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Ukraine’s schools are now under fire

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused damage well beyond the front line. This is especially clear in Ukraine’s schools, which are now poorly equipped to educate the country’s youth. New investment is needed to make sure today’s pupils do not become a lost generation.

October 25, 2022 - Maksym Korodenko - Articles and CommentaryUkraineAtWar

Destroyed school in Chernihiv as a result of the attack of the Russian invaders. July 2022. Photo: Drop of Light / Shutterstock

Broken infrastructure and limited funding can stop the reform of secondary education, but the educational process continues despite all the difficulties.

The school system of Ukraine has been under fire in both a direct and indirect sense. Since the beginning of the war, 2260 educational institutions have been damaged and 291 destroyed completely – such data was provided by the Ukrainian education ministry at the end of September.

Several shells hit the building of Irpin’s School No. 2 in the spring. One of them destroyed the lights and modern dining room, which only two years ago was renovated. Iryna Belova is the school’s director who lives in the already tragically well-known city of Bucha, which experienced an infamous occupation by Russian troops in the spring. She tells us that many parents have expressed their desire to help restore the school. For her, “a consolidated school family” is not only a good expression, but a reflection of the war’s reality.

But the destruction of school buildings is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to losses caused by Russia. Ukraine has been introducing ambitious reforms in the framework of the “New Ukrainian School” for several years. Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Education, Science and Innovation Serhiy Babak says that he personally visited almost all settlements of the Kyiv region after the de-occupation and visited schools to “assess the scale of the disaster” with his own eyes.

“Well, infrastructure for the New Ukrainian School is needed in more than one area, because all the interactive equipment, all the projectors, and all new books in Ukrainian have been destroyed, shot, burned, stolen,” says the head of the committee.

All this needs to be restored, and for this supposed purpose the Expenditures of the State Budget of Ukraine for 2023 was officially presented in the Verkhovna Rada on September 21st.

About half of the planned expenses are focused on defence and security, but for education compared to 2022, it is proposed to reduce funding for almost all programmes. However, the parliamentary committee will insist on the return of grants for the New Ukrainian School project. Serhiy Babak has stressed that despite the state investing billions in this educational reform five years in a row, even substantial underfunding for a year will lead to its failure. However, it seems that there is still a lot of debate in store regarding the future of the New Ukrainian School.

Another issue faced by the school system (though indirect) is the absence of printed textbooks. This is because the funds allocated to this in the budget were redirected to the defence of the country in spring. Therefore, students are currently using electronic means of learning.

This highlights perhaps the clearest problem facing the education system during the war: the availability of learning tools, especially distance learning. Of course, while leaving their native cities and villages affected by war, people are not going to think to take textbooks and a desktop computer. A laptop or tablet is probably a need in education now, especially for families who have found shelter in Poland, Germany or other countries.

According to the education ministry, more than 50 thousand devices are required for students in professional and higher education, but for schools and professional schools this figure is almost 400 thousand.

But it is not only children who need the devices, the teachers also need them! This is especially true given that some children are studying remotely. At the same time, air-raid sirens and the risk of diseases such as COVID-19 can easily impact the educational process.

Leaving her native city, Alina Davydenko, an English teacher at Rubizhne’s School No. 10, did not take her laptop. She says that she and her family did not think that they were going away for a long time, and hoped for a quick return. But this part of the Luhansk region has been seriously damaged by the “Russian world”. The city was affected by such a dense fire that it is now painful to even look at the photos of the destruction. Today, Alina Petrovna is a teacher at Kyiv’s No. 304 secondary school. But how do you work properly without a computer, which has become such an effective learning tool? She says that “I try to apply technology and give children the opportunity to work with different devices, they are interested in them and they are engaged more actively. I use an online board to work together in Miro, many applications to create collages, online tests, etc. When we went online first, it was necessary to encourage the children not just to look at the screen and listen.” In this case, the Kyiv branch of the education trade union helped out – its head Oleksandr Yatsun gave her a new laptop. “During the war, the group has supported education workers across the territories of Ukraine where military operations are being conducted, now in particular, we are providing them with computer equipment, legal assistance, etc.,” notes Yatsun.

International partners are very helpful. Hundreds of laptops have been received by educators in the local communities of Sumy, Mykolaiv and Chernihiv, which suffered very much from Russian aggression. Humanitarian aid from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was integrated into the framework related to the renewal of education in September 2022.

By the way, it should be noted that the European Association of International Education recently named Ukrainian higher education the winner of its annual Award for Vision and Leadership. For the first time in history, the winner of the ЕАІЕ award was not a separate organisation, but a nation’s higher education in general. It seems that the employees in the country’s secondary schools are also due an award, at least a symbolic one.

We hope that the damage caused to Ukrainian education by the war will not be repaired just by ourselves, but with the sincere help of the world community. This work will take a long time but it will prove pivotal in the country’s proper development.

This article was first published in Ukrainian by the Ukrainian Pedagogical Press in September 2022.

Maksym Korodenko is a graduate of Drahomanov National Pedagogical University and the Editor-in Chief of Osvita Ukrainyy.

This article is published in the framework of the “Bohdan Osadchuk Media Platform for Journalists from Ukraine” co-financed by the Polish-American Freedom Foundation as part of the "Support Ukraine” Program implemented by the Education for Democracy Foundation and the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation. 

Texts published as part of this project are available free of charge under open access Creative Commons license. Republishing is allowed under the CC license, however requires attribution and crediting the author and source. 

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