13:48 14.09.2021


Who will serve in the cyber forces and defend Ukraine's independence?

12 min read
Who will serve in the cyber forces and defend Ukraine's independence?

Iryna Zhdanova, Founder of Churyumov Scientific Lyceum, Executive Director of the Open Policy Foundation, Ph.D. in History


Who will serve in the cyber forces and defend Ukraine's independence? Who will develop electric cars and space rockets? And who will repair combines and tanks equipped with IT stuffing?

These thoughts were aroused by recent decisions about investments in rocket production, startups, and cyber forces, as well as the president's visit to the United States and speeches at the Kyiv Security Forum.

Physical and mathematical education and national security

I am convinced, like thousands of my like-minded colleagues, that one of the strategic tasks of public, private, and civic education is the support and development of physical and mathematical (physmath) schools, polytechnical schools, colleges, and universities, in particular with a focus on border regions - Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson oblasts. And now it must be done in the northwest, on the border with Belarus - in Zhytomyr, Chernihiv, and Volyn oblasts. Because the military threat is most likely in these bordering areas. At the same time, probably no one will argue that the involvement of high-quality IT specialists in the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other law enforcement agencies is already a serious challenge.

I am convinced that Nord Stream 2, there are so many talks about this today, is not the only threat to our country. The destruction of physmath education, in the long run, carries no less, and perhaps even greater risks and threats. After all, the world is gradually refuse to use gas. And our future lies in IT.

Regarding the role of physmath education for national security

Immediately after the start of the war in 2015, representatives of the Civic Platform for Scientific Reform (coordinator - the Open Policy Foundation) spoke about this factor at the parliamentary committee on science and education. And a teacher Paul Pshenichka, during his speech in the Parliament in 2018, drew applause when he quoted US President Ronald Reagan's response to the generals regarding a large budget for education: “It is not the Pentagon where defense issues resolve but the school.”

As a woman born into a family of professional military technicians, I recall with pain the numerous reorganizations of the leading air defense training institution, the Zhytomyr Military Institute, as a result of which in 2015, amid Russian aggression, the best lecturers were simply fired. Air defense professionals remained unnecessary during the most difficult years of the war.

What do we have in 2021?

Of course, US military assistance is important for Ukraine. And today a strong team of IT specialists works in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. But will we fully realize our national potential? Do we attract the best people? After all, the salaries of IT staff in the state service and the private sector are not comparable.

Regarding the quality of physmath education

The pandemic has an adverse effect on the quality of education and access to it. The situation with mathematics and physics is especially threatening. This was confirmed by the results of the last independent external evaluation (IEE) in 2021.

It is not easy to teach physics and mathematics remotely and motivate students to study them. At the same time, if one does not learn the basic knowledge about opening brackets in primary school, adding/multiplying fractions in grades 5 or 6, then a further study of algebra and mathematics is impossible. And no IEE will be able to motivate students to study mathematics who have not gained this basic mathematical knowledge. It is not difficult to predict that in a few years the results of the state final attestation (SFA) in the 9th grade will cause a big hype again.

Regarding access to physmath education

During my childhood, I studied at the Republican Mathematical School in the late 70s and early 80s. Then mathematics and physics Olympiads were massive and accessible. And then, we worked strategically for space and defense.

Independent Ukraine has preserved the basics of the system for Olympiads in physics and mathematics. But for most children from low-income families, from remote villages and district centers, physmath education and participation in Olympiads were clearly not a priority. And quality learning of mathematics and physics is now possible only with a tutor.

In fact, talented students from poor families, but not with unlocked potential, will not be able to serve in the cyber troops of the Armed Forces, or other law enforcement agencies, or work in leading IT companies. Another question: what will graduates from wealthy families choose - international high-tech campaigns or civil service?

That is why expanding access to quality physmath education and mass involvement of students in the Olympiad movement is a matter of strategic importance today, which will largely determine our tomorrow.

What is happening in Russia today?

I am far from the idea that everything is OK there. But it is impossible not to notice those things that need to be implemented here. We also need to learn from our enemy.

In Russia, they systematically work now with the involvement of schoolchildren from the 3rd grade in mathematics competitions, that is, they start from elementary schools. They develop methodical manuals and textbooks on Olympiads in mathematics for teachers of regular schools in regions where families are unable to pay, but children are motivated to receive physmath education. They support their mass schools specialized in mathematics, work with pedagogical colleges.

And even if students are motivated to study mathematics in depth, but they are not good at basic knowledge, these students are accepted to a mass specialized mathematical school. And then, it is the work of teachers and methods aimed primarily at motivating students...

What is in the world?

I am assessing NASA math textbooks for 5th grade. The key targets on each topic are tasks on cultivating skills, approaches, strategies for solving problems...

What is in Ukraine?

I remember my struggle for the skill of “the ability to make decisions in emergencies, solve problems” during the formation of standards of specialized science education. We lost this position, even for specialized science education.

I look through the requirements of the standard program for grades 5-9 (2017 and 2021): there is not even a mention of the formation of skills, approaches, strategies to solve problems... No, I am not against financial literacy and the ability to determine the size of a room.

But is this about Ukraine, which is at war (more than one year), launches missiles and seeks to take a leading position in the sphere of IT?

The next issue is further education. Polytechnic and pedagogical colleges, regional universities in recent years have systematically forced to deadlock situation of a vicious circle: the network of vocational schools is optimized, colleges are transferred to regional funding, state order for universities is rated, that is why there are no entrants to regional universities, no state orders, and no funding.

