Chapter 1. Access to pre-school education through informal transactions in Ukraine

The focus of the chapter is on initial access to pre-school education. It examines informal transactions between parents and the principals of pre-schools, in which personal relationships and financial support for pre-schools are used to gain access to early childhood care and education.

Substantive and technical limitations in the online system for pre-school enrolment (e-queue) create opportunities for integrity violations. Shortages in enrolment capacity result from deficiencies in the co-ordination and planning of the pre-school network, and from outdated and cumbersome procedures for licencing of early childhood education and care (ECEC) providers that prevent the efficient use of existing infrastructure and create incentives for integrity violations.

To address these problems, the chapter recommends improving the functionality of the e-queue system and ending the involvement of pre-school principals in the selection among ranked candidates for places. The chapter also recommends expanding enrolment capacity by liberalising accreditation standards and by introducing additional sources of funding for public pre-schools.

  

Regulatory and policy background

Pre-school education and care is provided through a network of approximately 15 000 pre-school institutions, which may be founded by the national government, local governments or private entities (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 2001). Nearly all pre-schools in Ukraine are public; established by local governments and owned by them (Table 1.1). At the end of 2014, 98% of pre-schools (14 705 out of 15 002) were established and directed by local governments.

Table 1.1. Number of pre-school institutions and enrolment, by type of pre-school ownership (2014)

Public: state

Public: local government

Private entities

Total

Pre-school facilities, units

97

14 705

200

15 002

Enrolment, persons

12 502

1 271 950

10 439

1 294 891

Source: SSSU (2015), Pre-school Education in Ukraine in 2014, www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2015/bl/03/bl_dosh_14.zip.

Children can be enrolled in several types of pre-schools (Table 1.2): nursery-pre-schools (ясли-садки) for children until the age of 6 or 7; pre-schools for children aged 3 to 7 (дитячий садки); and pre-schools combined with primary or secondary schools (навчально-виховні комплекси).

Table 1.2. Types of pre-school institutions in Ukraine by enrolment age (2014)

Type

Age range (years)

Enrolment in 2014 (thousands of persons)

Nursery – pre-school (ясла-садок)

0 to 6 -7

1 018

Pre-school (дитячий садок)

3 to 7

162

Pre-schools combined with primary and/or secondary schools (навчально-виховні комплекси)

3 to graduation

116

Total

1 295

Source: SSSU (2015), Pre-school Education in Ukraine in 2014, www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2015/bl/03/bl_dosh_14.zip; Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (2001), Закон України Про дошкільну освіту [Law on Pre-school education], Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Kyiv.

In Ukraine the legal framework and general policy for pre-school education is set by the central government. Local governments are responsible for funding and organising the provision of pre-school education within the framework of state policies. Official government statistics indicate that 95% of pre-school funding is allocated by local governments with the remaining funds provided by households and the central government (SSSU, 2014). The range of local government responsibilities for pre-school education is wide, and includes maintaining a census of the pre-school-aged population; overseeing the compliance of pre-school institutions with rules and regulations; supporting the development and implementation of the pre-school education content and training of teachers; the selection and appointment of principals; the licencing of private pre-school institutions; and the attestation of pre-schools. Local governments certify the providers of pre-school education and care at least once every ten years, doing so according to the rules set by the central government (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 2001).

Responsibility for the management of pre-school institutions rests with the principal, the pedagogical council, which is a collegial management body chaired by the principal and comprising members of staff, and the board which consists of staff members and parent representatives (Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, 2001). Formally, the pre-school institution is governed by its board in between general meetings. In practice, the school principal and local educational authority provide strategic direction and leadership.

The conditions of access to pre-school education are stipulated in the 2003 Regulation of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. To enrol their child in a pre-school facility, parents submit a written application to the pre-school of their choice together with birth and medical certificates. Upon submission of these documents, the pre-school principal is free to take a decision on who will be admitted. There is no limitation to the number of pre-schools to which parents can apply.

