Four preschools a day damaged or destroyed in Ukraine
An average of four preschools a day have been damaged or destroyed in the war in Ukraine, putting children’s early development in jeopardy as the new school year begins, says Save the Children.
Since the war escalated on 24 February, 822 preschools have come under attack, including 74 that have been completely destroyed, according to the Ministry of Education and Science.
Parents in many parts of Ukraine are now struggling to ensure their young children’s early learning needs are met while their country is at war.
Darya-, 28, fled her home in eastern Ukraine with her three-year-old daughter earlier this year. Darya explained that she has felt lost playing the role of teacher while preschool is closed.
"It is very difficult for me to contribute to my children’s learning process. We have been displaced from our home so all my thoughts are busy looking for work and housing," said Darya, whose daughter has become very withdrawn since the war escalated and does not make eye contact with other people.
The war has severely reduced access to in-person learning for all students in Ukraine, with more than 2,400 education facilities from preschool to university damaged or destroyed in six months of war. Numerous other schools have been converted into shelters for displaced families.
While many children in Ukraine will keep up with school through online learning, others have had to put their education on hold, especially those living in areas with active fighting and limited access to internet or devices, and those fleeing the country.
Only 50% of schools in Ukraine will be open for in-person learning this September, according to the Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine. Students can return to the classroom in places where it is safe to do so and if their school has a protective structure in case of an attack. However, many schools remain closed as authorities continue to build shelters and repair damage from shelling and bombing.
Save the Children is concerned that reduced early learning opportunities will take a toll on young children’s futures and widen pre-existing learning gaps, impacting students in areas with active fighting the hardest.
Sonia Khush, Save the Children’s Country Director in Ukraine, said:
"One of the best ways for young children to learn is through structured play. Although online preschool can be effective, you have to ensure young children are learning in a safe environment, have the opportunity to socialise with other children, and a parent or guardian is present to help guide the lessons if needed. That’s not always possible for families in parts of Ukraine who are fleeing violence, have poor Internet connectivity, or have more children than they do computers.
"A child’s right to quality education does not end in times of emergency .Access to safe education provides stability and protects children from harm. It also gives them a sense of normalcy, and the chance to play and have fun."
Preschool is a critical time in a child’s life for growth and development and helps them build a solid foundation for their future. In times of crisis, preschool can help children cope with their grief through arts and crafts.
Anna is a psychologist working at a Save the Children supported summer school in Poland for children who have fled Ukraine. She explained that she finds the best way to support displaced children is to make sure they feel heard.
"Attention is very important for them right now. Each of them comes up to me and takes my hand, says: ‘Look, this is my drawing.’ I only have 45 minutes for each group, but it is important for me to pay attention to every child. They really need their pain and fear to be heard now," said Anna.
The prolonged exposure to war, stress and uncertainty can be extremely upsetting for all children and lead to a state of toxic stress, the most dangerous form of stress a child can experience. Toxic stress is caused by strong, frequent or prolonged adversity without adequate support. If left untreated, toxic stress can have a long-lasting effects on children's health and wellbeing.
Khush continued : " Whether children from Ukraine are learning online or offline this academic year, it must be in best interest of the child. All children must have access to a safe learning environment where they can receive a quality education and access mental health support to cope with their grief. This is why it is imperative that damaged schools in Ukraine are repaired, internally displaced families living in classrooms have alternative housing, and that all children can safely get back to school."
All children have the right to a safe education under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
While fighting is ongoing, there are international legal obligations to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects, including schools and hospitals, which are protected under International Humanitarian Law. The use of explosive weapons in populated areas must be avoided as it puts children at risk of bodily harm.
Inside Ukraine, Save the Children and local partners are providing shelter, food, cash, fuel, psychological support, and baby and hygiene kits to displaced families.
Save the Children has been operating in Ukraine since 2014, delivering humanitarian aid to children and their families. It is now supporting refugee families across Europe and helping children to access education and other critical services.