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NCUE Conference Overview by Ulana Pidzamecky

National Conference for Ukrainian Educators (NCUE)
“Celebrating Ukrainian Heritage Through Global Connections”
May 23-25, 2019
Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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“School is about pow wow” (honouring your culture)
–Dr. Kevin Lamoureux, University of Winnipeg, Education Lead, National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

Resounding accolades to skilled co-chairs Nancy Lovenjak and Susan Zuk and their talented, dedicated organizational team for an invigorating professional gathering graced by warm and generous hometown hospitality! An impressive venue, broad range of presenters and topics, thoughtful social and cultural activities, provocative key note speakers, comfortable amenities for guests from near and far, and perhaps most important of all, showcasing the proud children of the bilingual program of Manitoba, their wonderful work and achievements! I cannot imagine a more successful celebration of the 40th anniversary of the English-Ukrainian Bilingual Program and the substantial work of the Osvita Foundation.

Memorable special events included a pre-conference student session on smart phone addiction led by respected global affairs analyst and seasoned international journalist Michael Bociurkiw; the deeply moving photo exhibition at Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural and Educational Centre entitled STILL STANDING – a centenary tribute to the fight for freedom of the Western Ukrainian People’s Republic; the highly-anticipated performance of the Canadian Bandurist Capella; a tour of the Canadian Museum of Human Rights – the only museum solely devoted to human rights; as well as a bus tour of the stained glass masterpieces by renowned artist and sculptor Leo Mol. 

Multiple daily parallel sessions and speakers engaged participants using digital, multimedia approaches in small group and plenary presentations, training, master classes, and workshops. Best practices which have proven their mettle, along with innovations and developments from the field around the world were shared, interrogated, and taken up with a view to continue this process as a broader dispersed Ukrainian language teaching and learning community of practice. 

Foundational organizations such as UNF National Ridna Shkola Initiatives Committee, the UCC National Ukrainian Education Council, the UWC World Coordinating Educational Council, and MIOK (International Institute for Education, Culture and Relations with the Diaspora, Lviv) were well represented, visible, and fundamentally involved. This conference proved once again the importance of our Ukrainian community constituent and umbrella organizations in providing leadership and vision, as well as serving as able and valued partners for local organizations, such as the Osvita Foundation in Manitoba and the Manitoba Parents for Ukrainian Education (MPUE), who hosted this important event.

Some key takeaways: 

  Pedagogical guidance, administrative advice, and methodological experiments from the past which can be found in such archival documents as Ridnoshkilnyk (UCC Ontario Provincial Council) and the reports and papers of career-long Ukrainian School Inspector, the late Mr. Ivan Bodnarchuk, resonate today and contribute important reflections about developing the Ukrainian teaching professional (Oksana Levytska, Chair, NUEC and UNF Ridna Shkola Committee).

Ukrainian educators outside Ukraine are a crucial resource for those in Ukraine who find themselves as internal migrants, or who have been displaced from their work by the war in the east. This is especially true at a time when this situation has for the most part fallen from media attention. In addition, Ukrainians have the expertise to lead in the area of cyber pedagogy, not only to overcome such hurdles, but to assist Ukrainian learning around the world (Michael Bociurkiw, global analyst and guest speaker).

The key to engaging teenaged Ukrainian language learners is through intellectual activities – inquiry/problem-based learning – where their diverse talents, skills and curiosity are recognized, valued and invited in order to build communities of learners, a sense of belonging/ownership, and lasting student relationships. Students need to know that we believe in them, and that we know they have critical faculties and to support their development (Valentina Noseworthy, Winnipeg).

Cross-disciplinary lessons open up application-based language learning. For example, East Selkirk School in Winnipeg conducts an innovative sustainability program in beekeeping for students, (thanks to grant money from their local Hydro). Such activities provide important discovery-based, heuristic learning opportunities.

Canada continues to be the leader in Ukrainian as a second/foreign language education through its schools, programs, and materials, including new resources recently produced for instruction in geography, history, and language, thanks to the professional efforts of the Toronto Branch of the Ukrainian Canadian School Board, the Ukrainian Language Education Centre (Edmonton), and the UWC World Coordinating Educational Council (headquartered in Toronto) (Oksana Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych, past chair UWC-WCEC).

Introductory Ukrainian Online (University of Manitoba) uses the power of technology paired with Ukrainian cartoons and music to create interest and boost confidence, so as to encourage secondary students to pursue Ukrainian at the post-secondary level notwithstanding their area of interest/speciality/field (Iryna Konstantiuk, Winnipeg).

Just released and pending funding for broad distribution: a new gr. 1 resource for faith development, including teacher and student workbooks, physical and digital materials, produced by the Ukrainian Catholic University in cooperation with AFUES (The Alberta Foundation for Ukrainian Education Society).

Ukrainian language proficiency testing for professionals is an area of adult learning rapidly growing in importance, owing to globalization and deserves special attention (Ivanna Plakhotnyuk, Ottawa, Canadian Foreign Service Institute examiner).

Project-based learning is an especially effective approach for language learning differentiation/personalization, student inclusivity, cross-disciplinary learning, inspiration and motivation. It offers ample and regular opportunities for self- and peer assessment, including student assessment of lessons (feedback that is rarely gathered in traditional Ukrainian language learning, but which helps to build mutual trust and understanding) (Olena Hartsula, Vegreville, former Ukrainian language advisor, Alberta Education).

Going forward, Ukrainian educators everywhere must shift their thinking and teaching from fragmentary to processual innovation and collaboration to ensure a bright future. We must advantagize digital tools and technologies available both inside and outside the classroom, not as occasional supports, but as regular components of instruction (e.g., Ukrainian Through Its Living Culture program). This recognizes the real-life context of today’s learners who come from diverse backgrounds (Dr. Olenka Bilash and Dr. Alla Nedashkivska, University of Alberta, Ukrainian Language Education Centre (ULEC).

Resources being developed by MIOK include the updated KROK series, creation of a new interactive web portal for teachers (awaiting funding), STRYBOK for A1 learners, a new resource for B1 learning, video learning resource: Artistic Journeys With MIOK for B2 learners, and international reading, writing and art contests for all levels (Dr. Iryna Kluchkovska, Lviv).

Ukrainian language teachers in Ukraine and throughout the diaspora are inventive and resourceful, with many cultural, artistic, sports and civic projects running alongside language classes, creating an atmosphere of excitement and belonging for students, parents/families, and entire communities. This important social engagement cannot be overemphasized, as this is how future leaders are cultivated. Digital technologies as mindtools and cyberspaces for ubiquitous language learning represent the new era of Ukrainian as a world language.