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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Supermarkets of knowledge

Young people, who are not satisfied with official education, create informal street universities and emphasize self-education
15 November, 2012 - 00:00
Photo by Ruslan KANIUKA, The Day

Street universities are rapidly becoming more popular in Ukraine. Active youth do not think that the knowledge provided by the official education is enough, so they look for additional sources of useful first-hand information. Experts explain that society has more demand for practical knowledge and quality education, which is a positive trend. Another positive aspect is that the youth are able to independently self-organize and create all the necessary conditions for intellectual growth. And Ukraine is not the only country practicing this: the increased interest in informal education, instead of, or in addition to, the formal one can be observed all around the world. The columnist Dmitry Gubin writes on the website of the Russian social and political magazine Ogonek about the vogue of intellect that emerged and is rapidly increasing in Russia. Young people, and not only them, choose to spend their free time attending various lectures, seminars, trainings, and courses, and spend considerable amounts of money on that. The author ponders over the nature of this trend and comes up with the following explanation: “the era of consumerism has sputtered out, and demand for intellectual leisure has appeared.” Education experts and supporters of alternative ways of gaining knowledge name such reasons as non-conformity of formal education to the students’ expectations, and the fact that knowledge becomes outdated too fast in the conditions of the dynamic globalized world.

STREET AS AN EDUCATIONAL ESTABLISHMENT

The first street university in Ukraine appeared in Simferopol in 2010. The initiators were inspired by a similar practice in Saint Petersburg. The European University was shut down in 2008 there, and the students were deprived of an ability to complete their education. The youth did not give up, and continued their education in the street in the most literal sense: in parks and public gardens. The project turned out to be so successful that the format of street universities became popular even in places where official universities have nothing to be afraid of. “Ukraine has a problem with formal education. And in this context, informal education becomes increasingly popular, because it gives an opportunity to gain new, practical knowledge, share experience and truly useful information, communicate with professionals in an informal environment,” the founder of the first street university in Ukraine Kateryna SERHATSKOVA tells The Day. According to her, “the format of free public lectures is a global trend that develops all across the world, and there is nothing strange about it taking root and actively developing in Ukraine too.” There are no grades, term papers, exams, and compulsory attendance of lectures. There is also no university building, there only are lecturers and the audience. The classes in street universities are held in the open: in parks, public gardens, on beaches, etc. The atmosphere is unconstrained and live. “The very format of a street university provides its being an interactive platform, where the audience defines topics independently,” Serhatskova explains.

Other Ukrainian cities followed Simferopol’s initiative, and street universities appeared in Feodosia, Kherson, Chernivtsi, Lviv, and Uzhhorod. Besides, other organizations started holding open presentations and discussions in the format of informal education. Similar initiatives became popular immediately.

“Modern formal education, especially Ukrainian, is rather peculiar. In particular, the gap between theory and practice is appreciable. In order to become a real expert, one needs more than just a university degree. It is utterly important to keep track of all the recent achievements in one’s specialization and communicate with people who have extensive experience in a certain field. Besides, technical progress allows one to opt for distant education, instantly obtain necessary information, and study in the most comfortable conditions and at the most convenient times. This is why self-education becomes extremely relevant and opens new intellectual horizons,” tells The Day Taras PROKOPYSHYN, one of the organizers of a street university in Lviv, where more than a thousand people have already attended 10 lectures. “This shows the success of the project and the demand society has for public initiatives of this kind. Eighty people on average attend a lecture. Lectures by Vasyl Shkliar and the manager Carol Bailey from US were the most popular: each gathered over two hundred of listeners. The majority of the audience is formed by university students and youth,” Prokopyshyn says. In Simferopol, the audience also consisted of youth, and people who already have a university degree in particular.

“Today self-education is a necessity,” says the initiator of a street university in Uzhhorod Yulia DUB. “Sometimes it seems to me that lowering of the level of quality of formal education was the government’s conscious decision, because it is easier to control uneducated people. Active youth realize the importance of obtaining knowledge and putting it to use. The more you think, the more you understand the processes that are happening in your life, the country, and the global context.”

KNOWLEDGE WITHOUT LIMITS

The 25-year-old journalist Olena Churanova received a master’s diploma from the National University Kyiv Mohyla Academy a few years ago, but she still continues to acquire new knowledge through self-education. “I am convinced that it is never too late to learn. And if you work as a journalist, you are constantly getting new knowledge,” Churanova tells The Day. Besides numerous lectures, seminars, trainings, and master classes that she attends not only in Kyiv, but also in other cities, Churanova is interested in available online classes. At the moment, she is one of the million listeners of free online courses program of the leading world universities Coursera. The project becomes extremely popular all over the world and aims to provide equal access to quality education, regardless of place of residence and level of prosperity of listeners. There students watch video lectures, do homework, read additional books, write essays, and take tests. Today, the number of Coursera listeners from Ukraine approaches the 10,000 mark.

“I like Coursera, because it reflects the essence of modern education available to everyone, global education that has no limits. For example, while studying history, I have an opportunity to look at any of its periods from the point of view of any other student, and there are 80,000 of them taking the world history class, and these people are literally from all around the world. And it is not the lectures by famous professors that you can watch online that is the most precious part of the program, but discussions, communication, and exchange of experience among all the students who took the course,” the girl explains.

Just a year ago, all the project could offer to listeners were a few courses from Stanford University, but today the number of universities is approaching 20, and the number of courses has exceeded 100. Everyone who takes the course and successfully passes the test receives a certificate from the university.

Churanova is now studying world history, but she has already signed up for a number of courses that are poised to begin soon: about women’s movement, healthy eating, and guitar playing. “You can get better at things you missed at high school, or learn things you always wanted to but never had time or opportunities to do so,” says the girl. “Self-education is growing increasingly popular in the modern dynamic world, and there is an endless number of opportunities to receive it, all you need is a desire to do it.”

SUPERMARKET OF KNOWLEDGE, OR A USEFUL ALTERNATIVE TO SPENDING TIME AT CAFE

Organizers of the Kruhozir evening school also felt the society’s need of informal education and practical knowledge, and created a new type of “useful and practical leisure.” They call their project the “Supermarket of Knowledge.” There, a person receives up-to-date, the most useful and practical knowledge and skills on a certain subject in two or three hours (and there are over 300 such subjects there: from hobbies, cookery, psychology, to promoting one’s own business in social networks, organization of trips to New Zealand, Europe, Asia, search of educational programs abroad, etc.).

“There is a need to learn as much as possible in a short period of time. If a person is interested in a certain subject, they do not necessarily have to go to the university to get a degree in this field. The courses give people an opportunity to develop in different spheres: today you are listening to a lecture on social networks, and tomorrow you are getting acquainted with tips on how to organize a budget trip,” the co-founder of Kruhozir Myroslava PAVLYK said to The Day.

The audience at the presentations is typically aged 20 to 35 and prefers new knowledge, communication, and meeting interesting people, rather than loitering about at cafes or going to the movies. “Just like the street university, we emphasize the free-and-easy atmosphere and a gripping, live way of presenting information. Our presenters are experts in their field, devoted and prepared to share their expertise with others. And our prices are more than affordable,” says Pavlyk. “We operate like low-cost flights: first-comers pay less, than late-comers. We gather people who are interested in gaining new knowledge, yet who cannot spare a lot of time and money. The busy rate of living prompts our contemporaries to opt for self-education,” summarized Pavlyk.

By Maria SEMENCHENKO, The Day
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