In an effort to limit arbitrary decisions about access and provide pre-schools which experienced capacity shortages with a tool to manage excess applications, the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES) issued recommendations in 2013 on the creation of a unified system of electronic registration of children of pre-school age (e-queue system) – managed locally but following common rules of queueing and admission, and accessible through a central portal. The recommendations are general, non-binding and invite oblasts, country’s primary administrative units, and cities in Ukraine to establish local electronic registration platforms and procedures by adhering to some general principles, such as data reliability, consistency and data protection (MoES, 2013).

The MoES recommendations for the e-queue system did not provide guidance on the entry criteria that local governments were to implement with the adoption of e-queue. However, the local admission systems in major cities such as Kyiv and Lviv and in some smaller ones, exhibit a high degree of uniformity, and are accessible through a central portal. These systems require parents to register their children by submitting information about their choice of pre-school, time of enrolment and type of programme. All supporting documents need to be compiled by the family until a predefined period of time before the deadline for enrolment, by which time pre-school principals select from those high in the queue list a subset of children that indicated their pre-school as a choice, and invite them to submit complete documentation and then enrol. The rank of an application in the waiting list depends on the total waiting time: the longer the waiting time, the higher the priority of the application.

Two systems of access to pre-school now co-exist: the “traditional” school-based process based on the Regulation of 2003, and the integrated electronic queueing system. The electronic queue has been partially implemented - in places with sufficient capacity to develop the required software solutions and under pressure to deal with a surge in applications for limited pre-school places. Pre-schools in smaller cities and rural areas continue to rely on the traditional system of managing applications and deciding on access.

A. Description of integrity risk and violation

The Law on Pre-school Education guarantees all families access to publicly provided early childhood education and care: “Citizens of Ukraine regardless of race, colour, political, religious and other beliefs, sex, ethnic and social origin, property, residence, language or other signs have equal rights to pre-school education”.

Where the supply of places does not meet demand, the law’s promise of equitable access is at risk of being violated through informal transactions that provide parents or caregivers preferential placement in sought-after public pre-schools, where places are scarce. The scarcity exists especially in urbanised areas and can be examined by looking to the ratio of enrolments to the number of funded places or “over-enrolment”. In 2015 there were 117 children enrolled for 100 funded places, and in some oblasts, such as Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk, there are 1.3 to 1.4 children enrolled per funded place (SSSU, 2016a). However, over-enrolment is an imperfect measure of scarcity, since it fails to measure those who wish to enrol but could not do so, and who are queuing for places – estimated to be approximately 100 000 children nationally.

The scarcity of enrolment capacity creates opportunities for those who control entry, such as school principals, to seek unauthorised contributions to their school. While occurrence of integrity violations and assessment of frequency could not be directly observed by the review team, the risk of such malpractices exists and is confirmed by abundant anecdotal evidence.

Notes from focus groups in a major study of pre-school education in Ukraine from 2013 provide clues about the type of informal transactions that could affect access to sought-after pre-schools. Pre-school principals may seek informal and non-regulated financial or in-kind contributions by parents in return for either moving families to the front of the e-queue or admitting them to their centre, or in places still without an e-queue system by simply granting access. Families may respond in a range of ways, from bribery, disguised as one-off “help” for the pre-school institution, to the use of “connections” (Box 1.1). Some of the pre-school and school principals that met with the review team during the site visits noted that pre-school access can also be provided in exchange for long-term commitment to supporting the pre-school through parental contributions.

Box 1.1. Focus group accounts of informal transactions for pre-school access

The 2013 study of the European Research Association (ERA) confirms that the access to pre-school education is a major concern as pre-school institutions are overloaded. During ERA focus group discussions, parents reported that to secure a pre-school admission, they are required to make considerable financial contributions. “In case of refusal, the child will likely not be registered. Fees may be formal or informal, ranging between around UAH 1000 to UAH 2000 as a single fee, without taking into account further charges for various needs of the pre-school”.

Most parents perceive this both as a bribe and as a necessary contribution for the needs of their child and pre-school, as they are aware of the lack of funding from the state (“It’s not a bribe, it is like: ‘Can you help our pre-school?’. “No?” “Then excuse us, we have no place. When you help us, we will take you.”).

