“Trade schools” & education in Ukraine

Now that Christmas break is over, many orphan students are back in trade school or college for the semester. But what does a “trade school” look like in Zhytomyr? And why is education is so difficult for orphanage graduates?

In Ukraine, all students graduate after 9th or 11th grade. Most go to a trade school, college, or university. But these terms are a little different in Ukraine. (Consider that an orphanage is called a “boarding school,” which in the States is associated with wealth and prestige!)

A trade school in Ukraine

On the surface, there are a few similarities. Both countries have four-year colleges, with some colleges feeding into universities with master’s and doctoral programs. Both countries have technical schools, or “trade schools” in Ukraine.

Students at a medical institute in Zhytomyr

Beyond that, the Ukrainian system still feels post-Soviet in many ways. Few students, even university graduates, work in the fields they studied. Where tech schools in the U.S. often provide streamlined access to employment in high-demand fields, trade schools in Ukraine are really just the lowest level of the state-run system, the default option for low-income families and those who aren’t strong academically. Trades can be irrelevant or outdated. Those who study to be cooks or wait-staff may find entry-level jobs, but those who study tractor-driving never do. A trade school certificate in Ukraine is like our high school diploma.

Staff member Sasha and students at a school for people with disabilities

Many of our youth come from poorly-run orphanage schools, so only trade schools will accept them. And the selection of trades is even more arbitrary for orphans, who may be placed wherever there’s an opening, without reference to their desires or strengths. Good students may progress from trade school to college to university, but orphanage graduates often struggle even with basic studies.

Staff member Yulia with two students from trade schools

So how does Last Bell help orphan teenagers succeed in their education?

  • We intervene at the beginning of trade school or college and offer life skills lessons, tutoring, guidance, basic study skills like using Word, and lots of encouragement.
  • We welcome all students at the Day Center, and they visit after school to use the computer lab, have a snack and a hot meal, and do their homework.
  • We offer Ukrainian language/lit classes, English lessons, and English camps.
  • We assist academically promising students with university entrance exams and tuition.
  • If their strengths are in other areas, after trade school or college we help them seek out work opportunities, and prep them for interviews by role-playing.
  • Through the Restoration Project, some youth are learning the home renovation trade.

We’re passionately seeking new vocational opportunities to help our youth overcome their disadvantages in a difficult system. For example, we’ve helped several students begin studying Information Technology at Hebron Academy. Already we’ve seen many inspiring successes! But this is an area of deep need for our youth, and we appreciate your prayers as we seek new ways to meet it.

We recently celebrated this young woman’s trade school graduation.

She studied to be a cook, but she’s very shy, so we’re helping her with job applications and role-playing job interviews.

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Last Bell Ministries

Loving and restoring orphanage graduates toward life and community.


PO Box 30671
Indianapolis, IN 46230