Education survey reveals impact of war on Ukraine’s students

The latest results from a global education survey show that the full-scale war has taken a heavy toll on education in Ukraine

05 December 2023
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UNICEF

New results from a global education survey show that while the widespread disruption caused by COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on education worldwide, in Ukraine, the full-scale war has further negatively impacted progress.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s programme for international student assessment (PISA) assesses the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in mathematics, reading and science. Testing is conducted every three years in more than 80 countries and economies.

In 2022, Ukraine took part in the assessment for the second time, after joining PISA in 2018. Despite the difficulties caused by the full-scale war, Ukraine managed to gather resources and organize the survey in 18 of the country’s 27 regions.

"Ukraine is the only country that conducted the research amid war, which is a great and crucial achievement,” said Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine. “Despite massive shelling and air alerts, local educational institutions conducted the research in October 2022. With our participation, we managed to track trends in students' knowledge and skills both at the country level and at the level of individual student groups.”

Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine
UNICEF
Oksen Lisovyi, Minister of Education and Science of Ukraine

Since the research was conducted during the war in Ukraine, it may contain additional factors of influence that the PISA methodology does not take into account. For example, it does not reflect the whole country, as only students from 18 out of 27 regions took part in the research. Moreover, some educational institutions were forced to suspend the testing due to air raids. However, the results do help to identify the main trends in secondary education at a national level.

According to PISA 2022, all countries experienced an unprecedented drop in performance in all subject areas on average, which may be the result of prolonged distance learning during the pandemic. In Ukraine specifically, the full-scale war may also have negatively impacted the results.

"The war affects Ukrainian school children's performance and mental health, and leaves long-term scars,” said Munir Mammadzade, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. “PISA results show that it has made it harder for Ukrainian children to succeed in school. To address this serious challenge, it is critical to support the joint efforts of the government and education sector partners in developing and implementing a nationwide strategy for education recovery."

The results of PISA-2022 in Ukraine are summarised below.

Maths

In PISA-2022, maths posed as a leading discipline for the research, meaning that all participants passed testing on maths. Assessment in this area involves measuring students' mathematical literacy. According to PISA, mathematical literacy refers to students' capability to engage in mathematical reasoning and to employ mathematical concepts, procedures and tools to address problems in various real-world scenarios. This includes understanding concepts, applying procedures, grasping facts and utilizing tools for describing, explaining and predicting phenomena. Moreover, it helps people to understand the significance of mathematics in the world and to make the informed inferences and decisions required of constructive, engaged and thinking citizens in the 21st century.

Ukrainian students have the lowest level of learning gaps among all the areas studied. Compared to the previous cycle, these results have decreased by 12 points. A total of 58 per cent of Ukrainian students reached the basic (second of six) levels of mathematical literacy, while 32 per cent of students reached level 3 and higher. In mathematics, the difference between Ukraine and OECD countries is approximately 1.5 years of study, according to PISA standards (1 year of study = 20 test points).

Science

Assessment of science literacy aims to measure the ability of 15-year-old students to explore and solve problems related to science and scientific ideas as informed citizens. As per the PISA definition, a scientifically literate individual is equipped to participate in informed discussions on science and technology, possessing skills in scientifically explaining phenomena, evaluating and planning scientific research, and interpreting data and evidence scientifically.

In the 2022 cycle, Ukrainian students achieved their highest results in the natural sciences. Compared to the 2018 cycle, scores decreased by 19 points. On the PISA scale, 66 per cent of Ukrainian students reached a basic level of literacy. This means they can apply scientific knowledge at the level of everyday understanding and exhibit elementary knowledge, and have an ability to identify issues that can be scientifically investigated. Thirty-six per cent of students reached level 3 and higher.

It is important to note that in the previous testing round, students' performance in science was better than in mathematics (close to reading results). Therefore, while the science results have declined, the drop is not as pronounced.

Reading

PISA defines reading literacy as a student's ability to understand, use, evaluate and comprehend written text for specific purposes, to expand knowledge and reading potential, as well as to be prepared to actively participate in society.

