ukraine to try to change things for the better, to grow professionally, as individuals, to change things in society. 

Could you illustrate, using some of your professional or personal experience, the role or importance of education in Ukrainian public and/or political life?

Having studied journalism, I can say that there is a crisis in the field of mass communications with journalists being paid to produce certain stories that are not necessarily true. There is a crisis of honesty, and principles of journalistic integrity are not always maintained. This is true at election times especially. At UCU, they always stressed these principles. Once my classmates who also had these values from UCU began working, this education helped them to resist accepting payments for false stories, and in this way, they were able to fight against corruption to some extent. 

How has the sense of Ukrainian consciousness changed in Ukraine since the EuroMaidan protests?

In society, it is still important to defend the principles of the protests. That is, we are still trying to integrate these principles in our lives. I can see that certain people already are integrating these values in certain space: they have changed their behaviors, have decided not to accept bribes and to not support corruption. In general, there is a great desire to uphold the values of the protests. However, it is still difficult for many people in spheres where there were not reforms after the protests. There is more volunteering and a greater willingness for individuals to help one another without seeking personal gain. It was truly a revolution of human dignity, but we must continue to work to make its principles concrete in our everyday lives.

When I use the term “social justice” what images or ideas come to your mind? What is the cultural understanding of social justice in Ukraine?

The idea that is often repeated in our university is that of human dignity, and the term "social justice" makes me think of a just standing toward every individual. For example, in my work with individuals with special needs, this means creating the circumstances for each individual to be able to realize him or herself. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case. There is a lack of support for families with children with special needs, a lack of rehabilitation centers for these children. Society is not yet inclusive.

Can you share an experience with me to illustrate the greatest strength of the Ukrainian education system? The greatest weakness?

I think one of the strongest aspects of Ukrainian education are the students themselves. They often have much potential and much desire to learn. The problem is that this potential is often not fully developed. The Ukrainian Catholic University is truly something different from the rest of the Ukrainian system of education. For example, students who come from small villages and study at UCU are able to learn English at the summer English school and in their classes. And this person from a small village with a lower quality of elementary education is able to develop this potential and to use it in their professional life.

At government universities, it seems like there are not as many resources and not as many opportunities for a student to develop his or her potential. There are some specializations, especially technical ones, where there are good professors and it is different. But education in the humanities is not very developed. It seems like Ukrainian education is outdated and lacks innovation. Generally, the education system in Ukraine consists of lectures that give information, but they don’t develop students’ talents. At UCU, they work on developing this in students. For example, you can participate in a project or an internship that gives you practical professional experience. Furthermore, at a regular university, practical education is something that is difficult to come by, and education is very formal in the sense that it is more theoretical.

I work with a group that travels to different parts of Ukraine to speak with students about working with individuals with special needs. We try to take apart the stereotypes that people usually have about individuals with special needs. What I’ve noticed is that at UCU, when you talk to students about something like this, they understand that change is possible. The university itself evidences this, and professors encourage this thinking in students. It is difficult but possible to bring about change. Students are UCU are able to develop their own volunteer projects. I see that in other universities in other parts of Ukraine, nobody encourages students. Nobody believes in them. Nobody provides them with examples of how change is possible. This lack of initiative is rooted in the system. I believe that with the right kind of education can provide this model for how things can be different, and can stimulate student action and encourage students to support one another.

It is also important to give professors enough time to prepare so that their work is of a high quality. Improving education is not just about improving student outcomes, but also about improving the quality of teaching. For this, it is important to give professors dedicated time to engage in research, since this is also a problem in the Ukrainian system of education. Professors work long hours and do not always have time to engage in independent work.

How many young people who desire to access higher education in Ukraine have the opportunity to do so? Can you illustrate the reasons for your response? What is the greatest impediment to an individual accessing higher education? 

In Ukraine, based on my experience and on the experience of my friends, it is not difficult to simply acquire a university education. What is more problematic, however, is acquiring a quality education. There are many universities in Ukraine and individuals, even with not very high scores on standardized tests, can enroll in university. But the quality of education in Ukraine tends to be very low.

How do you imagine Ukraine’s future, and what role with UCU play in this future?

I want to be optimistic. I think the country will continue to develop, since it is on a positive trajectory. Little by little, I think the country will improve. UCU, although not a big university, is shaping individuals who can be agents of change in different spaces. In this way, UCU is able to positively impact society.

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