Socially Oriented Mobile Applications – Digest of Belarusian Civil Society
Belarusian civil society and NGOs engaged in a whole plethora of activities – from developing socially-oriented mobile phone applications to preparing books on organic farming.
Socially oriented mobile applications: Mobile company Velcom under its contest of applications for Android gave the first two places to socially oriented projects. First place went to the application GreenMap Belarus, which allows finding on the map places of collection of different species recycling. Second place went to the mobile application in Belarusian, which allows identifying a user's location next to the object of historical architecture. The authors got respectively $5,000 and $4,000 awards.
Interactive map of Kalinouski's rebellion: To the 150th anniversary of the rebellion led by Kastus Kalinouski, the initiative Belarusian national memory composed a map with illustrations and texts of Belarusian areas related to the rebellion, its leader and participants. The map is made using the service maps.google.com; it allows not only viewing information but also to complement and refine it.
Budzma! events in regions: On January 18, in Gomel, Budzma! campaign conducted a talk show Cultural climate in Gomel: Cold or Hot? attended by 35-40 Gomel residents affiliated with cultural topic. The event was the last in a series of the similar events titled Culture Improves Life! held in all regional cities. On January 25, in Mogilev, Budzma! organizes the Fair of projects to find promising ideas for Mogilev as the cultural capital of Belarus and the CIS in 2013.
Alternative brand concepts of Minsk: Belarusian designer Alexei Latinnik offered two brand concepts of Minsk and their visual solutions. To remind, at the end of 2012 the official logo of Minsk developed by Instid, received mixed public feedback and made many designers to think about creating an alternative brand of Minsk.
Cultural lectures in Homel: Since February, Homel activists launch a series of cultural lectures on the local wooden architecture. Meetings are a part of the campaign to preserve Homel historical heritage and will take place at the Vetka Museum of Folk Art. The first out of six meetings is to be held on February 2; entry is 2,500 rubles (about $0.3).
Fair of Projects in Mahileu: On January 25, Fair of Projects was held in Mahileu. Initiated by the campaign Budzma! and supported by the Mogilev city executive committee, the event was to find interesting cultural ideas to enrich Mogilev as the Cultural Capital of CIS countries and Belarus in 2013. For the first time in the history of Belarus project ideas’ discussion happened in the format of public debate.
Workshops and Conferences
Study visits to Tallinn: E-Governance Academy and Pact, Inc start a new series of study visits for Belarusian activists to get to know with information communication technologies for civil society development. The first visit is to take place on February 24 – March 2, in Tallinn.
BOSS teaches leadership: Brotherhood of Organizations of Student Self-Government (BOSS) conducts a series of trainings and workshops under the project Golden Lessons of Leadership. The closest session Negotiations is to be held on January 27; the cost of participation is 30 thousand rubles (about 3.5 USD).
Training course on Mediation: Center for Effective Communication Feedback in cooperation with Education Center POST invites to participate in the training course Mediation as a method of effective conflict resolution. The training course will be implemented in January-October 2013, and includes 10 thematic modules. The first workshop will be held on February 22-24, 2013; participation is for charge.
Gender likbez: A brochure on the informal gender education Gender Likbez was published in Vilnius. The brochure is the outcome of the project Development of gender sensitivity as a prerequisite for gender equality in Belarus, implemented for two years by the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius, EHU Center for Gender Studies, Legal Initiative, Belarusian Association of Journalists, Third Sector Centre, International Center for Gender initiatives Adliha.
International conference on elderly issues in Grodno: Third Sector Centre invites to take part in the conference Intellectual, physical and social revitalization of elderly. The event is to be held on March 29-31, in Hrodna. The conference will be attended by experts, scientists, and practitioners from the public and governmental organizations of Belarus, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Moldova and Ukraine. The event is held in the framework of the project The Golden Age University.
Achievements in political science will be awarded in memoriam of Vitali Silitski: Vitali Silitski Commemoration Committee launched the Award For Contribution in Development of Political Science in Belarus to maintain the memory of a Belarusian political scientist and the first director of BISS. The nomination lasts from January 15 till February 28. The Award Ceremony will take place at the beginning of April 2013.
Conversation with Günter Verheugen: On January 24, Liberal Club together with the Minsk International Education Center, German Society for Foreign Affairs, Robert Bosch Foundation held a meeting with the former Vice President of the European Commission, Günter Verheugen. Prof. Verheugen shared his vision of economic and foreign policy challenges currently facing the EU, and responded to questions from participants.
Meetup event GMOs – For and Against: On February 1, the Academy of Sciences hosts the first public meeting on the issues of actual genetics and biotechnology GMOs – For and Against. The meeting is held in an informal "meetup" format which enables live discussions on concern issues. The organizer is the community Meetup.by with the support of the Institute of Genetics and Cytology.
First scientific book on organic farming: Center for Environmental Solutions supported by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Ministry of Agriculture published a collection of scientific papers Organic farming in Belarus: prospects for development. The book provides practical recommendations how to start organic agriculture and how profitable this field is. The electronic version is available at the Center's website.
Monitoring of a barrier-free environment – presentation of results: The Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities invites to the presentation of results of the project Monitoring of a barrier-free environment. The speakers will present Guidelines for monitoring the availability of architectural sites and buildings for people with disabilities and a developed tool to survey the availability of objects for people with disabilities. The event is to take place on February 6, at the venue of the Office.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.
