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Rebuilding Ukraine through Education

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By Salvatore Nigro, CEO of JA Europe, who have partnered with UNICEF to deliver ‘UPLIFT’.

In a move crucial to rebuilding its education system derailed by the ongoing conflict, Ukraine has passed a bill that adapts the country’s education policy to match EU standards. This law is the latest in a series of reforms that Ukraine has carried out to better align its institutions and policies with those of the EU as it seeks to join the union

This adaptation means that the qualifications that displaced Ukrainians are obtaining in host countries throughout Europe will translate directly to the education and employment systems within Ukraine. Therefore, if they choose to return to the Ukraine, they won’t be on the backfoot. 

However, this bill’s impact hinges on getting more children into education now, as it will only matter to those bringing qualifications home. 

Education Barriers – Language and Uncertainty 
Since the war in Ukraine began, over 6 million Ukrainians have fled the country, with nearly 2 million of those being children. Despite efforts from educators and governments, approximately 40% of Ukrainian students face disruption to their education, as they struggle to integrate into the new societies of their host countries.

According to a survey by the OECD, and our own experience through our activities in host countries with young Ukrainian refugees, language was the most frequently reported barrier to education that children faced. Many children, along with their families do not speak the language of their host country. This prevents them from understanding enrollment processes and coursework, as well as forming vital peer connections. 

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Through our work with UPLIFT we have seen how refugees continually move around, and this uncertainty and lack of continuity is another major obstacle which deters long-term educational commitments. We’ve seen how youth are less likely to participate in the education of host countries when they believe they may leave soon to return home or continue to another country. 

Overcoming Barriers 

To overcome these barriers, we must equip displaced Ukrainian students with the tools and resources to access and thrive, and ultimately contribute to economies.

As such, ensuring that educational programmes are available both in person and online is critical. Each child learns differently and in host countries, we found there was a disparity across countries when it came to in person enrollment. 

That’s why we’ve prioritised making our content available online and creating a digital network for students. We’ve also worked closely with out of school organisations to support those who have found it difficult to attend local schools. 

And for those displaced children who want to learn in-person, we also deliver in-person innovation camps and face to face programmes.

As well as flexibility in the types of education offered, covering all bases when it comes to language is also pivotal. By offering courses in both Ukrainian and the languages of their host countries, these programmes also address the significant language barriers that have prevented many Ukrainian refugees from accessing traditional schooling.

Alongside core academics, wraparound programmes like ‘UPLIFT’ provide critical supplementary support in digital skills, career development, and mental health – preparing students holistically for the road ahead and ensuring young Ukrainians feel ownership over their future. 

Policymakers, authorities, and the private sector must continue to support the expansion of online and flexible education options. These modalities not only overcome geographic and logistical barriers, but also provide the continuity and autonomy displaced students require. By investing in both formal and supplementary digital learning, we can empower Ukrainian refugees to pick up their education wherever and whenever they are able.

Looking forward 

While we welcome the Ukrainian government working towards aligning its education system with EU standards, the war is ongoing. As of February 2024, there are 6.5 million Ukrainian refugees worldwide, and it is critical that we have initiatives that support these displaced individuals within their host countries and online. 

Ongoing support is needed to ensure displaced youths gain qualifications that are recognised back home and are therefore empowered to join the workforce and contribute to the country’s reconstruction efforts. We must ensure that Ukrainian children have the tools and resources they need to continue learning, growing and preparing for the road ahead – no matter where their journeys take them.

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