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Fri. April 19, 2024
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The Ukrainian Education System Will Take Decades to Recover, but Informal Education Could Save Ukraine’s Youth
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Some Ukrainian kids have never seen a classroom, and might not anytime soon. While the formal education system adapts, Ukraine needs informal learning tools to educate and inspire its youth before it’s too late.

From pandemic school closures to wartime procedures, Ukrainian schools are either destroyed, operating on a remote or hybrid schedule, or struggling to accommodate thousands of internally displaced children. According to the Ministry of Education, over 2,600 schools in Ukraine have been damaged and over 400 across the country are completely destroyed. Only 25 percent of Ukrainian schools are equipped with adequate bomb shelters for full-time, in-person learning, and it will take time to expand others before kids can return to the classroom.

Ukraine can’t afford to limit education to the classroom. While the next generation’s potential languishes in online schooling, the obstacles facing formal educators highlight what is most important: Students need to be inspired to learn, explore, and make discoveries. As students struggle to keep up with online classes, and as many have never had the benefit of in-person learning, educators and officials are trying to create these opportunities outside of the classroom. Informal education could determine whether the next generation is empowered and inspired or unmotivated and passive

I traveled to Kyiv and spoke with Mariia Dubrova, an Operations Manager at the Science Museum of Kyiv. She is part of the management team at the Junior Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and sees how impactful informal learning is for kids during wartime.

For Mariia, the biggest challenge facing kids isn’t education, but motivation. “Education isn’t at school. It’s your opinion, it’s your chance to change your life. If you want to learn or know something, you will do it. But there are children who have zero motivation to learn.”

Mariia’s team runs masterclasses, daily exhibitions, and camps for kids, and she said science camp this spring was especially difficult. “These children go to school online full-time. They have no social skills,” Mariia said. “They don’t know how to sit in a normal way, and they don’t know how to ask questions since they don’t do it in online classes.” 

Families come to the Science Museum to use the interactive exhibits and learn from Ukrainian scientists and educators. In their idea workshop, staff members encourage kids to use random items to solve puzzles. “We give kids tape, a package of milk, some straws, paper, and tell them to make a car. They make super things! The children are so proud, and they start thinking and start asking.” 

By encouraging kids to explore, Mariia and her team send an important message: In a frightening world that makes them feel powerless, kids can solve problems and imagine a future for themselves. With rockets flying overhead, Mariia and her team run experiments in bomb shelters and create science lessons for families to try at home.

Oksen Lisovyi, the Ukrainian Minister of Education, though tasked with the immense job of fixing formal education in the country, is also committed to implementing informal learning activities. The Minister Oksen Lisovyi used to work alongside Mariia as the Director of the Junior Academy of Science of Ukraine and helped build the organization into what it is today. “Connecting with children is the most important thing to him,” Mariia says. During his time as Director, heHe signed certificates by hand, got down to speak to kids on their level and explained museum exhibits to them. As the Minister fights to rebuild Ukraine’s formal education, he is motivated by the interactive, extracurricular science projects he used to create. 

Also in Kyiv, I met the Ukraine Deputy Minister of Family Youth and Sport, Maryna Popatenko. Her office oversees over 150 youth centers across the country and is dedicated to increasing access to informal learning tools. 

"The further development of the country is, without a doubt, impossible without the youth acquiring modern knowledge and skills acquired through informal education,” Maryna said. Led by nonprofit partners, her team is expanding education exhibits in their centers and using mobile education labs to reach even more kids. According to Maryna, this could be a critical form of therapy for children from liberated territories.

In speaking with Maryna, Mariia, and every Ukrainian educator I met, I felt the urgency of the situation. Every day that the war interrupts learning, Ukrainian kids fall further and further behind. These are the future professionals and rebuilders of their country. Maybe all it takes to inspire them is a milk carton, straws, tape, and the knowledge that their creativity can take them anywhere.

Creating dynamic learning opportunities is more than a humanitarian mission; it’s an investment in Ukraine’s long-term stability. The country still has a long way to go to improve its educational outcomes, but disaster is forcing educators and officials to challenge the barriers of formal education, and through discovery, find hope. 

Emily Schroen (@emschroen) is a global nonprofit development specialist and Co-Founder of the Humanitarian Innovation Group (formerly Americans for Ukraine). Her team supports one of the largest refugee centers in Poland and works with the Ukrainian Ministry of Family Youth and Sport to expand access to educational tools in the country. She has made multiple podcast and media appearances, and her recent writing has featured in The Diplomat and Real Clear World. If you want to support expanding education access in Ukraine, please consider donating at www.hig-global.org.

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