Another possible way to enrol a child in a state pre-school is by relying upon family or professional connections. “I had no money so I generally had a very serious approach to this issue. I took advantage of the status of my colleague, an educator. I found a workaround”. “They ask themselves: where do you work. I think this is the first question they ask themselves”.

Source: Quote from focus group discussions held in 2013 for the pre-school education study by the European Research Association (ERA, 2013).

While these contributions are perceived as a bribe by parents (ERA, 2013), school leaders and teachers report that the parental contributions are used to augment public funding by providing for additional materials and supplies, in particular for maintenance of infrastructure, procurement of goods and capital investment. However, these contributions are not publicly recorded and audited, and therefore they may also be used for the private benefits of school principals or staff.

Where electronic queueing has been implemented, the only authorised way for parents to secure a pre-school place is to register in the queue as soon as possible, as early as right after the birth of their child. However, the e-system has limitations that allow the queue to be bypassed through faster, more effective - and potentially fraudulent - strategies.

A major way for families to bypass the queue is to abuse an admission quota reserved in each pre-school for children from so-called “privileged categories” (дiти пiльгових категорiй). The central portal of the e-queue system names three such categories: children of military personnel, children affected by the Chernobyl disaster and children of military prosecutors. This list can be complemented by local governments, such as in Lviv or in Khmelnytskyi oblast, to include internally displaced families, children with disabilities who are fit to attend regular pre-school or children of large families. If children from these categories are in the e-queue list for a given pre-school institution, its principal must give them priority when compiling the admission list for the year. However, principals are not obliged to verify the authenticity of accompanying documentation and they are not accountable for the compilation of lists with children entitled to preferential access. The MoES, too, expressed a concern that the list of exceptions to the local e-queue procedure might be too broad and that evidence of membership in a preferred category might be too easily obtained.

Another opportunity to bypass the queue is through exploitation of digital vulnerabilities of the e-queue system, which in some cities has allowed some applicants in the e-queue to override the automatic first come, first serve principle. A recent example comes from Lviv, where in 2015 irregularities in the online registration procedure have forced the city authorities to annul applications and issue an official communication, inviting parents to register again in the following year (Box 1.2).

Box 1.2. Instruction about the cancellation of e-queue applications due to irregularities, City of Lviv

“Dear parents!

Please be informed that the electronic applications of all children born in 2015 with the date of registration of 28.04.2015 were removed because they were all registered illegally due to deficiencies in the electronic network of the pre-school education department.

According to clause 12 of the Rules of Procedure No. 160 setting regulations of accountability and transparency in the admission of children to pre-schools in Lviv, as approved by the Board of Education on 28 April 2015, parents can register their newly born children again from 1 January following the year of birth.”

Source: Instruction of the Department of Education of Lviv from 21 September 2015, No4-2601-1837, http://osvita.lviv.sch.in.ua/informaciya_pro_zaklad/doshkillya/.

B. Factors that create opportunities for the violation

Limitations of the e-queue system

The e-queue system makes it more difficult to secure undue preferential access and represents an improvement over prior procedures, but it has limitations that make it prone to abuse. Four limitations are noteworthy.

First, the introduction of the e-system is not obligatory. Its implementation is based on the willingness and capacity of oblasts and their local authorities to follow the normative guidance by the MoES. There are no consequences if municipalities do not adopt this guidance.

A second limitation is that in cities where e-queueing has been implemented, it is not impervious to all types of manipulation. As the experience of Lviv (Box 1.2) indicates, those who manage these applications – and those who have the skills to locate gaps in their security - can exploit them to their advantage.

A third limitation of e-queuing is that it is only as effective as the underlying principles of prioritisation that it implements. Since registration and the order of application are the only principles of prioritisation, advantage is given to children registered at birth, while those families who wait until care is needed are further down the queue. The system also treats children born earlier in the calendar year more favourably than those born later. Furthermore, parents can change priority during the waiting period without the system reacting accordingly, or decide to keep the child in the pre-school for an additional year, which again will have an impact on those still waiting for a place.

