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Ukrainian Global Teacher Prize 2023 finalist on new approaches in education – interview

Artur Proydakov is a finalist for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize
Artur Proydakov is a finalist for the prestigious Global Teacher Prize

Artur Proidakov, a Top 10 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize 2023, explained in an interview with NV Radio on Oct. 31 how he uses ChatGPT in class and compared Ukrainian and Western European education.

“Moscow wasn’t burned by [French Emperor] Napoleon,” said Maksym, “The Muscavites [Muscovites] burned the city themselves.”

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This is an inscription with an error in the name of Moscow residents on the blackboard in the Ukrainian language and literature classroom of the MriyDiy [Dream and Act] private school in Kyiv, where Proidakov has been working since last summer. Prior to this year’s award, he became the winner of the Global Teacher Prize Ukraine 2021.

“We’re learning direct speech, and the children came up with their own examples,” Proidakov said with a smile on his face.

Students in the corridor address him as “Mr. Artur” as it’s not customary to use the patronymic at school. In general, children seem to feel confident at school and count on teachers’ respect for them. So, the interview begins with this very question.

NV: When will public schools in Ukraine become like private ones, at least in terms of this atmosphere of respect and freedom of expression?

Proidakov: In order for the public school to change, both children and parents, as well as teachers and school administration, i.e., all participants in the educational process, must change. But teachers are already changing. It’s rare in schools these days that teachers yell at a child. We’re gradually moving away from this, although even 20 years ago, a teacher could raise his voice at a student, and no one would say anything to him.

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Parents also become different, e.g., those who are 35-45 years old already look differently at education for their children. For them, the priority is not the grade, but how the child is treated at school, what activities are held there, etc. So, I think we’re somewhere in the middle of this process.

Even today, there are public schools that are no worse than private ones in terms of atmosphere and approaches. Even if the material base lags behind, in general, an educational institution can create interesting, let’s say, “game rules,” i.e., a certain interaction between students and adults. It’s important for school leaders not to be afraid of such innovations.

But to answer your question, I would say that it will take another five to seven years. But it’s only about changing approaches, not the material and technical base.

NV: Teacher of a new generation – what does it mean for you?

Proidakov: It seems to me that teachers of the new generation are those who understand that there are hard and soft skills, i.e., that there is some academic scope required to pass exams, but that it’s also necessary to train critical thinking and communication skills in children, understanding of teamwork, flexibility, adaptability, stress resistance, etc. Teachers of this new generation are open to changes and innovations, they don’t criticize them, but involve them as “partners” in the educational process.

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For example, artificial intelligence. Someone might say, “ChatGPT is eww, it’s bad.” But we understand that we cannot hide from it in our apartment, so we must use it for our needs. Here’s what I do: I suggest that students prepare a public speech on a socially important topic, and they can use ChatGPT to write certain theses or create a presentation structure. But then they have to make a report at the blackboard on their own.

By the way, when we talk about teachers of the new generation, it’s important to understand that it doesn’t depend on the year of birth. Teachers can be open to change at any age.

NV: We know that you use memes and TikTok [video-based social media platform] in your lessons. How does this happen?

Proidakov: For example, we read a piece of Ukrainian literature, then they use a special platform to generate their own memes and come up with funny captions for this literary text. That is, every student has space for creativity, such as to find a suitable picture, play the characters, take quotes from the piece. This works well when we study a few lessons, e.g., the Kaidash Family [the novel by Ukrainian writer Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky], and then spend 15 minutes making memes at the end.

The same with TikTok, where we can shoot a video based on the piece. The main thing is not to exaggerate. Of course, we won’t just record TikTok videos for 10 lessons in a row. We made memes once, used ChatGPT after five lessons, and created a video after another five. It’s not for TikTok or memes, it’s just an element to keep kids engaged.

NV: Many parents are afraid of the influence of social media and, on the contrary, try to distance their children from it. Have you ever had to explain your methods to them? Was anyone outraged by this?

Proidakov: There was no direct outrage as we don’t spend the entire class staring at our phones. We use it only when necessary.

Parents approached me about another issue, namely I gave almost no homework to my students, so they asked me to increase it. I try not to overload the students, because I remember coming home from school and I had to do both math, and Ukrainian, and English.

NV: As a teacher, do you try to respond to parents’ requests?

Proidakov: Some parents are very focused on academic results, and I won’t enter into a discussion about this or argue. If they want more homework, I will do it. But, as I said before, parents also change little by little, and not everyone wants their child to sit at home for three hours and do homework. All this is very individual.

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In general, I’ve never had a parent telling me how to teach children. But I’m ready to speak on this topic and argue my point of view. It’s necessary not to quarrel, but to communicate, because parents are important participants in the education process.

A lot comes from the family. That’s why, I’ve been organizing free Ukrainian speaking clubs for parents for the second year in a row. It works very well when parents see the teacher, see how he teaches. But it’s also important for me as this is how I make my contribution, because adults who want to learn Ukrainian come to me. Such lessons can also be held in other subjects, e.g., the history of Ukraine or English.

NV: The modern information load has led to the so-called phenomenon of “clip thinking” in society. Do you see it in children? How does it change the educational process?

Proidakov: I teach mainly in high school, now I have Year 8 and 9. And if I have a lesson without a visual component, the children will learn the material worse. So, I try to adapt my educational materials for today’s teenagers.

