DUBLIN, Ohio — “It’s not the same as real school,” explained Kate, a fifteen-year-old from Kremenchuk, Ukraine, in an interview with The Borgen Project. Her classes have been online for the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukrainian War. Though virtual classes have ensured the safety of students, the capacity of Ukrainian education has decreased significantly to accommodate war precautions.
The war has undoubtedly greatly affected the availability and security of Ukrainian education. During the course of the war, “the Russian military damaged or destroyed over 2.400 schools” and “internally displaced over 1.5 million Ukrainians.” At the start of the school year, the Ukrainian government reported that less than 25% of Ukrainian schools could provide in-person education. Over half of Ukrainian students are currently part of schooling online due to the dangers of studying in person in an active war zone, however, electrical outages have posed a great hindrance to their educational attainment
The worst days are when Russia bombs important resources such as electricity conductors, explained Kate. Without electricity, online school is impossible. In addition, Ukraine has scheduled power outages that stagger throughout the country, so oftentimes her classes coincide with the outage and she misses important content that she must learn on her own.
Poltava Faces Extreme Bomb Alerts
According to a Ukrainian State Border Service study, 801 air alarms sounded in Poltava Oblast in 2022, making it the sixth-highest region in bomb alerts. When alarms sound, teachers pause online classes and students retreat to safety. With an average of 47 bomb alarms a day in 2022, it was extremely difficult to continue classes in a normal fashion. These frequent pauses made learning new content difficult as they “didn’t have any other days to learn the lessons, so they just continued studying on their own,” said Kate.
Kremenchuk, a city in Poltava Oblast, made headlines in June 2022 after a major shopping mall bombing mere miles from Kate’s home. Her mother, who had been out shopping that day, was outside of the mall during the bombing. “At the time, I was in our countryside house 15 kilometers away, but the explosion was so loud that we heard it,” said Kate. The bomb killed dozens, including her mother’s friend. Civilians helped before first responders arrived, she said, with several people running into the mall to recover victims. “Though our town is made up of 200,000 people, everyone knows each other. We recognized the faces of the people who died, and we couldn’t accept what happened,” said Kate.
Through the ENGin program, a virtual one-on-one free English tutoring service, students in Ukraine can meet with a volunteer weekly to practice their conversational English and share their stories. Though this does not replace the education students like Kate once received at school, it helps them create noticeable progress in their English education while meeting with volunteers from around the world.
ENGin serves a total of 15,000 students who, similarly to Kate, have experienced educational difficulty during the war. The nonprofit began serving Ukrainian students in March 2020, shortly after the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with the goal of minimizing the negative educational impact of the pandemic, ENGin aims to improve the English proficiency of Ukrainian students and give them a higher footing in the global job market. “Ukraine ranks 30th of the 35 European countries in English proficiency,” which ENGin attributes to a lack of opportunity to learn English in a conversational setting. Through weekly sessions with volunteers in which students can practice their English, ENGin aims to improve Ukrainian English proficiency with the goal of one day benefiting all of Ukraine.
UNICEF and UNESCO
Other organizations have aimed to limit the impact of the war on Ukrainian education as well. UNICEF is currently developing programs in Ukraine to provide flexible methods of education that can all Ukrainian children can use, whether in Ukraine or neighboring countries. Its goal is to minimize learning disruptions through the provision of both formal and non-formal education, educational supplies and psychosocial support to over 1.4 million students.
In addition, UNESCO alongside its Global Education Coalition, helped provide computers for teachers to promote distance learning in Ukraine. They also partnered with The Ministry of Education and Science in Ukraine to create a system that focuses on admissions exams for Ukrainian students to enter universities and vocational training. This allows students to continue learning in a safe environment and pursue further education without putting their lives in danger.
The Social Downsides of Virtual Education
The online Ukrainian education system has played a major role in Kate’s social interactions as well. She has not seen her classmates in over a year, with her only social interactions taking place through a screen. She was also forced to quit the sports that she played because the gym is located inside the only other mall in their town. “After the situation with the last shopping mall, it’s so scary to go into there, especially because the rocket hit the last mall only seven minutes (after the bomb alert),” explained Kate.
The war has been extremely detrimental to the quality and reliability of Ukrainian education, leaving students like Kate to supplement their learning on their own. Though Kate has remained afloat, many of her classmates have fallen behind. As the war progresses, it is possible that the more frequent air bombs may impact Ukrainian education even further.
– Mariam Abaza