Box 1.3. Locally defined, diversified criteria for pre-school access in EU countries

In countries of the European Union, selection criteria for pre-school access are often left for the local level of government or school principals to define, following recommendations from the central authorities. Local governments may take into account not only the “first come, first serve” principle but also parents’ employment status, family status or socio-economic status. Most countries give priority to working parents, but some also refer to parents who are actively seeking employment or to parents who are in education or training. When taking family status into account, countries often give priority to orphans, children from single-parent families, large families as well as to siblings of children already in the setting. Steering documents also refer to other criteria, prioritising children with disabilities, special needs or health problems of certain ethnic groups.

Source: Eurydice and Eurostat (2014), Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe, http://dx.doi.org/10.2797/75270.

Finally, e-queueing requires principals to select from among candidates shortlisted from the queue, giving them a continuing power to override the process and engage in favouritism – rather than automatically ranking applicants and allocating them to different pre-schools according to their wish lists.

C. Factors that create incentives for the violation

Shortage of places in pre-school education

An upward pre-school enrolment trend since 2005, and the failure to invest in a commensurate increase in enrolment capacity where it was most needed – in urban centres - has led to “acute shortage” of pre-school places (ERA, 2013). Between 2005 and 2015, the average occupancy of pre-schools in Ukraine grew from 98 children per 100 places, to 117 per 100 places. (Figure 1.1) The averages mask the real extent of the challenge found in places such as Lviv (144 per 100 places in 2014), Volyn (139 per 100 in the same year) and Rivne (136 per 100) (SSSU, 2016a).

Figure 1.1. Occupancy of pre-schools, by enrolment per 100 places (1990-2015)
picture

Source: ERA (2013), Діагностика сектору дошкільної освіти в Україні [Diagnosis of the Pre-school Education Sector in Ukraine], European Research Association; SSSU (2016a), Дошкільна освіта України [Pre-school Education in Ukraine in 2015], www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2016/bl/06_2/bl_dnz_15.zip.

Prior to 2002, Ukraine experienced a steep decline in the number of youth. In response to this decline and amid recommendations of fiscal austerity, the number of pre-school facilities maintained by local governments decreased from 24 500 in 1990 to 15 100 in 2005 (SSSU, 2011). Some facilities were given by educational authorities to be used for other governmental functions, such as pension offices or tax offices. Facilities of other pre-schools were converted to commercial purposes unrelated to pre-school education. For example, during the site visits for this review, the city authorities in Lviv noted that approximately 50% of pre-school facilities in Lviv were sold or rented out between 1991 and 1996. The authorities also remarked that the buildings that were rented have been modified to an extent where a retrieval for use as pre-schools would require capital investment, which might be as costly as constructing a new building.

As a consequence, in urban areas the number of children in pre-schools exceeded the number of available places. The number of places in pre-school institutions increased from 1 056 000 in 2005 to 1 105 029 in 2015. However, this still left Ukraine a total of 186 178 places short of satisfying demand in 2015. According to the information provided by the Ministry of Education and Science, in 2014 there were 90 000 children waiting for a place in a public pre-school, 15 000 in Kyiv alone.

High stakes of securing a place in public pre-school institutions

One sign of shortage can be found in a practice that parents described to the review: parents register children in the e-queue system at birth to increase the chances of enrolment when the time comes for the child to enter pre-school care. Parents sometimes compete for pre-school places for four reasons.

First, access to a sought-after pre-school can secure access to sought-after, prestigious primary and secondary schools. As will be discussed in Chapter 3 on school access, pre-schools are increasingly operated by selective primary and secondary schools, and parents enrol their children in such pre-schools with a view to gaining entry to an elite school early on and avoiding the risks of selection that would occur with a later entry.

Second, enrolment in pre-school education is also an important source of support for working mothers. The economic circumstances of families in Ukraine force both parents to work, sometimes in multiple jobs. Especially in cities, where families cannot rely on family members (grandparents) for support, placement in a day-care facility becomes a critical priority.