There is an acute shortage of mathematics, physics, and computer science teachers and a lack of quality internships. They bought expensive equipment for robotics clubs, STEM, but did not train teachers. The system of teacher advanced training is corrupt. State subventions and regional funding are distributed nontransparently. There is a conflict between regional universities and regional institutes of postgraduate pedagogical education over the distribution of these funds.

There is nothing worth saying about non-governmental organizations.  Delegating this service to NGOs and businesses is in fact a fiction. Only a narrow circle of “friendly” organizations has access to public funds aimed at the advanced training of teachers. Educators are afraid to talk about it because they risk being left without certification and without a job.

At the same time, there is a demand for teacher training in non-governmental institutions. But these institutions can provide this service only at the expense of donors or for a fee. But, does the teacher have money? Is there a motivation for donors if the state does not fulfill the obligations and rules, which were prescribed in relevant law and in the resolution № 800 of the Cabinet of Ministers? The questions are more rhetorical.

What is in perspective?

I no longer believe in sword dancing with the state. It is enough to shout “betrayal”, it is necessary to build a partnership between the government and civil society.

We crucially need to learn how to play a long game to unite those who are concerned from public and private physmath schools, public initiatives, to look for extra-budgetary funding together, to create networking of public and private physmath schools, which aims to share methods, the transformation of the Olympiad movement into a mass one, including in the regions.

Is such an ambitious task realistic?

Firstly, it is about the risks.

One of the speakers at the Kyiv Security Forum named three main challenges of US-Ukraine relations:

  • Indifference,
  • Lack of leaders and responsibility,
  • Failure to fulfill obligations.

It seems to me that education in Ukraine has the same challenges.

How to overcome them? Specific cases

Schools and universities usually create NGOs to implement their grants. Teams of educational institutions are focused exclusively on their students and entrants because this is state funding. There are stiff and unfair competitions both among private schools and among NGOs.

I think this is a losing strategy for everyone. The world is transforming. The “divide and rule!” formula is transforming into the “unite and manage!” And the strategy of “zero-sum” games is changed to a strategy in which all participants win.

At a lecture for first-year students at “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, the editor of the publishing house “Spirit and Letter” Konstantyn Sigov announced: “The gifts of friendship among educators are much more promising than the temptations of competition.” Success will come to those who realize this first and start building bridges among the islands of innovative schools, lowers the boat among the tsunami of reforms and starts rowing as a team, and flexibly adapting to winds and waves.

The NGO ”Open Policy Foundation” has proved that it is possible to achieve synergies and significant results by uniting with concerned civil servants and responsible leaders. It is not an NGO that was established at the school, but it is the private school, Klym Churyumov Scientific Lyceum, that was set up based on 12-year work of the public organization in the field of education, as a forum for the implementation of public education initiatives promoted by the NGO at the legislative level.

We brought together concerned leading teachers from physmath schools and tested the latest techniques firstly at the International Green School, in a mountainous hard-to-reach village, and now in a startup - a private science lyceum in the capital. From the new 2021/22 academic year, the International Green School/Kosmach will operate as an open training center for educational institutions, organizations, businesses, and civil servants who share our values ​​of open policy and synergy in action.

These are real steps that are already working and having results.

About the partnership of public and private physmath schools

On September 1, Ihor Zhdanov and I were invited to First Bell at a specialized physmath school, which is more than 50 years old. It has a strong tradition of basic education. I listened to a discussion between my husband and students of 11th grade from the Kyiv Natural Sciences Lyceum №145 (KNSL №145) on athletes, life hacks about communicating with children when you become a minister, about a conflict between Reagan and his rebellious daughter who did not forgive him for his power trip. I thought it was a great gift to maintain the trust of my own children in their uncorrupted father. And I also thought that politicians and patriots should be involved in the lives of physmath schools.

But an even greater gift is the ability to unite concerned and responsible educators, leaders in the physical physmath sphere, and representatives of high-tech campaigns. That is why we, together with the KNSL №145 and other interested and concerned leaders in physmath education, are initiating in 2021 the creation of an open family hub for graduates of physmath schools. This is a powerful untapped potential of Ukraine. I would like to wish my state to have a special program of systematic support for specialized physmath schools - state, communal, and private ones - it doesn't matter. The main thing is for them to be Ukrainians.


It is scaling up of innovative domestic and adapted(!) international methods (not in the format of theory, but specific cases) for ordinary public schools, especially in communities affected by war and the threat of escalation of cyberwar, as well as experience of involving students and teachers in the mass All-Ukrainian Olympiad movement, robotics, and STEAM education.

And we must start it not from elementary schools as in Russia, but from kindergartens. Yes, I am right because that's where motivation is formed. And motivation is the first thing you need.

Do I believe in these scenarios?

I have a great hope that private schools, businesses, venture funds, and donors will be able to fulfill this social mission. As for the state, it depends on a single factor: whether politicians, leaders, and those responsible are not indifferent to physmath education. After all, if there is money for the President's Fund for Support of Education, Science and Sports, for the Presidential University, then why should money be available for physmath education?

Finally, I would like to quote the answer of Borys Hudziak, Rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University, during his speech at “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”. B.Hudziak was asked what to do when something real is devalued in society and he answered: “It is not necessary to think much about it but to try to do a lot, act… Live in hope is a deep virtue: hard, difficult, but I go forward…“

So, physical and mathematical schools, let's unite and #keeprowing! and then, maybe, the state will contribute to our efforts using its cyber soldiers.