UNICEF calls upon the government and local communities to ensure that schools in Ukraine are the last to close and first to re-open during the pandemic, as over 4.2 million children across the country start a new school year. It can be achieved through intensified vaccination against COVID-19, especially among educators and parents, and increased adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures.
The organization warns that children risk being among the biggest victims of the COVID-19 pandemic, as school closures begin to take effect. According to a recent UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, children from disadvantaged backgrounds are especially likely to experience reduced learning levels or slower progress than expected, as a result.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the most vulnerable children in Ukraine were not learning at the same level as their classmates. The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report shows that, prior to the pandemic, socio-economically advantaged students in Ukraine outperformed their disadvantaged peers by 90 points.
School closures thereby risk exacerbating disparities in learning outcomes that already exist in Ukraine’s education system.
UNICEF also highlights the importance of further prioritizing educators in the national vaccination campaign , in order to minimise transmission of COVID-19. It is recommended that children and teachers follow basic hygiene practices related to physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene.
“The vaccination of teachers and parents is crucial for keeping schools open, as well as ensuring that children are vaccinated against other diseases in line with the national vaccination calendar,” says Murat Sahin, UNICEF Representative in Ukraine. “We know that vaccines are effective and save lives. Now, more than ever, vaccination is also key to making education uninterrupted and our schools safe for every child.”
Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills at Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) backed the UNICEF statement, saying: “When in-person learning resumes, it is crucial that we reconfigure people, spaces, time and technology to devise more effective and efficient educational environments.”
As schools adjust to the ‘new normal’, measuring learning levels will become more important than ever to help understand the extent of learning losses and develop targeted interventions. The upcoming cycle of PISA, which will produce results in December 2023, will serve as a valuable yardstick for assessing the situation and impact of the pandemic.
“As the pandemic continues to endanger the education process, UNICEF remains committed to working with the Ukrainian Government and other partners to support schools and promote sustainable reforms in the education sector to ensure quality inclusive learning for all children, especially the youngest and most vulnerable learners,” adds Mr Sahin.