Bold education reforms can lift Ukraine’s economy

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Human capital – the economic value of people’s lifelong education, skills and health – is critical to countries’ efforts to reduce poverty and accelerate economic growth.

Historically, Ukraine has benefited from a strong education system, one that has helped drive the country’s development. Indeed, the country has a highly educated labor force: 40% of people aged 25 years and older have at least some tertiary education, compared to just over 30% in OECD countries and 25% in Germany. 

Yet, human capital remains a small share of Ukraine’s national wealth, at 34%, compared to 70% in high-income OECD countries and 62% in the Europe and Central Asia region. Per capita income and labor productivity in Ukraine also remain among the lowest in the region.

So why is education not contributing more to Ukraine’s economy? A recently completed World Bank education study identifies several likely reasons.

Schooling and educational outcomes are not producing the kinds of skills increasingly demanded by Ukraine’s economy. Equity gaps in learning outcomes are on the increase, by socioeconomic status and between rural and urban areas. Public trust in the education system has deteriorated and many Ukrainians are deeply unsatisfied with the quality of the system. Corruption and weak academic integrity have diminished quality and reduced the value of educational credentials.

Ukraine nonetheless spends a high share of public resources on education: 6% of GDP, compared to the OECD average of 4.4%. But, low student-teacher ratios in secondary education and an oversized network of higher education institutions indicate that spending on education is inefficient and under-performing.

Recognizing these are significant challenges, Ukraine has begun implementing its most ambitious education reform agenda to date. A centerpiece of this reform agenda is the “New Ukrainian School” – a new formula for competency-based and inclusive learning in primary and secondary education that prioritizes autonomy and openness over control and supervision.

Major reforms are also underway in vocational and higher education, aimed at dismantling the centralized structures of the past, while supporting Ukraine’s integration into the wider European Higher Education Area.    

Amidst this bold reform agenda, however, several important challenges need to be addressed.

Ukraine education diagram (tensions)

Despite greater institutional autonomy granted to schools, universities, and local authorities for education planning and policy, governance and accountability structures and institutional capacities remain weak.

The high level of public spending on the education system is certainly testament to Ukraine’s commitment to education, but resources are not currently well-targeted to strategic objectives or performance.

The New Ukrainian School introduces modern approaches to teaching methods and the curriculum, yet teacher incentives and capabilities are not yet well-aligned with the specific requirements of this reform.

Reforms in both secondary and tertiary education provide more room and flexibility for individuals to choose courses and curricular pathways – but students, their families, and employers in Ukraine have inadequate information and feedback on educational options and their directions for the labor market.

Broad education reforms are what Ukrainians expect and deserve. Therefore, addressing the current challenges is critical going forward, and will require a wide range of policy approaches.

This means strengthening governance structures and institutions; improving targeting of resources through reforming higher education financing and teacher workforce management; providing stronger incentives for teachers; and ensuring better information flows through enhanced student assessment systems, guidance counseling, and monitoring. 

Sustaining the reform momentum will require strong commitment and broad engagement – beyond laws and regulations to encompass strong leadership that turns reform vision into reality. Closely monitoring progress will also be important, as will direct engagement with stakeholders, and leveraging social influencers and champions.

Bold reforms to Ukraine’s education system can play a key role in boosting economic growth and bringing about greater prosperity for citizens.

Authors

James Gresham

James Gresham, Education Specialist, World Bank Group

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