Ukraine war response: Ensuring access to learning
Ensuring Ukrainian children keep learning can mean the difference between hope and despair.
The war in Ukraine is having a devastating impact on the lives and futures of the country’s 5.7 million school-aged children, including on their education. Children have been robbed of stability, safety, classrooms, friends, family, a home and hopes for the future.
Schools are a lifeline for children, especially in conflict, and should be safe spaces that offer a sense of normalcy, routine, and protection from harm. Yet since the war began, hundreds of schools across the country are reported to have been hit by heavy artillery, airstrikes and other explosive weapons in populated areas.
The social isolation and separation from support systems caused by the war has been especially disruptive for the most marginalised children, including those with disabilities and those without electronic devices and connectivity that offer a lifeline to learning, loved ones, and the world outside.
Millions of children have been forced from their homes, displaced inside Ukraine and in neighbouring countries. But children’s education can’t simply be postponed while other priorities are addressed. There is no pause button – only potential that will be lost forever. Ukrainian children who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries therefore need every opportunity to continue their education through multiple pathways – in schools, through distance learning and through catch-up or language classes.
Why support for education matters
Getting children back to learning is a critical step in restoring normalcy in their lives after months of war and years of COVID-19 disruptions. Schools and other spaces that enable children to learn – ideally together with friends – provide both an education and a crucial sense of structure and safety to children. In addition, education can be an entry point for delivering other critical services, including psychosocial support that can help children heal and rebuild their lives, as well as immunization.
The sooner children are able to learn and interact with classmates and teachers in a school environment, the faster they catch up and recover – particularly the most vulnerable children. It is essential that every child is reached, their learning gaps are assessed, and that they are given the opportunity to catch up on lost learning.
For some children, this may mean learning in a traditional classroom. For many others, it may mean online learning at home. In fact, millions of children in Ukraine and abroad are using online and distance learning options. But attacks against electricity and other energy infrastructure in Ukraine have meant that even attending virtual classes is a challenge.
Ultimately, providing every child with safe access to education – and a sense of security – is critical to their ability to learn, thrive, and begin to recover and heal.
Delivering the right to education to Ukraine’s war-affected child population requires sustained international support. The alternative is unthinkable.
The national education systems in Ukraine and in countries hosting Ukrainian child refugees require immediate and sustained support. Ensuring access to education can be the difference between a sense of hope or despair for millions of children. UNICEF is therefore working with partners in Ukraine and neighbouring countries to provide creative, multi-faceted, and flexible solutions that combine low and high-tech methods to reach all children affected by the crisis – whether in Ukraine and or neighbouring countries – and minimize disruptions to their learning.
Inside Ukraine, UNICEF and partners have:
- Provided access to formal and non-formal education to more than 1.4 million children.
- Provided education supplies to almost 771,000 children.
- Provided almost 300,000 children with psychosocial support and life skills education.
In neighbouring countries:
- UNICEF is partnering with ministries of education and social welfare, local municipalities, universities and civil society organizations to ensure that all Ukrainian refugee children and adolescents are enrolled in the national preschool and school systems and have continuous access to accredited care, learning and development programmes.
- Helped more than 588,000 children access formal and non-formal education.
- Provided more than 448,000 children with individual learning materials.
What UNICEF is calling for
Refugee children require support to continue their education and integrate into new education systems. At the start of the crisis and throughout the summer, many families opted for online learning, instead of attending local schools, as they hoped to be able to return home quickly, or for other reasons. As a result, by January 2023, around 2 out of 3 Ukrainian refugee children weren’t enrolled in the host country’s education systems.
Early childhood education and care is fundamental for the social and emotional well-being and in ensuring that children can grow and develop to their full potential. Ukrainian refugee children who aren’t enrolled in formal early childhood education in host countries are missing out on crucial learning and development opportunities.
Inside Ukraine, UNICEF is calling for:
- A stop to attacks on education and civilian infrastructure. Without access to education, a generation of children from Ukraine will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies. Attacks on the power infrastructure make it impossible for children to follow online classes. We must support children’s access to offline learning materials and supplies to ensure they continue learning and can remain connected to their peers and teachers.
- Support for Ukraine’s recovery plan and efforts to rebuild and rehabilitate schools and preschools, and ensure that children – especially the most vulnerable – continue learning in safe, secure, and inclusive environments.
- Ensuring that teachers, early childhood education and care staff are trained to support the social and emotional learning of children, provide psychological first aid and trauma counselling, as well as support parents to care for their children, including those with disabilities.
In refugee-hosting countries, UNICEF calls for:
- Prioritizing the integration of Ukrainian refugee children into national education systems across education levels, especially early childhood education and primary education – with qualified teachers, learning materials and available spaces to support their face-to-face learning, development, and well-being.
- Identifying and overcoming regulatory and administrative barriers that hinder children’s access to formal education across all levels and provide clear and accessible information to refugee families.
- Expanding access to quality early childhood education and care through targeted measures and diverse organizational formats such as formal, non-formal and alternative early learning provisions.
- Facilitating skills building opportunities and other learning pathways for adolescents.
- Providing and expanding financial support to access education services, including national schemes to provide education free of charge and other financial support measures.
- Accelerating support to social and emotional well-being, language development, catch-up learning, social cohesion in both formal and non-formal education.
- Ensuring teachers, school staff, parents and caregivers are equipped with skills to provide safe, healthy, and inclusive learning environments, through training opportunities on language teaching, mental health and psychosocial support, social and emotional learning, inclusive education, social cohesion and bullying/violence prevention.
- Supporting and enabling Ukrainian teachers and staff to be teachers, teaching assistants, or cultural mediators to facilitate continued learning and development of Ukrainian refugee children.
- Providing parents with accessible and easy to understand information on enrolling their children in national education systems.