Sumy, Ukraine – Petro Voloviy, who is three years old, often asks his mother when there will be a chance to go “to the university with her.” While his mother, Tamara Volova, 30, is getting her third degree in Innovation Management at Sumy State University, Petro has a chance to play and study at the childcare center located on campus.
“That’s how he enrolled in the university even before junior school,” Tamara Volova, a soft-spoken mother of two, explains, laughing. Petro, she says, never worries about his mom when he is at the center.
Sumy State University houses some 16,000 students and claims to be one of the most family-friendly universities in Ukraine. Since 2011, it has not only been open for the students, but for their children as well.
It was one of the first Ukrainian higher education establishments to launch a special program that provides support for students with children. That ended up with a childcare center that helps to accommodate the children of faculty and students. It turns out to be children’s favourite place, according to the staff members.
The initiative was later reciprocated by the number of regional universities. In 2013 Rivne National Humanitarian University built a local childcare center at students’ dormitory. Mykolaiv University and Cherkasy city branch of Kyiv National University of Culture and Arts also offer childcare services for their students. The main thing is to ensure university administration that this is something that “should work.”
Yulia Savelyeva, project coordinator, explains the center has been helping their students to “pass exams and graduate successfully.” She says it was important for the university to launch such a center to help their students not only to study but also spend “quality time with the children as we aimed to teach them on responsible parenthood.”
It turns out that the students can easily learn during the day and call in to check how their children are doing between the studies. That’s how the balance between work and family is kept.
There are two social workers to keep an eye on the children and the staff is always in touch with the parents. There are at least 10-12 children daily in the center. “Once we even had a 1.5-month old child in our room,” Savelyeva says. The children, she says, are often okay to spend time in such a room while their mothers have classes.
Tamara Volova agrees it wasn’t a problem for Petro to stay with other children for a couple of hours as she was busy studying. “It won’t be possible for me to hand in all my assignments and pass the modules on time if I didn’t have somebody to look after my son,” Volova explains.
Andriana Kostenko, gender expert and one of the program coordinators, herself the mother of three children, says it was important to share her own experience and show her students that the parents can be professionals and stay in touch with their children.
She says the program also has changed university environment, as now there is no conflict between professors and students who earlier had to miss classes because of the children.
The center aims not to entertain, but to educate its smallest visitors. It is equipped with comfortable sofas, a play-pen, table and chairs, and a desk. Crayons and books are piled on the shelves and lots of toys are available there as well. Toilet facilities with a baby change table are located nearby.
Nina Svitaylo, a project manager, adds that running a childcare center, working out workshops and lectures for other universities doesn’t feel like work for her and the team, because “it’s a pleasure for us to do that.”
The initiative also helps children to overcome the fear and spend time without their parents.
Tamara Volova recalls her son was stressed every time he had to go to the kindergarten. Now the situation has changed for better.
“And workers treat the children like adults – and they liked such attitude. They learn how to use modelling clay, draw and even had English classes last year,” the woman explains, adding that she’s “very grateful that such program exists.”
Not only students can benefit from the center, as there are children of parents who work in the university. Even those who travel to Sumy University to attend a conference are free to leave their children for a couple of hours in the center. It is free of cost.
Nataliya Gordienko, staff member and a single mother, says the program comes of a great help, because many parents can’t afford baby-sitter to take care of their kids.
“We live far from the university and I’m usually busy until late, so it was very difficult for me to find a kindergarten to leave my son and grandparents also can’t help much,” Gordienko recalls. Now her 5-year-old son Tymophiy, entered his third year with the center and never regrets.