Learning amidst war: Voices of youth in Ukraine

The Ukraine Education Cluster has been working in Ukraine since 2014, rapidly expanding its scope of work after the invasion on February 24, 2022. In the first two months of 2024, cluster partners collectively supported 350 thousand children and educators with educational services, after supporting 1.1 million children and educators in 2023.

An integral part of the cluster approach is engaging children and parents at different stages of humanitarian program cycle to inform concrete EiE response actions – from the initial needs assessments right up to decision-making at the policy level. In Ukraine, children and youth engaged in humanitarian planning and action via partner projects shared their experience during a Knowledge Sharing Conference organized by the Cluster in Kyiv in August 2023, which convened approximately 100 participants from local and national NGOs, international organizations and government agencies.

During a panel discussion with representatives from UNICEF, Save the Children, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Education and Science, Hordii, aged 14, a youth researcher and journalist, shared insights from youth-led need assessment about children and teachers’ experience of learning amidst war and his reflections about humanitarian aid in Ukraine:

During the last school year, I was involved in the assessment of education needs among boys, girls and teachers in schools in Ukraine. I was able to join the team of researchers to learn about educational needs directly from my peers and from the teachers. It was not easy to conduct the assessment fast enough when the situation demanded an urgent response. Furthermore, it was very hard to pinpoint the needs that were constantly changing. Today you learn about the need for bomb shelters in a school and tomorrow after the massive missile attack everybody discusses the urgent need in electricity and internet for learning. Yet, I think our team managed to grasp the essentials.

Supplying humanitarian aid is essential to make safe learning accessible.

The needs of educational institutions are still piling up, somewhere laptops are needed to keep up learning, others need a shelter to host a huge school community during air raid alerts. All of it costs a lot of money but sometimes even a small intervention can make a huge difference. For example, one of the schools was not able to put a ramp for the bomb shelter (otherwise ready to be used) and as a result it was not approved to allow children back to offline learning. School budget cannot cover the cost, but one ramp would have made a huge difference to enable children to get back to the classroom.

Human relationships are extremely essential to keep learners and teachers’ wellbeing.

At the start of the large-scale war Ukrainians showed amazing unity but two years on the first adrenalin is gone and people show more vulnerabilities. It is understandable that the war will not end soon, hence children and teachers need mental and moral support. They want their needs and feelings to be heard of and acknowledged by those who try to help them.

Humanitarian support is essential but working to stop the war is more important.

It is understandable that the war cannot be stopped in two days, but it does not mean we should not work to stop it. Of course, humanitarian aid is keeping education going but until rockets continue hitting schools, kindergartens and other civilian targets, how can this carry on, how can it be tolerated?

Our needs assessment allowed us to learn not only about the situation on the ground but also about the people, learners and teachers, who shared their experiences. United in the face of shared need, our people are capable of the impossible. But to succeed they need support, and they need opportunities to be heard and to be able to act upon the situation. This is especially true for children and youth. All of us are united by the same idea: if any opportunity arises, even the tiny one, to change the situation for the better many of us think “if not me then who?” And this thought comes to me and to you and to anybody else who knows the situation in Ukraine. I think it is this calling that unites so many volunteers and humanitarians across the globe who sent their support to us. It is this idea that allows us to make the world a better place.

The Ukraine Education Cluster commits to engaging with war-affected children and youth, not only as a token gesture but in a truly participatory manner to ensure better and more targeted humanitarian response at the strategic level. Currently, the Ukraine coordination team is working to set up consultations with children ahead of the Education Cluster Strategy review in summer 2024.

Photo: © UNICEF/UNI431074/Filippov


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