The United Nations has issued a stark warning about the dire educational situation faced by Ukrainian children due to years of disrupted schooling resulting from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, has expressed deep concern as the school year begins in Ukraine.
Both children within Ukraine and refugees who have been forced to flee the country are grappling with a fourth consecutive year of educational turmoil. Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia, pointed out the grim reality that many of Ukraine’s 6.7 million children between the ages of three and 18 are struggling to acquire essential language, math, and reading skills.
The visible signs of this crisis are widespread, with children experiencing a marked decline in their proficiency in the Ukrainian language, as well as in their reading and mathematical abilities. These alarming trends emerged after De Dominicis visited the country and assessed the situation firsthand.
Inside Ukraine, attacks on schools have continued unabated, depriving children of safe environments in which to learn. This not only hinders their educational progress but also undermines their ability to retain knowledge acquired when schools are fully functional.
UNICEF’s survey data paints a grim picture, with approximately half of teachers reporting a decline in students’ proficiency in the Ukrainian language, mathematics, and foreign languages. Furthermore, enrollment statistics reveal that only one-third of children are receiving fully in-person education, with another third learning exclusively online and the remainder following a mixed approach.
While online learning has been implemented as a short-term solution, UNICEF underscores that it is not a suitable long-term substitute for in-person teaching, which is vital for children’s social development. The urgency of addressing this education crisis in Ukraine cannot be overstated.
UNICEF’s concerns extend to preschool-age children in Ukraine, with national survey data indicating that two-thirds of them are not attending school, a figure that rises to three-quarters in frontline areas of conflict.
The situation is equally challenging for Ukrainian refugee children, who are facing yet another uncertain academic year. More than half of them are not enrolled in the national education systems of seven host countries. Language barriers, difficulty accessing schools, and the overwhelming demands on education systems are among the primary reasons for this grim reality. Some refugee children may have even completely abandoned their education.
UNICEF emphasized the multifaceted role of schools during times of crisis or conflict. They not only serve as places of learning but also provide children who have already endured loss, displacement, and violence with a sense of routine and safety. Schools offer opportunities to build friendships and receive vital assistance from teachers. Additionally, schools can provide access to crucial services such as nutrition, vaccines, and support services.
UNICEF is actively collaborating with partners both in Ukraine and host countries to expand access to quality education. This includes efforts to rehabilitate schools and offer catch-up classes. Their ambitious goal is to support 300,000 children in Ukraine who are at risk of experiencing learning loss during the upcoming school year. The urgent need to address these educational challenges is paramount.