Elementary schools

Elementary schools [початкові школи, народні школи; pochatkovi shkoly, narodni shkoly]. Until the 18th century schools were run by the church. The secularization of education at the end of the 18th century brought in new kinds of elementary schools. On Ukrainian territories within the Russian Empire primary schools with a two-year curriculum were known as minor schools (mali uchylyshcha) and those with a four-year curriculum were known as major schools in accordance with the statute of 1786. Other primary schools run by various agencies included the ministry (ministerskie) or government (kazennye) schools; the parochial schools, private schools, and Sunday schools, and, in accordance with the 1864 and 1874 statutes, zemstvo schools. On the average, most primary schools had a three-year curriculum. However, the ministry ‘two-class’ schools, which had two teachers in two separate classrooms, had a five-year curriculum.

County schools were elementary schools of a more advanced type than the primary schools. They were established in 1804 in county and gubernia towns to prepare pupils from different estates for the gymnasiums to which they were subordinated. Graduates of primary schools spent another two years in the county schools. In 1828 the link with the gymnasiums was severed, and the program of the county schools was lengthened to three years. Introductory courses to the professions were set up in county schools, which were designed basically for the children of merchants, craftsmen, and other town residents.

In 1872 county schools and parochial schools were replaced by city schools with a six-year curriculum that combined the primary and the senior elementary programs. The pupils of these schools could not enter gymnasiums or Realschulen. City-school teachers were trained at special teachers' institutes. The first teachers' institute of this type in Ukraine was established in Hlukhiv in 1874. In 1912 these schools were replaced by upper elementary schools.

After the school reforms of 1775–83 the elementary schools in Austrian-ruled Ukraine consisted of normal schools, major schools (Hauptschulen), trivium schools (Trivialschulen), and parochial schools. In the 1860s all these schools were reorganized into public schools (German: Volksschulen, Polish: szkoły ludowe, Ukrainian: narodni shkoly). The number of grades varied from one to seven, and the curriculum took six to seven years to complete. In Galicia and Bukovyna the public schools in the towns were organized in a somewhat different way from those in the villages. The higher-level town schools were called senior elementary schools (vydilovi shkoly). The law of 1868 established similar schools in Transcarpathia, except that some of the public schools were run by the church, while in Galicia and Bukovyna almost all public schools were state-run.

The Ukrainian language was used as the language of instruction only in Galicia and Bukovyna. In Russian-ruled Ukraine the language used in school was Russian, and in Transcarpathia it was usually Hungarian.

In the period of Ukrainian struggle for independence (1917–20) the elementary schools were Ukrainianized, and many new schools were opened. In 1917 the Society of School Education drafted a plan for unified labor schools (iedyni trudovi shkoly)—12-year schools providing general education. The Ministry of Education of the Ukrainian National Republic incorporated this plan into its program for a public education system, but the plan was never put into effect.

In 1921 elementary schools on Ukrainian territory under the Polish regime, came under the same statutes as those in Polish lands. They were known as public schools (Polish: szkoły powszechne, Ukrainian: vseliudni or narodni shkoly). Later elementary education was subdivided into three levels in accordance with the law of 11 March 1932: the first level consisted of the first four grades; the second, of grades five and six, and the third of grade seven. When Transcarpathia became part of Czechoslovakia, its elementary schools expanded rapidly. Beginning in 1930 they had an eight-year curriculum. Senior elementary schools were known as municipal schools (Ukrainian: horozhanski shkoly, Slovak: občanské or měštanské školy). Meanwhile, the quality of elementary education in Romanian-ruled Bukovyna declined seriously because of a shortage of qualified teachers and the compulsory use of Romanian.

The subjects that were taught in elementary schools were religion, reading and writing, basic mathematics, singing, drawing, handicrafts, physical education, and, in the higher grades, geography, natural science, history, and literature. Sometimes foreign languages were taught as well.

In the Ukrainian SSR the People's Commissariat of Education published in the summer of 1920 a new plan for a unified labor school that differed from that in the Russian SFSR. The plan provided for elementary schools of two levels: grades one to four and grades five to seven. Schools of the first level were called primary schools (pochatkovi shkoly), and they accepted children aged 8 to 11. A large number of these schools were incomplete: in 1928, 36 percent of the schools had only three grades, and 15.7 percent had only two. Most peasant children ended their schooling with grade two. Only 15 percent of pupils attended grade four. In 1930 the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolshevik) of Ukraine adopted a resolution that elementary education was to be compulsory up to grade four and that it was to include more polytechnical and vocational training.

In 1934 the incomplete secondary school of general education was established. It provided a seven-year program; hence, it was really an incomplete elementary school by Western standards. Its popular name was seven-year school.

The four-year primary schools continued to exist both as separate schools and as the first level of the seven-year schools and ten-year schools (full secondary schools). The number of separate primary schools, their enrollment, and the enrollment in the first four grades of other schools in the various years are shown in table 1 and table 2. In 1938–9, 78.7 percent of the pupils in grades one to four were instructed in Ukrainian, 14.2 percent in Russian, and 6.3 percent in other languages.

After the Second World War, primary schools were quickly re-established with the help of the population. By 1944–5 there were already 15,596 primary schools with an enrollment of 1,366,000 pupils. The number of primary schools later diminished as more advanced types of elementary schools expanded.

Later primary schools were found mostly in small villages and were branches of the nearest eight-year schools (see below). In 1969–70 the number of grades in primary schools was reduced to three. The ‘labor and polytechnical education’ that was reintroduced in 1959 was radically altered after 1964 (the fall of Nikita Khrushchev): it was limited to handicrafts classes, excursions, and so on. Thus, there was a return to a more traditional pedagogical approach. According to the recommendations of the conference held in Tashkent on 29 May 1979 under the slogan ‘The Russian language is the language of friendship and co-operation among the peoples of the USSR,’ Russian was to be given a privileged position in the school program starting with grade one.

Table 3 shows the development of the seven-year schools. The decline in the number of these schools from the early 1950s resulted from the expansion of more advanced schools such as the ten-year schools and, in 1959–65, of eleven-year schools. Yet the percentage of seven-year Ukrainian schools was higher than of seven-year Russian schools in Ukraine: 85.3 percent compared to 67.8 percent in 1951.

In 1959, a year after the new law was issued in Moscow, seven-year schools were replaced by eight-year schools. Thus, elementary education was raised to the level of elementary education in the West. The eight-year school was designed for children between the ages of 7 and 15–16. From 1965–6 the enrollment in these schools steadily declined from 8,670,500 to 7,600,000 in 1978–9 as a result of the declining birthrate. In 1978 over 99 percent of the graduates of eight-year schools continued their education in secondary schools.

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[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]

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