Higher Education in Belarus: Burdened by Soviet Traditions
Belarusian Minister for Education Siarhei Maskevich on 28 January 2013 expressed his hope that students will convert the Belarusian science "into the main factor of socio-economic and mental development of the country". But does the government really foster the progress of students' education in Belarus?
The lack of academic freedoms, mandatory and old-fashioned study plans have become the main defects of the Belarusian higher education. While government makes certain steps to approach these issues, the progress is rather slow.
The Myth of Free Higher Education in Belarus
Belarusian system of higher education consists of two levels: bachelor and master. It looks similar to the European system, with one rather significant difference. Belarus is the only European country that has not joined Bologna process.
To get a BA in Belarus you have to study not three years like in the West, but the whole five. Followed by the two years of master studies, it makes the term of Belarusian higher education one of the longest in the world. 2013 will be the first year when the entrants start their four-year bachelor programs. This decision was made in order to approximate the Belarusian higher education to the Bologna system which is still an objective for Belarusian government.
Ministry for education statistics states that 428 500 students in Belarus. 51% of them study part-time, while the other – full-time. They study at 55 educational institutions (universities, academies, institutes and colleges). Only ten of these institutions do not belong to government. Private universities have their main specialisation on management and business (among them – a unique women’s educational institution – Envila, where only females can apply).
One of Belarusian universities exists in exile. European Humanities University was ousted from the country in 2004 due to the political reasons and now continues to operate in Vilnius, Lithuania. 1660 students get the higher education there; two thirds of them are Belarusians.
Although education is nominally free, in fact only a minority of all students do not have to pay for their studies. Read more
Although education is nominally free in Belarus, in fact only a minority of all students do not have to pay for their studies. But even these students will have to work for two years for very small wages to compensate for their "free education". Those who have to pay for education, will face rather high fees. Considering the average Belarusian salary of $500, the annual university fee ranging from $900 to $1900 imposes a serious burden on many Belarusian families.
Those who study for free can even receive a monthly allowance (from $50 to $100) called “a scholarship” in Belarus. Its size depends on how well students pass their exams and on financial resources of each particular university. But these students pay their share later, when they get compulsory placed to the prescribed work place for a couple of years after graduation.
Everybody Gets into a University
Since Soviet times entering the university has become not an opportunity, but a social tradition. The society misapprehends those who do not have a higher education. The university diploma remains a certificate of one’s normality instead of showing some degree of professionalism.
To enter the university high school graduates must pass three state-arranged exams in a form of tests. Every field of future study requires a defined combination of three subjects with a state language necessarily included.
For instance, to become a physician one must pass chemistry, biology and Russian (or Belarusian), for a lawyer – social science, Russian/Belarusian and for some strange reason – math, for a programmer – math, physics and again, the language.
One has 10 days to apply to only one university for free of charge education and then, if failed to pass a selection, another 10 days to re-apply for usual chargeable education. Such specialities as "International law", "World economy", "International relations", "Stomatology", "Social communications" enjoyed the highest passing grade in 2012.
But the entrance rate in some universities remains extremely low. They even joked, that one can enter the university just constantly choosing answer "B" in all the tests. Some years, to become a math- or physics-student of the Pedagogic University (a future teacher of these subjects) it was enough to receive 20 of 100 in math or physics.
Study Process: Regulated but Chaotic
The study process in Belarus seems over-regulated. On 19 January 2012 the Working Group on Bologna Process expressed the view that academic freedoms are restricted in Belarus. A year later, on 11 January 2013 three Belarusian NGOs: Centre for Students Initiatives’ Development, "Solidarity" and Public Bologna Committee – reaffirmed the same conclusion in their joint report.
While in most European universities students can choose mot of the subjects they are going to study, in Belarus the choice can be given only during the final years of higher education and only for few marginal subjects. Study plans are sent "from above" as lecturers sometimes complain. The Ministry of Education plans to increase the number of these optional subjects by 5-10% of all studied disciplines next year.
The author of this article studies at the international law department and had to study higher mathematics, ecology, natural science... Read more
Nearly 20% of all the courses are irrelevant to the student's main field of study. The author of this article studies at the international law department and had to study higher mathematics, ecology, natural science, protection from emergency situations, history of universities and higher education and some other strange disciplines.
Recently, the Ministry of Education has asked the academic chairs to prepare proposals to remove some disciplines from the study plan in order to move to four-year bachelor program. The only requirement was not to cut down these "odd" subjects. Some say that such a system exists in order not to leave many needless lecturers unemployed.
Every half a year (January and July) all students in the country pass their semester exams. The procedure has remained the same since Soviet times. Student pulls one upturned question card out of dozens of them. There he or she finds two or three questions randomly chosen from the whole course. Then the student has half an hour to prepare the answers. Finally he or she is interviewed by the lecturer who decides what mark every particular student deserves.
Cheating on exams remains really wide-spread. Here all the modern devises can assist: mobile phones, tiny printed crib sheets, micro ear-phones etc. While in other countries the punishment for cheating and plagiarism can result in expulsion, in Belarus a dishonest student risks only to get so-called "retaking" (passing an exam later once again).
Belarusian educational system shows very well the damaging effect too much regulation. As in Soviet times, technical specialists, such as engineers programmers do relatively well compared to their peers from other European countries, humanitarian disciplines such as political science or history remain in a pitiful state.