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Revival of Ukrainian education amid war

Since the first day of the large-scale invasion, Russia has been waging a war against Ukrainian education, destroying the cornerstone of national security and the basis for independence and economic growth. From February 2022 to December 31, 2023, the aggressor caused damage to 3,583 educational institutions and destroyed another 394, rendering them beyond repair. In most cases, the enemy targets schools; 1,888 general secondary education institutions were damaged. This is only material damage, which cannot be compared to the losses and gaps in education.

For example, right now, as you read this text, more than 868,000 Ukrainian students are studying remotely because they cannot return to in-person learning. Unlike some countries that are dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic by implementing tutoring programs and resuming in-person learning, our primary focus is on ensuring the safety and well-being of our children. According to the PISA-2022 survey, the level of knowledge among 15-year-old Ukrainians has significantly decreased. These educational losses amount to a two-year gap in their knowledge of math, reading and science, compared to the levels children their age should have achieved.

Based on the Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA), the total funding needed to rebuild infrastructure and improve in-person education between 2024 and 2033 is $13.9 billion. This includes $4.5 billion for rebuilding schools and another $4.1 billion for the delivery of quality education services.

Despite the constant threat of enemy missiles, drones flying over Ukraine and the focus on defense, education is still being restored. Schools are actively looking for ways to enable continuous learning, and the government is seeking funds to rebuild infrastructure. We have done a lot for the safety of our children over the past 2 years. These were urgent, yet crucial matters. The next step is to improve the quality of the education process and solve demanding challenges for the frontline communities.

Working together on safe education

Last year the government spent Hr 1.5 billion. ($37 million) allocated to modernize housing in educational institutions. This money was used to repair and build dozens of safe spaces in schools across Ukraine. Local self-government bodies participated proactively, assessing budgets and seeking opportunities to provide additional financing.

For example, in the Chernihiv region, which borders the Republic of Belarus and Russia, local authorities built a 300-square-meter shelter in just a few months. It is located at the Ripky Lyceum and can accommodate up to 800 people. It’s a great example of how regions are bringing back in-person learning, even when it seems impossible.

In the Kharkiv region, which borders Russia, Ukraine is building the world’s first underground school. It is a tough but essential task. Built to the highest safety standards, the school has 20 classrooms and is designed to accommodate 900 students in two shifts. In addition, the school will serve as a home to nearby kindergartens, offices and other institutions.

In total, the percentage of educational institutions with reception centers will have increased from 68 to 80 percent in 2023. This improvement was made possible thanks to the efforts of development partners, international organizations and investors, who played a crucial role in improving the quality of Ukrainian education and safety for our children.

For example, UNICEF, Save the Children, the Red Cross and other international organizations are actively participating in the reconstruction of bomb shelters and shelters in educational institutions in Mykolaiv. We are working together to complete the restoration of Gymnasium No. 20, which was damaged by Russian attacks in the spring of 2022, and also to repair a shelter that can accommodate 800 people.

We are incredibly grateful for the support and unity of the European Commission, which is releasing €15 million for the development of school shelters in Ukraine. These spaces will serve a dual function: both a refuge and a fully equipped educational area.

School shelters – essential for in-person learning

The war is ongoing, as are repairs and construction of school shelters. The government has donated Hr 2.5 billion. ($61 million) allocated to school childcare centers and implemented a new grant distribution mechanism.

This year, frontline regions became the top priority for state funding of shelters. Children there cannot attend school in person due to a lack of shelter in these areas. To provide safe, quality education to more than 400,000 children, the government has allocated grants to eight regions close to the frontline or border with Russia and Belarus.

The new rules for allocating funds have been developed with an emphasis on accountability and accessibility. Therefore, all requests for public funding were submitted exclusively through the DREAM (Digital Restoration Ecosystem for Accountable Management) ecosystem, as it is an efficient tool that eliminates the possibility of corruption and promotes transparency in the process.

Through this system, people from all over the world can easily track the progress of projects, especially building shelters in schools, and monitor the use of funds. With just a few clicks you can access up-to-date and verified information from the first entry of the project into the system until the shelter is completed and ready for use.

We have supported communities and will continue to do so through support group chats, online workshops or in-person meetings. Moreover, we have collected all the essential information about school shelters on the online platform “My Fortress”.

More than 2,500 representatives from various communities and regional authorities have been instructed in the use of DREAM in the period March-April. This effort has resulted in more than 100 projects for the construction of shelters in educational institutions being registered in the system. Afterwards, the Ministry of Education and Science committee completed 57 projects to receive funding.

We implemented simple decisions – critical needs must be met

Creating safe spaces in schools is a top priority of the ‘School Offline’ mega-complex, which aims to ensure that as many children as possible have access to quality education by the end of 2024. In addition to building and repairing shelters, we are also exploring the possibility of implementing intensive camp training in the form of field camps. This would cover schools in areas where offline learning is not feasible, despite the availability of accommodations.

Now the ministry’s main task is schools in the frontline areas. Recognizing all the threats, we are working to develop a comprehensive assessment of the needs of schools in these communities. By collecting data through interaction with the regions and processing it using Palantir technology, we aim to meet the needs of the communities as efficiently as possible.

These include the need for shelters, buses to transport children to safer areas, and equipment for quality distance learning. In frontline areas, there is an urgent need for 82,000 devices for students and 25,000 for teachers this year.

It is now critical that we focus all efforts, including those of our partners, on meeting these data-driven and complex needs in frontline areas.

The actual need for providing shelter in schools in eight frontline and border regions amounts to Hr17 billion. ($197 million). This 17 billion Hr. already includes a state subsidy of Hr 2.5 billion. ($61 million). Our goal for this year is to secure financing for all projects with project cost estimates, amounting to an additional Hr.6.75 billion ($166 million).

When addressing the mechanism of project support by donors, it is crucial that donors initially contact the team of the Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine. They can then explore the DREAM platform to learn about all projects that need financing. The next step is to select a project that matches the donor’s key indicators and objectives, and then provide support to ensure its realization.

The DREAM platform offers potential donors, investors and development partners the opportunity to easily access and contribute to financing, ensuring transparency, high quality and convenience through its data-driven approach. When discussing overcoming educational losses and promoting a safe learning environment for children, we are guided by the principle of “building back better.” We have a unique opportunity, with global support, to make bold choices in creating a new education system – one that is high quality, innovative, safe and European.

The views expressed in this opinion article are those of the author and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.