New tech for schools in Ukraine lets children tap into education
Amid the ongoing conflict and COVID-19 pandemic, laptops and tablets have become a crucial tool for teachers in eastern Ukraine
Ukrainian language and literature teacher Olena Shukalova has received a new laptop. The first thing she does is download Zoom and start a videoconference.
She names her chat simply: ‘Shchastia School #2’. One by one, sixth graders join the video call and wave their hands at the camera. “Ms. Oleno, we can see you,” they exclaim. The teacher smiles back at them and starts the lesson. “Sound is here, video is here. Now we are ready for the quarantine.”
Taking education online
Thanks to the support of the European Union Humanitarian Aid, Shchastia school #2 is one of 20 schools along the contact line to have received laptops, tablets and printers from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
"With the beginning of the conflict and especially the COVID-19 pandemic, computers, tablets and all the equipment for online learning have become our first need,” says Olena.
Providing schools with this technology gives teachers in the Donetsk and Luhank regions the opportunity to improve their skills and arrange distance learning. Soon, they will also be able to access online training supported by EU Humanitarian Aid.
“These trainings will allow teachers to understand how education can help build peace, as well as help teach children how to act in natural or man-made emergencies that are still highly likely in eastern Ukraine,” says Dmytro Sharaievskyi, UNICEF Ukraine Education Officer.
The second wave
More than 400 students study at Shchastia school #2 in Luhansk, but not all of them have a smartphone or internet access. The pandemic has exacerbated an already unstable situation in the region, with the threat of shelling and job losses taking technology well beyond the means of many. However, teachers have risen to the challenge.
“We meet some of them in person, we talk to some of them on the phone," says Olena. “Sure, most students get connected via the internet. Now, if there is a second wave of the pandemic and the quarantine, we are ready to transfer 90 per cent of lessons online. But in the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, not all teachers, children and parents knew how to start a video chat.”
Teachers have bought some equipment for online learning, such as webcams, at their own expense. But the school was not able to buy a computer powerful enough to enable video editing.
“It’s very difficult to explain physics and mathematics only verbally,” says Olena. “We try to record video lessons to better explain these subjects. That's why the computers provided by UNICEF will help us solve this problem.”
A chance of education
Shchastia school #1 has over 500 children registered. But only 300 attend the school itself. The others reside in non-Government-controlled territories and are unable to make it to classes.
They are among hundreds of thousands of children who were cut off from Ukrainian education six years ago after the outbreak of the armed conflict.
"Ninth, tenth and eleventh grade students study completely remotely,” explains Antonina Shcheholkova, the principal of Shchastia school #1. “Our teachers engage with children from the non-Government-controlled cities of Luhansk via Zoom, Viber, phone, as well as the school website. We use every opportunity to give these children a chance at education.”
Thanks to UNICEF and the support of the EU Humanitarian Aid, Shchastia school #1 has received two laptops, three tablets and two printers. Teachers are now making full use of the equipment that will allow them to teach and communicate with children from places including Snizhne, Alchevsk and Luhansk.
Antonina says that she and her colleagues often use their free time in the evenings or at weekends to explain difficult topics to them.