Millions of children across Ukraine and in seven neighboring asylum countries are being deprived of an education and the skills needed to help Ukraine recover from the devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of their country, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF.
“Inside Ukraine, attacks on schools have continued unabated, leaving children deeply distressed and without safe spaces to learn,” said Regina De Dominicis, UNICEF’s regional director for Europe and Central Asia.
“Not only has this left Ukraine’s children struggling to progress in their education, but they are also struggling to retain what they learned when their schools were fully functioning,” she said at a Tuesday briefing.
De Dominicis visited Ukraine last week and met several teachers there who she said were injured in an attack on a civilian area in the northern city of Romny.
“The attack ripped through a school where teachers were preparing lessons for the new school year. On the same day, a kindergarten in Kherson city was hit in another attack,” she said, noting that such attacks are not anomalies.
An assessment by UNICEF and the Ukrainian Ministry of Education reports that Russian attacks have destroyed more than 1,300 schools, and that others are damaged and not ready to open for the academic year, which begins this week.
“These senseless and reckless attacks have left many of Ukraine’s children deeply distressed and without a safe space to learn,” De Dominicis said. “As a result, children in Ukraine are showing signs of widespread learning loss, including a deterioration in learning outcomes of the Ukrainian language, reading and mathematics.”
According to the latest UNICEF survey data, up to 57% of teachers report a deterioration in students’ Ukrainian language abilities; up to 45% report a reduction in mathematics skills; and up to 52% report a reduction in foreign language abilities.
Another UNICEF survey finds that just one in three schoolchildren in Ukraine are learning in person full time, and that three-quarters of children of preschool age in front-line areas are not attending kindergarten.
“This war is layering crisis upon crisis,” De Dominicis said. “It is leaving children grappling with mental health problems. It is denying millions a chance to be educated.”
As for Ukraine’s refugee children, UNICEF reports that they, too, are missing out on an education, noting that more than half of children from preschool to secondary school age are not enrolled in the national education systems of their host countries.
De Dominicis cited language difficulties as one of the main reasons children do not attend school.
“In Poland, in Czech Republic, in Moldova — very often, the family were hoping to go back after a couple of months,” she said. “So, they prefer to be hooked to the online Ukrainian language system. Unfortunately, we see that they will reside in these countries for longer, because the war is still ongoing. Many of them are facing difficulty in not having teachers to support their children” in preparing them to attend classes in their host countries.
De Dominicis said that children are resilient and can learn multiple languages, even at a young age.
“So, we hope they will see a richness in actually being included in host country education without losing their right to their culture, to their language,” she said.
UNICEF said schools provide far more than a place of learning in times of crisis or war. They can provide a safe space where children can escape violence, make friends and create a sense of normalcy in an otherwise uncertain environment.
“The war in Ukraine has become a war on children,” De Dominicis said.
When the war ends and the children grow up, they will be essential to the country’s recovery and future. This will require a workforce that is both highly educated and healthy, she said.
“Investing in education for Ukraine’s children, no matter where they reside, is the best investment we can make in the country’s future,” De Dominicis said.