 

This part of the assessment includes testing cognitive skills, such as establishing cause-and-effect relationships based on one or more written sources and the ability to find the main point and distinguish information from different types of texts (fiction, media texts, instructions, graphs and so on).

 

In reading, Ukrainian students scored 38 points lower than in the 2018 assessment. While 59 per cent of students reached the basic level in reading, only 29 per cent achieved level 3 and higher. According to PISA standards, Ukrainian students, on average, are behind OECD students in reading by approximately 2.5 years of study.

The most significant decrease in results in the PISA-2022 cycle appears in reading. This trend needs deeper research, given the challenging circumstances under which Ukrainian students have accessed education in recent years.

"The fact that the research was conducted in Ukraine is an example of the incredible cohesion, resilience and strength of our educators and students,” said Tetiana Vakulenko, Director of the Ukrainian Center for Educational Quality Assessment and PISA National Coordinator in Ukraine. “The circumstances that have impacted life in Ukraine have led to a decline in PISA results in all areas, especially in reading. But our common belief in the future and our strength make it a basis for planning further actions, not a verdict.”

Given that over 80 countries/economies took part in the research, it would be misleading to directly compare all nations, since there can be significant differences in educational systems. This is why specific reference countries were selected for comparison with Ukraine, including Estonia, Poland, the Slovak Republic, Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia. These countries were chosen due to their similarity to Ukraine in socioeconomic status or cultural and historical connections.

As a result, Ukraine scored higher than Bulgaria, Moldova and Georgia in all three areas. However, Estonia, Poland and the Slovak Republic achieved higher scores in comparison.

Influence of demographic, socio-economic and educational factors 

The PISA results showcased various factors that impact the success of 15-year-old students in studying.

For example, in comparison with their urban counterparts, students from rural areas showcase an almost five-year learning gap in reading, four years in science, and more than four and a half years in maths. This can be explained by differences in the socioeconomic status of students living in different types of areas. For example, 25 per cent of students with the lowest socioeconomic status in Ukraine, in contrast to the other 75 per cent of their peers, are almost three times more likely to perform below the basic level in maths.

Average maths points also vary based on the type of school attended by students. In lyceums, gymnasiums and specialized schools, the score reaches 457, which is 23 points higher than for students in general education schools and educational complexes, and 58 points higher than for 15-year-olds in technical schools, colleges and vocational education institutions. Students in VET institutions lag behind their counterparts in lyceums, gymnasiums and specialized schools by approximately three years. This pattern is also observed in reading and science scores.

Moreover, a significant gender gap is evident in student performance. Boys outperform girls by 10 points in mathematics, while girls lead boys by 23 points in reading (equivalent to over a year of study). However, there is almost no difference in science results.

The research also shows interesting observations about homework performance. Compared to the reference countries, students in Ukraine spend the most time on maths homework, with one in three students spending an hour or more daily. Meanwhile, students who spend up to 30 minutes or more than 3 hours a day on homework have poorer results.

The assessment revealed a notable decline in student bullying levels compared to 2018, with a difference of 7.6 percentage points. This decrease can be explained by the temporary closure of educational institutions and the shift to distance learning.

Overall, the PISA 2022 results were lower than those of the previous cycle, as anticipated. This decline is likely a result of various factors associated with the pandemic and the full-scale war.

"PISA provides a huge amount of data for developing and improving educational politics,” said Oksen Lisovyi. “We realized that with the COVID-19 pandemic and full-scale war, we can't avoid learning gaps, but from now we at least have an understanding of its scales. We have already started working on catching up with learning gaps and will be doing it based on the research results. For example, shelters are being built and repaired in schools – UAH 1.5 billion has been allocated from the state budget for this year and UAH 2.5 billion for the next year. Our goal is to provide full-time education for children in schools where the security situation allows it. We purchase buses to ensure that students from different settlements can get to schools and receive a quality education. Together with international partners, we purchase gadgets for learning.”

The results of the PISA 2022 research will help the Ukrainian education system to move in the right direction and assist in drawing up an action plan to catch up with learning gaps and gaps between different groups of students.

Media contacts

Oleksandra Burynska
Communications Specialist
UNICEF Ukraine

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