Why Tutoring Matters for Orphans in Ukraine

Given the inconsistencies in the formal curricula taught in secondary schools and required on university entrance exams,[1] and generally inadequate quality of education in orphanages,[2] orphans are not prepared to take university entrance exams and to handle academic rigor at a university. For orphans who are accepted into universities, admission does not translate into graduation, as the majority of orphans struggle academically to compete with their peers who had graduated from better quality secondary schools and had years of tutoring to enhance their academic competencies. The Paving the Path to University program that Sublimitas has launched this year provides an opportunity for university-bound orphans to develop academic competencies and to prepare for university entrance exams through intensive tutoring with experienced teachers outside the orphanage.

A little over a month into the tutoring program, the responses of the participating orphans about their tutoring experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

Mykola, who is interested in majoring in history, stated: “I am gaining knowledge through tutoring classes. What I have learned in just one month, I would not have learned that in two months in school.” Mykola is one of the top students who came in 3rd place in the regional Olympiad contest in English. 

Zhanna who is eager to be a doctor and is determined to get accepted into a medical school told me that she noticed a remarkable difference between the first day of tutoring and five weeks later: “I can feel the difference. For example, I had a hard time comprehending chemistry as a subject, now it’s a piece of cake for me.” In her free time, Zhanna loves studying biology; it is the first subject she wants to discuss when we talk about her academic progress. Zhanna lists all of the topics she has covered with her tutor for the past month and comments about her academic competence in biology: "Now it takes me about 20 minutes to go over my notes and be prepared for the test." Zhanna is now helping her younger peers with biology assignments. This fall, Zhanna exceeded her teachers' expectations when she came in 4th place in the regional Olympiad contest in biology. 

Alina who is interested in pursuing philology and majoring in foreign languages mentioned that “tutoring is helping [me] so much” while she is being tutored in history, English, math, and the Ukrainian language. Alina reported that her grades in the core subjects have improved for the past several months: "I used to get 9 points [3] in math, now I get 10. The same goes for the Ukrainian language and History. I am at 10 points now."

Ruslana, eager to pursue tourism management, shared her tutoring experience: “I am learning so much more with the tutor than with the teacher in class. If I don’t understand something, the tutor explains it to me thoroughly. I am totally into history now. It’s so captivating for me to learn about history. And I love geography!”

Similar to Ruslana, Natalia is eager to pursue tourism management. She stated that thanks to tutoring she is more engaged academically and has made significant progress in the subject matters she will be tested on next year. Natalia described her tutoring experience as such: “Geography was not easy for me, but the teacher explains everything thoroughly. Compared to what I had known before and know now, I have learned a whole lot more, and I am more motivated to study.” Natalia is a transfer student from another rural orphanage and she explained that in the previous school where she had studied some teachers did not teach the curriculum content and instead digressed from the instruction or spent 45 minutes on class management: “Geography was introduced to us in Grade 8. But because the teacher didn’t pay attention to us and just chatted with us, telling us about how he/she was studying at the university, the teacher didn’t really teach us much.”

For students with interrupted learning like Vadym, who had been in a shelter for two years before he was transferred to the rural orphanage, tutoring is particularly important to enable him to catch up with the curriculum and develop academic competencies in such subject matters as math, the Ukrainian language, history, and English: “I am trying hard. It’s not easy for me. But I am learning a lot.” Vadym is good at math and is eager to major in economics: “I’ve always enjoyed math. I am always asked to help out with homework in math.” Vadym reported that when he was in a mainstream school in his hometown he had an inspiring teacher who fostered his interest in math: “I had an amazing math teacher who would always engage me in class. The rest of the teachers did not call on me, so I didn’t really study that well in other subjects.”

Similar to his classmates, Vitya, interested in majoring in history, is enjoying his tutoring experience and speaks confidently about the impact of tutoring on his academic performance, abilities, and self-esteem: “I am doing well. Tutoring is helping me. My grades have improved, particularly in the subject matters I am tutored in: history, geography, and math. I am definitely more confident in my grades. I do feel that I have earned those 11 points that I get in history now.” Vitya also noted that due to individual tutoring he has developed confidence in his academic abilities and as a result has become more engaged in class: “Earlier, I didn’t want to speak up in class. Now, I am confident in my academic abilities and I participate in class more.”

These student accounts demonstrate the positive effect of tutoring on the students’ academic knowledge, academic performance, increased motivation for learning, and enhanced confidence in their academic abilities and educational success. While it is not easy to keep up with homework at school and attend intensive tutoring three times a week that comes with additional homework, all 7 students are motivated by one goal - to pass the university entrance exams and be admitted to universities to pursue their dreams of higher education. 

All of the students spoke about the tutor-student relationship favorably. They described their teachers-tutors as respectful, attentive, considerate, and committed to teaching individuals. For example, Zhanna mentioned that one of the teachers goes at great length to cover all the required content material in one lesson, going beyond one hour of class: “For example, we are supposed to meet with the teacher for one hour, but typically our classes last an hour and a half. The other day, I came to class at 4:30pm and didn’t leave until 7pm, until the teacher taught me everything.” This shows tutors’ commitment to and investment in teaching when they are being compensated for their one-on-one instruction to supplement their low teacher salaries and are being sought after and valued as experts in their field.

1. Hrynevych, L., Toropova, A., Pylnuk, T., Sereda, L., & Gerasevich, U. (2006). Ukraine. In I. Silova, M. Bray, & V. Budiene (Eds.), Education in a hidden marketplace: Monitoring of private tutoring (pp. 305–323). New York, NY: Open Society Institute.

2.  Korzh, A. (2014). ‘Adapting’ education to student needs: Unchallenging education in Ukrainian orphanages. In Napier, D. B. (Ed.), Qualities of education in a globalized world (pp. 167-184). Rotterdam, Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

3. The highest number of points earned is 12 (1 to 12), which is equivalent to A+.