Third, motivation to secure a place in a high-quality public pre-school is reinforced by the high price of private alternatives, which can be as high as UAH 12 000 per month (more than two times the average household total income of UAH 5 122) (SSSU, 2016b), and the unreliable quality of unlicensed private pre-schools, which the review team was informed are widespread and considerably more affordable. Providing unauthorised and informal contributions to public pre-schools to secure a place in a good public pre-school is a much less expensive option than private pre-school and a better investment.

Last but not least, pre-school education is emotionally charged. It is the first separation for the child from the family, thus parental anxiety and care for the child’s wellbeing is typically higher than for the next stages in the education trajectory, which increases readiness to agree to informal requests in exchange for access.

Failures in planning the network of pre-schools

Inadequate supply of pre-school places has also resulted from failures in the planning of the network of public pre-school providers, and from outdated licensing requirements that were, until 2016, limiting the expansion of enrolment capacity.

There are two key dimensions of deficient planning at local and national levels of decision-making. First, the existing stock of pre-school facilities may not be well managed. In 2014, 356 pre-school facilities were idle, and a third of these had been idle for longer than 10 years (SSSU, 2015). Plan to “re-activate” them were either not in place, or were too expensive to implement. Second, new housing compounds and districts have been approved and built without expanding the network of pre-schools to the new residential districts. Developers are legally obligated to pay impact fees to municipal budgets for the support of the social infrastructure, including schools. However, they have either ignored these obligations or paid impact fees at a rate that adds less additional capacity than new housing demands.

Outdated licensing requirements that limit enrolment capacity

Pre-school institutions in Ukraine operated according to space requirements that, by contemporary international standards, were excessive. These standards unnecessarily constrained the enrolment capacity of public pre-schools, significantly contributing to the lack of capacity and competition for access. New regulations adopted in May 2016 substantially relaxed these constraints and should provide, in time, significantly increased flexibility in provision.

Box 1.4. Space requirements for pre-school institutions in the OECD

In OECD countries in general, space requirements are set in square meters per child. Indoor space requirements are largest for family day care, followed by childcare centres and pre-school. The OECD average for regulated indoor space per child is set at 2.9 m² per child for pre-school, while it is 3.6 m² for care centres. The OECD average outdoor space requirement per child is 7 m² in pre-school, while it is 8.9 m² in childcare. In Ukraine in 2014, the average indoor space per child in pre-school institutions for the youngest learners (0-3) was more than twice the international average - 7.37 m² for the age group 0-3. For children 3 years and older Ukraine had an indoor space requirement of about 1.5 times the international average (5.83 m² vs. 3.6 m²).

Source: OECD (2011), Encouraging Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) International Comparison: Minimum Standards, www.oecd.org/education/school/48483436.pdf; SSSU (2016a), Дошкільна освіта України [Pre-school Education in Ukraine in 2015], www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2016/bl/06_2/bl_dnz_15.zip.

Private pre-schools could also potentially ease the pressure on pre-school facilities. However in Ukraine, the network of private pre-schools is very small – in 2015 there were only 177 private pre-schools (SSSU, 2016a). The reasons lay in burdensome procedures for licencing, difficulties finding appropriate facilities that meet ECEC standards, and high initial investment costs combined with the fact that high admission and monthly fees limit the number of families using this service. As a result, 70% of private pre-schools close in the first year of operation (ERA, 2013). These factors keep the number of legally operating private pre-schools low and allow them to charge very high fees. They also stimulate the proliferation of numerous small-scale, unlicensed alternatives that are considerably more affordable but also not subject to any form of quality control.

D. Policy options

Closing the opportunities for malpractice

Improve the functionality and reach of the e-queue system

An important short-term goal should be to address shortcomings of the electronic queuing system. These improvements should include:

  • Adopting software improvements that make the e-queue application more secure.

  • Moving to a fully algorithm-based system of assigning children to pre-school places, so that pre-school principals cannot influence the allocation of places.

