Helping fulfil a promise for a better future in Ukraine through education

By Andreas Schleicher,
OECD Director of Education and Skills

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, destroying lives, homes and infrastructure. Children are undeniably among the biggest collateral victims of this war: they are witnessing the destruction of their homes, the loss of loved ones and they live in fear and under constant threat.  

Education is not only a fundamental right, but also a lifeline in a time of crisis and a promise for a better future. Indeed, education has always been the key to equipping young people with the knowledge, skills, and values needed to rebuild their country and to shape a peaceful and prosperous society.  

Last month, I travelled to Ukraine to launch a new OECD report, Learning during Crisis: Insights for Ukraine. The publication documents education reform in Canada, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Portugal and Sweden. These six countries share their experiences with educational transformation through structural reforms in the hope that they will provide ideas and inspiration for Ukraine’s own efforts to not only sustain but transform its educational system during this moment of crisis.  

I launched the document at the EdCamp ’23 retreat on the future of education in Ukraine, held on 27-29 June in Bukovel. The retreat brought together the Ukrainian Education Minister and other political, education and civil society leaders to discuss education reform in the country.  

Ukraine’s education system is facing unique challenges. The war has created new educational gaps – with many students missing large chunks of schooling. By late 2022, less than a third of schools in Ukraine were operating on a face-to-face basis. Since the onset of the invasion, nearly one in three parents report child absences of up to a month, and 13% more note that their child missed more than a month. These alarming results are likely to be underestimates.  

The same survey indicates that 85% of parents consider that educational and skill gaps caused by the pandemic and full-scale invasion will affect their children’s future education and prospects. In our report, we outline how Estonia, Sweden and the Canadian province of Manitoba have compensated for learning losses, which could aid Ukraine’s own efforts to design curricula and resources to support the country’s displaced and affected children.  

Many of the countries in the report have reshaped their education systems around competencies that are important for students’ lives. Ireland and Portugal, among others, offer inspiring examples of how putting the interests and needs of students at the forefront of reform can enhance their well-being and performance.  This approach will be particularly relevant for children in Ukraine, who have been dealing with trauma and other psychological distress, and for whom education programmes will have to be adapted to support their emotional and educational needs.

Stakeholder engagement is also critical to redesigning education systems. This is a key practice and value of the OECD. Countries such as Finland illustrate how this can foster a sense of shared ownership of schooling among parents and guardians. In a crisis situation such that Ukraine finds itself in, the development of community-based approaches to educational reform can help rebuild a sense of belonging, trust and mutual support.

Ukraine’s education reform agenda stems from the strategic vision for education that it established in 2016 after the Maidan revolution, the so-called “New Ukrainian School”. This vision broke with the Soviet tradition of education in Ukraine and introduced a competency-based approach to learning, a student-centered pedagogy, a Ukrainian identity, and genuine autonomy and responsibility for schools and teachers. The OECD continues to deepen and strengthen our co-operation with Ukraine to implement this vision, mobilising our expertise, analysis, data and membership to support Ukraine’s agenda for reform, recovery and reconstruction.  

At the EdCamp I also presented our survey on social and emotional skills and student well-being, currently being implemented in Ukraine by the State Service of Education Quality. The survey will establish important baseline data for the country and help to build awareness throughout Ukraine around these issues, which are so critical for children and young people during this time of conflict.

We remain committed to helping Ukraine build stronger institutions and governance, continue its fight against corruption, attract private sector investment and lay the foundations for long-term well-being and opportunities for its people. Education is central to all of these, and our new Learning during crisis report is a good illustration of the values that underpin our collaboration.  

Although there is still far to go and much work to be done, I am optimistic that the outcome will be a Ukraine that is free and prosperous, and where all its children have the chance for the education that they deserve.