Learning boost for Ukrainian children shut out of school for years

Theirworld is a strategic member of the new Device Coalition. We have also supported other Ukraine education projects, including Stay With Ukraine. Here Natalya Vinnytska teaches her Kyiv-based class before running her evening Stay with Ukraine class for displaced children in other countries. (Theirworld / Oleg Salinko)

Theirworld and our business initiative are members of the new Device Coalition - launched with the aim of delivering 125,000 digital devices to students and teachers affected by the war.

Hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainian children have never set foot in a school classroom. They are among about a million students who have been robbed of four years of face-to-face teaching by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion.

Many lack basic reading and writing skills, and are falling behind in mathematics. To make matters worse, many Ukrainian families cannot afford or source the digital devices needed to allow their children to learn remotely from home.

To meet that challenge, a major network called the Device Coalition has been launched in London by the Ukrainian government and the Olena Zelenska Foundation. Its aim is to mobilise support and hand over 125,000 digital devices – 96,000 to students and 29,000 to teachers in Ukraine – by the middle of this year.

Theirworld is a strategic member of the coalition, building on our previous involvement in supporting learning and laptop projects for Ukrainian children both at home and in other countries.

In a video message at the launch, Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska said: “A whole generation of children are growing up in Ukraine who have no idea what it’s like to go to school. They have been studying online for several years now.”

She described how almost 2,000 schools are unable to accommodate students for safety reasons and that children often have to hide in bomb shelters near their homes and resume their studies online to the sound of sirens. She said the first “underground kindergarten” has opened in the subway system in Kharkiv, a city regularly under attack from Russia shelling.

Ukraine First Lady Olena Zelenska’s message at the launch of the Device Coalition in London

The First Lady added: “Two-thirds of our pupils study fully or partially online. To educate them requires devices – a lot of devices. We are obliged to restore their faith in a just world, full of opportunities. Education is the best way to do that.”

Her foundation has previously delivered about 50,000 laptops and tablets to students and teachers.

The Device Coalition was formed after Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science assessed how to help students and discovered a lack of laptops, tablets and mobile phones was the major obstacle to remote learning.

About two million Ukrainian children are either studying remotely or combining distance learning with in-person classes. But 328,000 children from vulnerable groups cannot learn remotely due to the lack of devices – such as children from low-income families, children in orphanages, children with disabilities and those with special educational needs.

At the Device Coalition launch, Justin van Fleet – President of Theirworld and Executive Director of our Global Business Coalition for Education – spoke about our previous involvement in supporting education for Ukrainian children.

1.9 million

Ukrainian children attend classes online all or some of the time

More than 70,000 devices worth $40 million were delivered to Ukraine and to refugee children in neighbouring countries through the Digital Equity for Ukraine initiative of the technology company HP. Laptops and other learning devices were donated by HP to UNICEF, in partnership with the Global Business Coalition for Education. Microsoft provided software support.

Justin said that today 1.6 million children are using those devices or learning online from a teacher using one.

Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for education also supported the NGO Smart Osvita to deliver online lessons in Ukrainian language, culture and history to 700 students aged 10 to 17 who have moved to other countries.

And Theirworld is working with Ukraine’s government to support a national early childhood education and development initiative to give children the best start in life, as well as on accelerated learning programmes for science and mathematics.

At the coalition event, Justin added: “There is so much more we can do. Many people are saying that 2024 is a year of uncertainty – there are so many elections, so many questions out in the world. But let’s make it the year of certainty and the year of hope. Let’s come together and deliver results for Ukrainian children.”

Keeping students in touch

Maksym takes an online class with a teacher based in Ukraine  (Theirworld/Niall Kenny)

Theirworld has been involved in several Ukraine-related projects. One of them is Stay With Ukraine, which has helped 700 displaced Ukrainian students keep in touch with their language, culture and history. It is delivered by Smart Osvita with support from Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education.

Among the students taking part is Maksym, who lives in London. He and his mother Anastasia left Ukraine soon after the war erupted and their home city of Mariupol was bombed.

Maksym goes to a local school – but he also enjoys the extra lessons at home and speaking Ukrainian, which he says “is just beautiful”.