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During a presentation, for example, one slide should contain no more than 15-20 words. When we have a multiple-choice test, it’s necessary to use large font. If these are the rules, not a hundred of them should be on one page, but two so that it’s well perceived visually.

The lessons require a change of activity. For example, we study Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s writing. At first, the children remember what they know about him in general: a picture on a hundred-hryvnia banknote, Kobzar [a book of his poems], redemption from serfdom. We record something, then we watch a video about Shevchenko, discuss him, read some text. That is, what is important is a change of activity, various forms, and a visual component. This doesn’t mean that teachers should become animators or showmen, but it’s necessary to adapt to these challenges.

NV: People are now divided into generations, with the latest ones being Zoomers and Alpha. Do you see these generational changes?

Proidakov: I can compare with my generation [Proidakov was born in 1990]. Today’s children are very cool, they’re creative and pragmatic. If they don’t like something, they say: “We’re not interested.” For example, we studied direct speech, and they ask: “Why do we need this?” So, I explain that this topic will be included in the NMT [National Multi-Subject Test] in two years or in the EIT [external independent testing] this year. And if one of them becomes a writer or journalist and works with texts, this knowledge will come in handy. Then they understand why they should learn it.

In addition, today’s teenagers aren’t so afraid of mistakes in terms of the future. When I was in school, we were told that you should choose a profession for life. There is no such dogma now. And if we were afraid of teachers, today’s children don’t have this fear.

NV: Ukrainian children, to put it mildly, were unlucky: first there was COVID, followed by a large-scale war. We can only imagine how it affected the level of knowledge. How is it possible to assess educational losses? What should be done for children to overcome educational gaps?

Proidakov: It’s difficult to assess educational losses across the entire map of Ukraine because there are Ukrainian children abroad, in the occupied territories, those abducted to Russia, and there are students in the frontline territory who have no time to study now.

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Diagnostic testing is available on the All-Ukrainian Online School website. I used it for my students as I wanted to understand what kind of knowledge children have before Year 9. The test results showed that about 30% succeeded, 40% have normal indicators, while another 30% don’t know the program of Year 8. So, I would recommend that teachers use these tests to understand which topics should be covered.

Now there are many initiatives from non-government organizations and charitable foundations, which, together with donor partners, implement projects to overcome educational losses. These can be both individual and group online classes. But can such individual initiatives cover all of Ukraine? No.

The longer the war lasts, the more problems we’ll have with educational losses. I read in an interview that this will affect us with a drop in GDP, etc., because there will be a shortage of trained specialists.

In addition, a separate moment with children abroad. According to EU policy, they should be integrated into the local educational process and attend educational institutions at their place of residence. At the same time, their parents hope to return home, so some children still study online in Ukrainian schools. But it doesn’t work to combine both for a long time, so only a school, e.g., in Germany, is left in the end.

NV: Some Ukrainian parents abroad aren’t happy with foreign education systems. Are Ukrainian approaches still so different from Western European ones? And should we focus exclusively on Western examples, or does it make sense to preserve, no matter how seditious it sounds, something from the Soviet or post-Soviet education system?

Proidakov: The Soviet should definitely not be preserved. But we also won’t be able to completely borrow the model of, e.g., Finland, although the Finnish system is considered one of the most advanced. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle.

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The Ukrainian and Western European systems are really different. For example, schools in EU countries have an individual trajectory, when a student in specialized classes chooses the subjects that he wants to study more. In addition, integrated subjects are of great importance in the European Union. They don’t have Physics or Chemistry-Biology, but they have Science. This is also our area of underperformance.

I think Ukraine will also switch to such integration. For example, the Ukrainian language and literature can be studied in one subject. For example, we read [a historical novel] Zakhar Berkut by [Ukrainian poet Ivan] Franko and can immediately study dialectics.

In addition, a twelve-year school education is a must have [Year 12 should be introduced in Ukraine from 2027].

NV: You’re among the Top 10 best teachers in the world, you’re the finalist of the Global Teacher Prize. How and why did you decide to apply for the competition?

Proidakov: In the spring, I saw that the selection of participants was underway, and I became interested in sharing my experience. In addition, I understand that Ukraine should be represented at this award. There are about 10 questions in the questionnaire, to which you must give detailed answers, such as your achievements, how you interact with students, etc. I had a video interview in late August, during which I was asked additional questions about work at school. They announced the Top 50 in September, where I and Liudmyla Tabolina [a teacher of Ukrainian language and literature from Kharkiv] got into.

It’s hard to say why they chose me. Have I done anything outstanding? Probably not. I’m just trying to give high-quality lessons, but I haven’t made any scientific discoveries and there are no Nobel laureates among my students. Maybe the fact that I’m from Stakhanov [now Kadiivka, Luhansk Oblast, the town has been occupied since 2014] helped.

NV: The award winner will be announced on Nov. 8. How will this happen?

Proidakov: I’m leaving Ukraine for Paris on Nov. 6 where the ceremony will be held. My minimum task, which I set before myself, is to get to know 10 finalists, to encourage them all to come to Ukraine, hold master classes here, and meet with teachers. I also want to talk about our problems in Ukraine, about educational losses, because maybe someone will be interested and want to help, implement some project.

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I think I have a chance to win, but I also believe that Top 10 is also cool, and this is the first time in Ukraine’s history.

The prize fund is $1 million, but it’s not money for the winner personally. That is, I won’t be able to buy myself a Bentley car after that, I have to report on what educational projects I spent money on. But Ukraine has something to spend it on, so it would be very appropriate to get $1 million.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine