UNICEF: Ukraine's children enter the fourth year of widespread learning losses due to war and COVID-19 pandemic


29 August 2023
Момиче от Украйна учи в подкрепен от УНИЦЕФ образователен център
UNICEF Bulgaria/2023/Lilia Yotova

GENEVA/KYIV, SOFIA 29 August 2023 – Continued attacks on education in Ukraine and low school enrolment rates in host countries hinder the education of many of Ukraine’s 6.7 million students.

“Inside Ukraine, attacks on schools have continued unabated, leaving children deeply distressed and without safe spaces to learn. Not only has this left Ukraine’s children struggling to progress in their education, but they are also struggling to retain what they learnt when their schools were fully functioning,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF Regional Director for Europe and Central Asia.

According to the latest survey data, up to 57 per cent of teachers report a deterioration in students’ Ukrainian language abilities, up to 45 per cent report a reduction in mathematics skills, and up to 52 per cent report a reduction in foreign language abilities.

According to the latest enrolment data, only one-third of children of primary and secondary age enrolled in school in Ukraine are learning fully in-person. One-third of enrolled students are learning through a mixed approach of in-person and online, and one-third are fully learning online. Online learning can complement in-person learning and provide a short-term solution, but it cannot fully replace in-person classes, which are especially critical for social development and foundational learning among young children.

For Ukraine’s refugee children, it is also the beginning of another uncertain academic year, with more than half of children from preschool to secondary school age not enrolled in national education systems across seven countries hosting refugees. Pre-schoolers and secondary-age students are the most likely to miss out on their education. Language barriers, difficulty in accessing school, and overstretched education systems are among the reasons for low enrolment rates.

As the new school year approaches, more and more Ukrainian families want to enrol their children in Bulgarian schools. UNICEF supports Back to School initiatives across the country and will continue its efforts to bring refugee children from Ukraine into the Bulgarian education system.

”For refugee children, schools provide far more than a place of learning”, said Christina de Bruin, UNICEF Representative in Bulgaria. “They can provide children who have already endured loss, displacement and violence with a sense of routine and safety, a chance to build friendships and get help from teachers. Schools can also provide access to services to support children’s mental health and well-being. In Bulgaria, we are working with donors and partners to help Ukrainian children learn and strive in the UNICEF-supported learning hubs and Bulgarian schools’

момче от Украйна стои пред дъската в класна стая, разрушена заради  войната

In Bulgaria, UNICEF has provided over 10,000 Ukrainian children with access to formal and non-formal education in 2023. UNICEF supports a network of learn and play hubs in the largest hosting areas like Burgas, Plovdiv, Sofia and Varna, as well as integration of children in local schools through language classes, school supplies, and support to teachers and mediators.  Over 50,000 Ukrainian and Bulgarian children benefitted from learning materials that UNICEF delivered to Bulgarian schools hosting Ukrainian children.

Refugee children who are not enrolled in local schools are likely attempting to study online, either via the Ukrainian curriculum or through other distance learning platforms. Some refugee children may have completely abandoned their education. Adolescents are particularly sensitive, as the natural physical and mental vulnerabilities of their age are exacerbated by disruption of learning and distress that they experience.

UNICEF is working with governments and partners on the ground in Ukraine and countries hosting refugee children and families to help increase access to quality learning. This includes supporting the inclusion of children in national education systems and providing multiple learning pathways for children not currently enrolled. This also means equipping teachers and school staff with the skills needed to integrate all vulnerable children in classrooms, providing language classes and mental health and psychosocial support.

Ukraine’s ongoing education reform, which seeks to develop competencies of children and young people, is critical to the country’s future socio-economic recovery and development.

According to national survey data, two-thirds of preschool-age children are not attending preschool. In frontline areas, three-quarters of parents report not sending their children to preschool.

UNICEF is working with the Government of Ukraine to support learning recovery and alignment with regional standards to remove barriers to education and ensure lifelong learning for all. This includes rehabilitating schools and providing much needed catch-up classes in core subjects, with the aim of supporting 300,000 children at risk of learning losses in Ukraine over the coming school year, while providing longer term support through the strengthening of early childhood education systems and services at scale.

Media contacts

Boryana Gidikova
Communication Officer
UNICEF Bulgaria
Tel: +359 893 52 52 40

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.