Ukraine: UNESCO’s response to children’s educational needs |

After a month of war, local authorities reported that more than 733 educational institutions were damaged or destroyed.

Beyond learning, education provides an even more relevant protective environment for crisis-affected populations, especially childrensaid the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in a press release.

UNESCO also announced that it is mobilizing support for the continuity of learning. Through its Global Education Coalition. Created in 2020 to facilitate distance learning solutions during the COVID-19 pandemicthe Organization will provide computer equipment and digital learning tools to young refugees.

Temporary protection

Every humanitarian crisis is also an education crisisbut an unprecedented factor of the war in Ukraine, is that the European Union (EU) decided early on to activate its temporary protection regime, which allowed the millions of people fleeing the war-torn country to benefit equal rights to benefits.

The EU countries’ directive grants access “to persons under the age of 18 with Temporary Protected Status under the same conditions as their own EU nationals and citizens,” UNESCO notes.

Adopted on March 4, less than two weeks after the start of the Russian invasion, the directive had an immediate impact and caused a dynamic influx of refugees, with Ukrainian nationals can move freely within EU countries.

This decision, according to the UN agency, “calls for increased coordination of host countries, both inside and outside the EU, to support and integrate learners, teachers and education staff. Ukrainians in national education systems”.

Map the response

UNESCO’s response includes map how host countries meet the educational needs of Ukrainian refugees.

This includes transitional measures to integrate learners into mainstream education; linguistic and curricular considerations; psychosocial support, teacher training and accreditation, among other practical steps related to governance, registration, certification and financial support.

In a first review, UNESCO analyzed the provisions of 29 countries and divided the results into the following categories: transition vs direct integration, teaching and teachers, credits and exams, and financial resources.

© UNICEF/Joe English

On March 9, 2022 in Medyka, southeastern Poland, children play in the corner of a school gymnasium set up to house refugee families who fled the war in Ukraine.

Student integration

Many countries mentioned existing programs and protocols to include foreigners in their national education systems. In Portugal, for example, international students may enroll directly in Pre-K (Pre-K) classes, while older students are assessed or go through a bridging process. The objective is to integrate Ukrainian students as quickly as possible.

As such, Portugal has introduced extraordinary measures for rapid integration, including simplified procedures granting equivalence to foreign qualifications. Likewise, Belgium, Denmark, France, Lithuania, Slovakia and Spainmentioned the “bridge”, “reception” or “adaptation” classes.

These transition classes offer language lessons, familiarize students with their local education system, provide counselors for psychological support and assess skills. As students build their language skills and are assessed, they can then be integrated into regular classes.

Some countries offer public education with instruction in a minority language. In Romaniafor example, 45 schools and 10 high schools provide courses in Ukrainian.

Some initiatives also include connecting Ukrainian refugee students with distance learning options in Ukrainian.

A nine-year-old Ukrainian girl holds a drawing of her family as she sits in a learning center with her mother and her cat (in a blue basket) in Romania.

© UNICEF/Adrian Holerga

A nine-year-old Ukrainian girl holds a drawing of her family as she sits in a learning center with her mother and her cat (in a blue basket) in Romania.

Many countries also state that they will allow Ukrainian students to access their higher education institutions, such as Austria, France, Hungary, Poland, Romaniaas well as offering to waive tuition or provide additional financial support.

the UK launches, for example, the Homes for Ukraine program for visa applications from Ukrainians who have people ready to sponsor them.

People arriving under this scheme will be able to live and work in the UK for up to three years, access healthcare, benefits, employment support, and their children will be able to attend local schools and receive English lessons.

Language barrier

According to UNESCO, the the large influx of Ukrainian refugee students will pose particular challenges, such as the obvious language barrier. Teachers will need support to cope with this, as well as to gradually integrate students into a welcoming classroom; how to discuss the Russian invasion and the state of the war in their homeland; and how to provide them with cultural and psychological support.

In addition to providing materials and training on language barrier management – already provided by the Ministries of Education of several countries in some cases – other options include experimenting with bilingual materials, learning basic Ukrainian, the use of translation apps and the use of interpreter services for more complex communication difficulties.

UNICEF provided Early Childhood Education (ECD) kits to Ukrainian refugee children in Poland.

© UNICEF/Agnieszka Sochon

UNICEF provided Early Childhood Education (ECD) kits to Ukrainian refugee children in Poland.

In addition to language support, a measure often mentioned on education ministry websites is providing materials and instructions for teachers on how to discuss the war with students, including webinars and podcasts.

For example, Croatia, Czechia (Czech Republic) and Slovakia have manuals on how to protect students’ mental health, prevent conflict in the classroom and talk about sensitive topics.

In Parisa Ukrainian “crisis cell” has been created, and one of its services is to provide teachers with an online brochure explaining how to welcome students who have suffered trauma.

Policy gaps and available resources

In the crucial policy area of ​​how host countries are tackling final exams, higher education credit transfer and education accreditation, UNESCO has found that understandably very little has been prepared to help students Ukrainians so far.

Additionally, in the area of ​​resources, some governments have developed financial measures to support the education response, such as extra-budgetary allocations.

This was the case of France, Italy, Poland and Romania. In Italy, for example, €1 million will be used specifically to include Ukrainian students in national education systems.

In terms of direct financial support, most measures focus on higher education students. Austria for example, waived tuition fees for Ukrainian university students currently enrolled in its higher education institutions. In Lithuania, depending on the capacity of the institution, studies for Ukrainian citizens will be financed by the state.

Some countries also provide support at early stages, such as Romaniawhere Ukrainian students can be accommodated free of charge in boarding schools and will receive allowances for studies and bedding, for example.

Strengthen distance education

According to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Ukraine’s total school-age population is over 6.84 million studentsfrom pre-primary to higher education.

Two girls stand in a schoolyard in Sloviansk, Ukraine.  (file)

© UNICEF/Pavel Zmey

Two girls stand in a schoolyard in Sloviansk, Ukraine. (file)

In order to meet the needs on the ground, UNESCO declared to be in permanent contact with the local authorities, and all the partners concerned, to protect and restore education in the country, with an emphasis on teaching at distance.

In line with UNESCO recommendations, Ukraine had put in place an effective system in response to school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the All-Ukrainian School Platformsaid UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, adding that the UN agency is working with the government to adapt it to current needs.

Mapping methodologies

In a dynamic way that can change rapidly as war continues and the influx of displaced people increases and spreads, UNESCO is taking a phased approach to its data project.

Data and analysis will come in waves with an increasing number of countries, increasingly detailed content and evolving methods of filtering and visualizing information.

The first wave of mapping of 29 countries is based on a desk review of information found on the websites of host country ministries of education.

Ukrainian refugees wait for a bus to continue their journey after crossing the Polish border to Medyka.

© UNICEF/Tom Remp

Ukrainian refugees wait for a bus to continue their journey after crossing the Polish border to Medyka.

Next steps

The mapping will also clarify whether a non-EU country is relying on existing legislation for access to education or also issuing special guidelines for the Ukraine crisis.

In doing so, it will also allow host countries to take stock of the concrete steps taken to integrate and support Ukrainian learners and teachers fleeing the warincluding international students enrolled in Ukrainian higher education institutions.

Helen D. Jessen