  • Diversifying the criteria for waiting list priority in addition to the time of registration in the e-queue. The criteria should be adopted by each oblast in accordance with its specifics and needs, following framework guidelines to be developed by the MoES. As a minimum, the guidelines should determine what criteria are acceptable and how they are documented.

Eliminating the incentives for malpractice

Liberalise accreditation standards and procedures to expand ECEC enrolment capacity

The review team recommends reassessing the accreditation of pre-school institutions by liberalising the licensing standards in view of lowering the cost of building new public pre-schools, reducing the resource burden of operating existing ones, and legalising the reportedly widespread, but informal provision of private pre-school services.

The liberalisation concerns in particular the requirements with respect to space per child and in-house preparation of food. If children are cared for in one multipurpose room rather than two separate rooms, there should be no impact on the quality of care and child wellbeing - while the physical capacity of pre-schools would nearly double. Another bottleneck highlighted during the team’s meetings is the requirement that food be prepared at each facility rather than catered. The requirement to maintain an operational kitchen in each facility also reduces the space available for pre-school groups, and fails to take advantage of flexibility and economies associated with outsourcing. Similarly, the requirement for own playground and garden especially limits the possibilities for organising new pre-school facilities in metropolitan areas of cities.

Provisions adopted in May 2016 have already liberalised some of the standards with respect to pre-school accreditation and provide much-needed flexibility in the use of space. It is important to ensure that the conditions created by these new standards lead to an increase in capacity for pre-school provision, and that public and private pre-schools enjoy greater flexibility in structuring the services they offer.

Create conditions for the sustainable funding of ECEC expansion

The plans to expand ECEC provision shared with the review team continue to rely on public funding, despite a widespread concern that resources are not readily available and that local authorities might have other, more imminent funding priorities.

The review advises developing a plan for the diversification of funding sources of public pre-schools, for instance through the promotion of public-private partnerships. This should be preceded by careful consideration of conditions under which such partnerships can take place, and a special focus on alternative forms of ownership and/or management of pre-schools.

References

ERA (2013), Діагностика сектору дошкільної освіти в Україні [Diagnosis of the Pre-school Education Sector in Ukraine], European Research Association.

Eurydice and Eurostat (2014), Key Data on Early Childhood Education and Care in Europe, 2014 Edition, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, http://dx.doi.org/10.2797/75270.

MoES (2013), Методичні рекомендації щодо створення уніфікованої системи електронної реєстрації дітей дошкільного віку [Guidelines for Creating a Unified System of Electronic Registration of Pre-school Children], http://osvita.ua/legislation/doshkilna-osvita/36579/.

OECD (2011), “Encouraging Quality in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) International Comparison: Minimum Standards”, OECD, Paris, www.oecd.org/education/school/48483436.pdf.

SSSU (2016a), Дошкільна освіта України [Pre-school Education in Ukraine in 2015], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv, www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2016/bl/06_2/bl_dnz_15.zip.

SSSU (2016b), Витрати і ресурси домогосподарств України у 2015 році [Expenditure and Resources of Households of Ukraine in 2015], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv, http://ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2016/zb/07/zb_vrdgu2015pdf.zip.

SSSU (2015), Pre-school Education in Ukraine in 2014, State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv, www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2015/bl/03/bl_dosh_14.zip.

SSSU (2014), Національні рахунки освіти в Україні [National Education Expenditure in Ukraine in 2014], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv, www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/publicat/kat_u/2016/bl/02/bl_NRO14_pdf.zip.

SSSU (2011), Дошкільні навчальні заклади України у 2010 році [Pre-school Education Institutions in Ukraine in the year 2010], State Statistics Service of Ukraine, Kyiv, www.ukrstat.gov.ua/druk/katalog/poslugi/Doshk%20zakl.zip.

Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (2001), Закон України Про дошкільну освіту [Law on Pre-school education], Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, Kyiv.

ANNEX 1.A1. References of legal sources

References cited as source of Box 1.2:

Instruction of the Department of Education of Lviv from 21 September 2015, No4-2601-1837, http://osvita.lviv.sch.in.ua/informaciya_pro_zaklad/doshkillya/.