Many of the 6.7 million Ukrainian schoolchildren are falling behind in language, reading and mathematics, after four years of interruptions due to the pandemic and the war in their country.
According to a survey by UNICEF, the UN children's agency, 57% of teachers reported setbacks in the level of students in the Ukrainian language, 45% in mathematics and 52% in foreign languages.
Only one third of the children enrolled in primary and secondary education are studying fully face-to-face. One third of the students study in a mixed way, face-to-face and online, and another third learn entirely online.
"Inside Ukraine, attacks on schools have not stopped, leaving children deeply distressed and without safe spaces to learn, said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
Two-thirds of preschool-age children do not attend school. In the areas close to the combat front, three-quarters of parents say they do not send their children to preschool.
UNICEF recalls that online learning can complement face-to-face and offer a short-term solution, but it cannot completely replace face-to-face classes, which are especially critical for the social development and foundational learning of young children.
“The ongoing educational reform in Ukraine, which aims to develop the skills of children and young people, is fundamental for the future socio-economic recovery and development of the country,” the agency assured.
For Ukrainian refugee children in other countries, the beginning of the course is also uncertain, since more than half, of preschool and secondary school students are not enrolled.
Language barriers, the difficulty of access to school and the overload of educational systems in host countries are some of the reasons for low enrolment rates.
Some of these refugee children try to study online, but others may have completely abandoned their education.
12-year-old Lisa had to leave her home in Kherson and embark on a trip to Romania that tested her endurance and determination.
"When I left Kherson with my mother, we could only take one suitcase, so we didn't bring too much, leaving everything we had behind," she recalls, looking around her small, simple room in Galati, where she now sleeps, plays and studies.
With the support of UNICEF, Lisa received a laptop and this was an important point in her educational career, because her online classes became more accessible and attractive.
"I'm learning faster now; I can see the lessons better and read the texts without problems. I used to have to zoom in on every page and I had problems with my eyes. I take care of my laptop because I'm going back to school in the fall, and I'll need it a lot! I'm happy because now I can search for a lot of new information and do my homework better," Lisa admits.
More than a classroom
In times of crisis or war, schools are much more than a place of learning. They offer children a sense of routine and security, the opportunity to make friends and receive help from teachers. They can provide access to vaccinations, food and support services for children's mental health and well-being.
UNICEF works with governments and partners on the ground in Ukraine and in countries hosting refugee children and families by supporting the inclusion of children in national education systems and providing multiple learning pathways for those who are not currently enrolled. The agency trains teachers and school staff in the skills needed to integrate all vulnerable children into classrooms, provides language classes and psychosocial and mental health support.
In addition, UNICEF is working with the Government of Ukraine to rehabilitate schools and provide remedial classes in basic subjects, with the aim of supporting 300,000 children.