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Ukraine is a large country in Eastern Europe, one of the largest of the former Soviet states. Aside from the Russian Federation, it is the largest country on the European Continent. Over the course of its long history, Ukraine’s location along the northern shores of the Black Sea has connected it with the Mediterranean and the rest of the world, but it has always retained a uniquely Eastern identity. The Kievan Rus, based in Ukraine’s modern-day capital, Kiev, was perhaps the most powerful empire in Medieval Europe. Like Turkey, its neighbor across the Black Sea, Ukraine is a meeting place of East and West, and its culture shows a mix of Russian and Central European influences. This is evident in eclectic Ukrainian art, music, architecture, and language. The dominant religion is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but there is also a sizeable Greek Catholic minority, as well as various small communities of other religions.
The Ukrainian Constitution, adopted and ratified in the 1990s after Ukraine gained independence from the USSR, guarantees free education to all citizens. After decades under the Soviet system, Ukrainian educational authorities took on the considerable task of building independent and effective systems of education that would serve the needs of an independent Ukraine. Their reforms included promoting the use of the Ukrainian language (instead of Russian) as the primary language of instruction, and a focus on creating a system of instruction that would be more commensurate with the standards used in the rest of Europe. Today, literacy in Ukraine stands at almost 100%. Although poor record-keeping makes it difficult to compare this figure to numbers that existed under the Soviets, the country’s superb literacy rate is widely taken as a testament to the success of post-independence educational reforms.
State-funded education in Ukraine begins at the pre-school level, and early-childhood education is emphasized as a high priority by many local governments. Since funding for schools is taken half from the national government and half from the local municipal budget, individual cities and towns have significant freedom to shape their programs according to local needs. Although pre-school is seen as important, attendance is not mandatory, and in 2010 only 56% of Ukrainian pre-school age children were enrolled.
Compulsory education begins around age 6 and lasts for 11 years. During the course of their primary and secondary schooling, students are exposed to a wide range of subjects including science, art, music, literature, foreign languages, history, mathematics, history, and geography. Higher education is also offered by the government, and private colleges and universities are also available in various parts of the country. Ukraine’s education system has been standardized and streamlined by the Bologna Process, meaning a degree earned in Ukraine, whether by a Ukrainian national or a foreign student, will be recognized and respected in all other European countries.
Versatile, extensive, and highly effective in terms of absolute numbers, Ukraine’s education system is seen by many as a model for other post-Soviet states to emulate. It seems to have struck a balance between the need for federal regulation and nationwide standards on the one hand, and adaptability to conditions in different areas on the other. All schools throughout the country, from preschool to colleges and graduate programs, are held to a high standard of excellence while at the same time being given significant freedom and autonomy.
TIP: Although it is common practice to refer to Ukraine in English as “the Ukraine,” some consider this inappropriate – “the Ukraine” was the name of a region within the Soviet Union, but since independence the Ukrainian government has stated its preference for dropping the “the” from their country’s name.
Map of Ukraine