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“The most important - to start and changes will come step by step” – Olga Ursol

Olga Ursol took part in ‘Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project’ (SAIUP) at Izmail State Humanitarian University. She is trying to inspire students and teenagers to actively stand for their rights in hierarchical educational system. On 23-25 March Olga took part at Theater for dialogue forum-theatre workshop in Severodonetsk. In interview Olga tells about her experience of bringing positive changes in educational system that promotes equality in relations between students, professors and university administration.

Why were you interested in Theater for dialogue workshop?

I like theater very much and everything that is connected to it. I have heard earlier about forum-theatre methodology. Four months ago I have visited a press-conference about forum-theater in Crisis media center and was inspired by the topic. I was really happy to attend the workshop. From time to time I work with youth and students. I have learned several interesting exercises from the workshop. If I have read their description in the book, I would think that they are not working. The most interesting thing was a discussion with audience after the performance. There were a lot of people (attending performance),we raised topics that concern students and schoolchildren. I think that discussion with audience was the most important part. I was surprised by audience`s activeness, that people were not afraid to share own thoughts. Although I assume that some students couldn’t tell their opinion, because professors and teachers were present there as well.

You are participant of the Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project. What is the aim of this initiative?

It`s Ukrainian-American project. In Ukraine it`s supported by the Ministry for Education and Science of Ukraine and American council. Main goal is to increase a quality of education in Ukrainian universities by organizing different local events. One of them – the implementation of Academic Integrity code. First of all, we have developed this Code in our university (Ismail State Humanitarian University). This is Code of Conduct which regulates relations between students, professors and administration to make an education process better and more transparent. We have created several communicational platforms, where students and professors could come and discuss this Code. We had public discussions and passionate battles about one paragraph in the Code, where it`s written that students and professors are equal. Some professors, especially older ones, were very upset, because they were used to think that professor is „over“ and tells what exactly should be done and students have to follow. It was one of the most “burning” paragraph. After 3 public discussions this Code was validated at the university. It gives students and professors an opportunity to interact more effectively to make the quality of studies better, lectures and seminars more interesting and implement new methods of studies in practice.

This Code became a kind of example. Are you also trying to introduce it in Severodonetsk?

I was studying in Ismail when this Code was introduced, but now I continue working in this project. I live in Severodonetsk, but work with this project in Ismail (go there from time to time), communicate with students in Severodonetsk. Sometimes I try to gather students and share experience from these cases that they could try to change something in their universities, to make lectures more interesting and students were motivated to influence their curricula. It should be their interest to make studies in correspondence with their actual needs and to receive as a result qualified knowledge.

What was the biggest insight for you in discussion with audience?

Honestly I think that problems of teenagers and students in all Ukraine are quite similar. It was important for me to hear that people are concerned about the quality of education, that they are ready to do something about it. After performance a guy who participated in theatre workshop came to me and told about situation in his college, asked for advice. Often we as young people and students don`t know about our opportunities, measure of influence on study process, administration. But these instruments are there, we are just not aware about them.

What are the obstacles, according to your mind, thatdemotivate students stand and protect their right more actively?

It`s very common practice, when professors come to lecture and read from paper, they are just lazy to rework old notes: they read them during lectures, put to folder and do the same newt year. They don`t want to make presentations, add new information to their lectures, very often their information is old, no more actual. And then appears some kind of never-ending circle: professors don`t want to do something new, because students are not interested, and students are not interested,  because professors are giving boring lectures. So, somebody has to begin a process of changes.

I think that it`s easily to begin process of changes from students, because students are more numerous than professors. Secondly, I think that students are more open for everything new. It`s easily for them to change something in their life in compareson to experienced professors. Of course there are passive people everywhere, percentage of active mankind is not so high, but it`s important that person who wants to change something has support from at least 2-3 people. And later in the process of gradual changes, other people will join too, from those who were passive and neutral. The most important - to start, changes will come step by step, later it will be easier, because people will speak about it.

It was a victory for me when people began to speak about this Code. Despite at the begining there were negative comments, but process has started – people were discussing the Code and this was good. When students start demanding from professors – “let`s study!”, then professors will have no other way, they start making changes in their work. But again, not all professors are bad. There are some professors who initiate such changes. The most effective work happens when there is support and help from both sides.

Ukrainian educational system is very hierarchical. What can be done to start challenging this approach?

First of all, it`s important to inform students, that they have rights and can influence their curricula. We are just not informed that we can propose some changes. Definitely changes can not happen at once. You have to pursue changes systematically, rewrite and edit proposals, search for a common position. Second, it`s important to motivate students start doing something. Third, to learn how to communicate and build a dialogue with students, professors and university administration. Informational component is very important.

Theatre for Dialog