On October 26, 2017, a round table discussion “Language Issue in the Law on Education” was held in the Mirror Hall of the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, Liliya Hrynevych, Rector of Lviv University, Professor Volodymyr Melnyk, representatives of the Polish national minority and schools with Polish as a language of instruction took part in the event.

During the event, the Rector of the University pointed out that now the main task for Ukrainian education and science is to shift the issue of the Law on Language from political speculation to educational and methodological discussions.

What concerns implementation of Article 7 of the new Law on Education, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine said that the main purpose of the “language article” is to teach all Ukrainian children to speak Ukrainian fluently.

“The myths that schools with languages ​​of national minorities will close down because of this article, that children will not be allowed to be taught in languages ​​of national minorities are not true. Therefore, it is important for us to have a direct dialogue with all representatives of national minorities so that we could explain that all our international obligations will be fulfilled and we respect the rights of national minorities,” said Liliya Hrynevych.

According to the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine, the pupils themselves will benefit from their fluency in the official language as this will enable them to receive higher education and successfully build their careers in Ukraine.

“We do not seek assimilation. We value identity, the right of everyone to speak their mother tongue and to have an opportunity to fulfill themselves with the help of  their mother tongue. This is part of the national identity of each person. Therefore, we are against assimilation, but we are in favor of integration. Integration is extremely important for Ukraine for the sake of successful development of every citizen,” said Liliya Hrynevych.

At the same time, the Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine noted that the authors of the law and government authorities remain open for further discussion and look forward to the opinion of the Venice Commission, which is examining the Law on Education.

“We are ready to discuss the implementation of Article 7 of the Law on Education. We have requested the opinion of the Venice Commission, but there is a limit to our concessions – we have to teach children to speak in fluent Ukrainian, and this cannot be limited by any legal advice,” emphasized Liliya Hrynevych.

Moreover, the Minister pointed out that the “language article” of the Law on Education is very general and needs to be specified in future documents.

“For instance, the word “may” in paragraph 4 of the article raises questions, the article grants the right to study subjects in one’s mother tongue if it belongs to the EU languages. The word “may” does not imply a guarantee. However, one should understand that these norms are for all stages of education, from pre-school to higher education,” explained the Minister.

The representatives of Polish schools during the round table discussion emphasized that the implementation process should take into account the specifics of every school, or there should be a mechanism that would take into consideration the specifics.

“Representatives of different nationalities study at our school, namely Ukrainians, Koreans, Austrians, Poles, etc. We teach in Ukrainian, Polish and Russian. And all our pupils speak at least three languages at a high level. It is important for us to have the freedom to teach subjects in different languages,” emphasized Svitlana Dolhova, the director of school N. 3 in Ivano-Frankivsk.

Other representatives of schools with instruction in the Polish language also claimed that it is necessary to take into account the specifics of each minority.

Liliya Hrynevych stressed that the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine is now actively working on new programs and textbooks of the Ukrainian language. She encouraged the representatives of schools to join this process.

According to the Ministry of Education and Science, about 400,000 children of national minorities study in Ukraine in 735 educational establishments. In the 2016/2017 academic year, there were 2 pre-school educational establishments where Polish was the language of instruction. In general, 137 children attend kindergartens with Polish as a language of instruction. In comprehensive schools, 1,785 pupils study in Polish, 45,964 students study Polish as a subject, among them 27,636 pupils study it as a second language.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Khmelnytskyi regions there are 5 comprehensive schools with Polish as a language of instruction, 1 comprehensive school with Polish and Ukrainian, 1 comprehensive school with Polish and Russian.

It is worth mentioning that the Law on Education came into force on September 28, 2017. According to Article 7 of the Law, starting from September 1, 2018, children can receive pre-school and primary education in a minority language, while simultaneously studying the official language. From the 5th grade children will start to study in the official language, and the language of the national minority will be studied as a separate discipline. If the language of the national minority belongs to the languages of the European Union, then it is possible to teach in this language one or several disciplines.