Champions for children: teaching despite pandemics and shelling
UNICEF calls for words of thanks and support for Ukrainian teachers, who are doing their utmost to ensure that every child can learn despite the difficulties COVID-19 has brought.
Teachers in eastern Ukraine are continuing doing their job, despite shelling and the risks the seven-year-old armed conflict is posing. School staff along the ‘contact line’ are accustomed to being brave for children. But in the new school year, they also have to cope with new challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Four school staff from eastern Ukraine have shared their experiences of working under emergency and quarantine restrictions. Like most teachers in Ukraine, they took on additional responsibilities, learned new teaching approaches, and became a role model for their students on responsible behaviour during the pandemic.
Alla. Put on a mask and come to students in a good mood
Alla Kostenko has been doing her dream job – teaching children – for over 30 years. But the last few years have been harder than primary school teacher could have ever imagined.
“Our team never stopped teaching children, even under shelling,” says Alla, who works at a school near the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine. “When they started firing, my students and I ran to hide. When it became safe, we sat down at desks again.”
During heavy fighting and the COVID-19 lockdown, she has used every opportunity to stay in touch with her students.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic started, we transferred all the classes to Zoom,” she says. “For me, one of the most important effects of the lockdown was that I was able to master the computer. But in addition to online lessons, I always tried to explain any difficult questions by phone, met with parents and helped with the installation of education software.”
Although Alla has risen to the challenge, mathematics has been particularly challenging to teach online. She hopes the new school year will be easier.
“I advise colleagues to always hope for the better and convey their optimism to children. You need to put on a mask, measure your temperature, use an antiseptic and come to students in a good mood. This year it is especially apparent how the children missed school, each another and their teachers during the lockdown. And we missed them.”
Mykyta. Lockdown is not a vacation
Mykyta Grabovsky, one of the youngest teachers at his school, found the transition to distance learning during lockdown a challenge for both himself and his students.
“It was difficult, not because of the inability to work with equipment, but because of the availability of hardware,” says Mykyta, a teacher of physics and computer science. “Not all the children had computers or smartphones. There were also issues with the internet accessibility.”
To help his students, he held online video classes every day in Zoom and uploaded tasks, along with the necessary materials on Google Classroom.
“The form tutors and parents made titanic efforts to explain to children that the lockdown is not a vacation, and children need to be constantly in touch and attend our online lessons.”
As a computer science teacher, Mykyta took on new responsibilities during lockdown. He has taken care of setting up school equipment and offers technical advice to students and parents.
“I expect fruitful work from the new school year because, after the lockdown, we have to catch up a lot. So, I will do my best to help the children. I am always ready to answer questions about my classes by phone, on the internet and, of course, at school.”
Yuliia. Quarantine measures motivated to improve skills
Yuliia Shpylko says that children, their parents and her fellow teachers have had to get used to new school rules during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Unfortunately, the lockdown restrictions are serious and long-lasting,” says Yuliia, a teacher of mathematics and informatics. “This is a new form of existence, new rules for society. And we just need to adapt to the new conditions, try not to lose ourselves in such a new world for us.”
The mathematics and computer science teacher has seen her students struggle to allocate time for classes at home and seen teachers struggle to properly arrange forms of distance learning, given the lack of money for personal computers and hardware.
“I had to make unplanned purchases at my own expense, which helped to keep in touch with children, parents and colleagues during the lockdown period.”
According to Yuliia, talking calmly with children can help them to cope with stress and feelings of uncertainty.
“The main thing is to keep talking, provide answers to questions and clarifications,” she says. “This, in turn, requires additional knowledge and skills from the teacher, which motivates a teacher to improve his or her skills and develop as a person.”
Yuliia. Road to school must be safe
For the second year running, Yuliia Tkachuk has been chaperoning students as they take the school bus from their village to the school on the ‘contact line’. She and her 12-year-old son are the first to board in the morning and the last to get off it in the afternoon.
This year, during the COVID-19 epidemic, her main task has been to ensure that children comply with the lockdown restrictions, wear masks and use antibacterial gel.
“Please, wear a mask everyone,” she gently reminds the children on the bus.
The journey to school takes them through Stanytsia-Luhanska, along the Siverskyi Donets river. Sometimes, in autumn, the bus is hot and it is hard to wear a mask for 40 minutes. But Yuliia says that children and their parents are just happy that the bus is running. Last year, the children had to walk to school
“We walked through the railway tracks on our way,” she says. “Of course, not every place is safe, but we took the way through the places that were certainly demined. So, it is better to travel on a bus wearing a mask than go by foot.”
UNICEF keeps supporting the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine to ensure every child learns even during COVID-19. More than hundred schools along the ‘contact line’ in eastern Ukraine have received UNICEF disinfectants, hygiene and sanitation supplies to adhere to safety protocols after reopening. The much needed assistance has been provided through e-voucher system, a rapid and cost-effective humanitarian aid delivery supported by the Government of the United States.
Moreover, thanks to partnership with Unilever Ukraine, UNICEF has provided floor and surface disinfectants for 600 schools in nine regions of Ukraine.